Both Saint Mary’s and San Francisco will be invited to participate in one of the other national postseason tournaments, but while their seasons may not be officially over, Monday night brought a close to any improbable NCAA Tournament dreams. Saint Mary’s was routed (again) by Gonzaga in one WCC semifinal, while San Francisco came up a play or two short versus BYU in the other, ultimately falling to Tyler Haws and the Cougars in overtime, 79-77. There are plenty of similarities on a paper resume between SMC and USF this season (both have RPIs in the 60s and 11 losses each), but that resemblance belies the current state of affairs of Bay Area WCC hoops. It would seem that Monday’s mode of exit is a far better illustration of where these two programs currently sit – and where they are headed. The young Dons appear ready to compete like they did in Vegas (and really, all season) on a consistent basis moving forward, but for their neighbors acros the San Francisco Bay in Moraga, the future may not be as bright. The talent pool has dried up for Randy Bennett and the Gaels, and the proudest era in Saint Mary’s basketball history could be on the verge of extinction.
Stephen Holt’s Departure Will Make Like More Difficult For Randy Bennett And The Gaels Next Season. Is The Golden Era Of Saint Mary’s Basketball Nearly Finished?
We’ll take the good news before the bad and discuss USF first. Progress has been slow since Rex Walters arrived in 2008, but the Dons have increased their win total in every season except 2012-13 under the former NBA journeyman and former Jayhawk. Incremental growth ran a bit faster this season, as Walters’ team really began showing signs of life. The Dons went 13-5 in a WCC that finished ninth in conference RPI, and are set to return their entire rotation next season save for leading scorer Cole Dickerson. Dickerson’s crafty offensive game will surely be missed in 2014-15, but expectations should justly be enhanced with the Dons returning so much proven talent.
After winning back-to-back national titles in the 50s with two of the greatest players in basketball history leading the way, USF has made the NCAA Tournament just one time in the past three decades, and the last Don to play in the NBA retired more than 20 years ago. It’s been a long, confusing dry spell for a tradition-laden program, indeed. There isn’t any NBA talent on this USF roster (or next year’s, most likely), but as the program ascends the ranks of the WCC standings, the NCAA Tournament should again be within reach for Walters’ team. That statement alone constitutes progress, but anyone who caught a glimpse of this San Francisco team – either on Monday night or throughout its 13-win conference campaign – could tell you that things are looking up in the City by the Bay.
In Part II of our three-part series, we pass out 2013-14 superlatives to the best teams, performers and performances from eight different O26 conferences: CAA, Conference USA, MAC, MEAC, Missouri Valley, SoCon, Summit and WCC. In alphabetical order:
Colonial Athletic Association
The Blue Hens outworked the rest of the CAA for much of 2013-2014. (The Post and Courier)
Team of the Year – Delaware (22-9, 14-2). Not even early– and late-season suspensions of two of Delaware’s best players could stop the Blue Hens’ run to a CAA regular season title. Monte Ross’ up-tempo club raced off to an 11-0 start in conference play, amassing a large enough lead that preseason favorite Towson was never able to catch up.
Player of the Year – Jerelle Benimon – Towson. You want beastly numbers? How about these: In 32 games, the 6’8’’ Benimon averaged 18.9 points, 11.7 boards, 3.7 assists and 1.3 blocks per game, recorded an NCAA-best 20 double-doubles and reached the free throw line 258 times, good for sixth in the country.
Coach of the Year – Monté Ross – Delaware. Ross found a way to keep things together, to keep winning after guard Devon Saddler – the team’s leading scorer – missed seven games due to suspension early in the season and Jarvis Threatt – the team’s third-leading scorer – was suspended for the entire month of February.
Upset of the Year – Northeastern over Georgetown, 63-56. In the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, miles from Boston or Washington D.C., Scott Eatherton and the Huskies pounded Georgetown in the paint and pulled off an unexpected upset. Alas, it was another full month before Bill Coen’s bunch wound up back in the win column.
Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.
Crystal Ball Time
With most teams in the WCC having completed half the conference schedule it’s time to do some end-game handicapping. Here’s how the rest of the schedule shapes up for the main players:
Gonzaga, although sitting pretty at 8-1 with a game-and-a-half lead on Saint Mary’s, has a tough second half of conference play ahead. Its three home games should give the Zags little trouble, but road pitfalls could come against the Bay Area schools (Saint Mary’s, San Francisco and Santa Clara), in Provo against BYU, and in the Jenny Craig Pavilion against San Diego.
Saint Mary’s has an unfavorable (4/6) home/road balance ahead, but two of the road games are against nearby rivals San Francisco and Santa Clara. The Gaels’ main peril begins right now with four games in southern California and Provo. If Saint Mary’s comes off that journey intact, it will be well positioned to entertain BYU and Gonzaga at home.
Rex Walters and USF have a real chance to make some noise in the coming weeks. (Getty)
San Francisco also has a chance to do some damage against the leaders by entertaining Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s at home, but will be at risk on the road against BYU and San Diego.
BYU is up against the wall no matter how you slice it because of its inability to win a single conference game on the road. The Cougars will certainly battle Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga tough at home, but its chances against the Gaels and Toreros on the road don’t look good based on performance to date.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Appreciating Assets – Solid weeks by Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, plus a rebound by Santa Clara, marked the WCC’s next-to-last week in the regular season. All three teams enjoyed a rise in prospects, although the degree of ascent differed greatly.
Gonzaga, by tearing through Santa Clara (85-42) and San Diego (81-50) while #2 Miami sleepwalked through a pasting (80-65) from lowly Wake Forest, moved into the #2 position in both the AP and USA Today Coaches polls, the highest ranking ever for the Bulldogs. It is of a piece with a dazzling season that has seen, among other triumphs: a return to the top of the WCC after Saint Mary’s won the undisputed title last year; the highest number of regular-season wins in its history (27), with two conference games to go; and an undefeated conference record, only the third time in its history as a Division I team if it holds up. In addition, it is a given among most bracketologists that Gonzaga is a compelling favorite to be the #1 West seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, meaning the Zags will make an easy trip from Spokane to San Jose or Salt Lake City for the opening two rounds of the tournament.
Could the nation’s #1 overall ranking be in the cards for Kevin Pangos, Kelly Olynyk and Gonzaga? (Getty)
Saint Mary’s may have removed itself from the shadow of the NCAA Bubble Watch by defeating BYU (74-67) and Creighton (74-66) at home last week, giving the Gaels a much-needed quality win over the previously high-ranked Creighton Bluejays and moving them into #23 in the Coaches poll. Of course, with the Gaels this year nothing comes easily, so the favorable comments on their chances are couched in must-dos: win the remaining two games on the WCC schedule (Pepperdine on the road and Santa Clara at home), and get to the finals of the WCC Tournament March 6-11 in Las Vegas. In a comment on the Darwinian nature of the competition for at-large berths in the NCAA Tourney, Creighton may have fallen from lock status to bubble team itself with the loss to Saint Mary’s.
Santa Clara, which has had more ups and downs than perhaps any 20-game winner in the country, could have taken an eight-count against Portland last Saturday after being eviscerated by Gonzaga two nights earlier. The 45-point loss to the Zags was its worst since 1998, but the Broncos rebounded for a 75-63 win over Portland and a sweep of that series to go with three other sweeps – against Pepperdine, San Francisco and San Diego. The latter sweep is important because the Broncos have a two-game lead over the Toreros with two games to go in a race for fourth place and a bye in the first round of the WCC Tournament. Third place is not out of the Broncos’ reach, as they enter the last week just one game behind BYU.
Gonzaga (14-0, 27-2): The Zags are not just defeating conference foes these days, they are annihilating them. That is not good news for upcoming opponents BYU, in Provo on Feb. 28, and Portland, in Spokane on March 2. BYU might be playing for its last shot at an at-large NCAA berth, but even a gritty effort against Saint Mary’s came up short and the Cougars may not have enough left in the tank to stall an onrushing Gonzaga. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Conference sorting itself out? — It’s halfway for some and near halfway for others, so how is the WCC conference race sorting out?
Here’s one viewpoint:
Gonzaga (6-0 WCC) and Saint Mary’s (6-1) seem locked into a two-team struggle for the regular season title and a showdown in the conference tournament in Las Vegas in March. Gonzaga has been cruising behind Kelly Olynyk’s resurgence in the post, and may not be challenged until it meets Saint Mary’s in Moraga on Valentine’s Day. The Gaels have used a stunning last-second victory over BYU in Provo to propel themselves to a five-game winning streak and a renewed sense of purpose. Architect of the streak has been – who else? – senior point guard Matthew Dellavedova. Not only did Delly personally secure the BYU win with his ESPN #1 highlight buzzer-beater, he has been orchestrating the Gaels’ offense even more brilliantly. His record last week of 21 assists and zero turnovers in two Gael wins has record-keepers looking for comparable stats.
Kelly Olynyk’s season keeps on getting better and better (Getty)
BYU will protest strenuously that it is not out of title consideration, but a home loss to Saint Mary’s and a road loss to Gonzaga weaken its argument considerably. The Cougars have a chance to play a major role when they face Gonzaga at home on February 28, but that may come too late depending on how they fare in a rematch with Saint Mary’s in Moraga the week before. Picking up a third loss against the Gaels will almost certainly eliminate the Cougs from the title race.
Santa Clara seems poised to move into the slot right behind BYU if it can retain its consistency. The Broncos faltered with three conference losses in a row but have bounced back with four straight wins. In their favor or posing a huge obstacle is a scheduling anomaly that postpones their first game against Saint Mary’s until February 7 at home. A win there would seriously erode the Gaels’ chances and give the Broncos momentum heading into the last weeks of the campaign.
The rest of the conference is a bit of a puzzle, with San Francisco and Pepperdine showing intermittent promise and San Diego fading fast. The only thing that seems certain is that Loyola Marymount and Portland will be battling to keep out of last place.
Gonzaga (6-0, 19-2): The Zags took care of business at home with an 83-63 thrashing of BYU and a 66-52 win over San Francisco that wasn’t as close as the score indicates – the Dons trailed by 23 with less than two minutes left before scoring the last nine points with the outcome never in doubt. The Zags can claim to have stopped both their opponent’s top players, holding Tyler Haws of BYU and Cole Dickerson of San Francisco without a bucket in the two games. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Conference Roars Back: Five minutes into the second half of last Saturday’s Duke-Santa Clara game Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski might have had a passing thought along the lines of, “Who are these guys?” His undefeated and number-one-ranked Blue Devils were trailing Santa Clara, 45-44, and the Duke coach would have had a hard time believing this was the same Santa Clara squad that went 0-16 in the WCC last year. What kind of conference produces a last-place team that can threaten the Dukies on their home court, Coach K might have wondered. Duke’s fears eased, as a disastrous flagrant foul by Santa Clara’s Yannick Atanga on Miles Plumlee produced a five-point turnaround that put Duke up 49-44 and led them to a 90-77 win. Santa Clara’s bold attack on the Durham fortress remained on Krzyzewski’s mind afterwards, however, as he remarked, “This was like a February ACC game.” Indeed, Santa Clara’s gutty effort epitomized a strong week for the WCC, as it completed its non-conference season with an 80-44 mark (.645 winning percentage). Gonzaga led the way with strong wins over Baylor at home and Oklahoma State on the road on Monday to burnish a 13-1 record and No. 13 national ranking. Saint Mary’s completed a sweep of the Ivy League with a last-second 70-69 win over Harvard also on Monday following a 78-62 win over Yale, and BYU ran away from Virginia Tech 91-71 behind 42 points from Tyler Haws, the WCC Player of the Week.
Even in a loss, Kevin Foster and company were tremendous (Getty)
Pangos Bangos: If not for Haws’ outburst against Virginia Tech, the talk of the conference would certainly have been Kevin Pangos’ 31-point effort against Baylor. Last year’s Golden Boy was slumping heading into the showdown with Baylor, scoring under the 10 PPG mark and shooting just 38 percent. But Baylor seemingly forgot what Gonzaga’s foes from last year have surely learned – you can’t leave Pangos alone beyond the three-point line. He drilled the Bears at a 10-of-13 rate, including 7-of-10 from long distance.
Gonzaga (13-1): All systems are go for the Zags to reclaim the WCC title they surrendered last year to Saint Mary’s, as Mark Few’s squad completed its most impressive non-conference slate in several years. Kelly Olynyk has returned from a redshirt year reinvigorated, providing the Zags’ frontcourt an unexpected boost – as if it needed one. With senior Elias Harris providing steady excellence (15.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG), Olynyk chipping in at 14.6 PPG and 6.6 RPG and the Zags’ backcourt coming alive as evidenced by Pangos’ 31 points against Baylor, this is the WCC’s most complete team heading into conference play.
Kelly Olynyk (right) and Gonzaga head into conference play as the likely favorite (AP)
Saint Mary’s (11-3): It has not been so smooth for Randy Bennett’s Gaels, as losses to underwhelming Pacific, Georgia Tech and Northern Iowa have revealed flaws in the Saint Mary’s offense. Matthew Dellavedova’s scoring (18.5 PPG) and assist numbers (6.3 APG) are excellent, but teams have been able to keep him from hurting them. Bennett has cobbled together a two-part solution to the power forward spot vacated by Rob Jones, getting a combined output of more than 16 PPG and 10 RPG out of Mitchell Young and Beau Levesque, but it is not as smooth as last year. The Gaels’ salvation may prove to be its excellent guard foursome of Dellavedova, Stephen Holt (11.3 PPG), James Walker III (9.8 PPG) and Jorden Page (8.3 PPG), but they need redshirt sophomore post man Brad Waldow (10.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG) to step up every night if they are to defend their title. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Whither success? As of last Tuesday (December 18) things were looking bright for the WCC in its annual power struggle against the other non-power conferences. The conference record of 60-31 added up to a .659 winning percentage and only one member, Portland, had a losing record (4-6). Things took a downward turn with last week’s games, as the WCC went 7-10 and dropped the winning percentage to .606. The biggest contributor to the downturn was San Francisco, which dropped three-out-of-three to go under .500 (5-6) for the first time this season. Loyola Marymount (5-6) and San Diego were also underwater as of yesterday. Conference leaders Gonzaga (11-1), Santa Clara (11-2), Saint Mary’s (8-3) and BYU (8-4) were leading the way, while Pepperdine remains the surprise team with a 7-5 record.
The conference took a bit of a hit nationally last week, but Kerry Keating’s Santa Clara squad keeps trucking along (Getty)
Stat Attack: Conference statistics through December 18 reflected team performances, with Gonzaga leading in scoring margin (+20.9), scoring defense (59.8 PPG) and field goal percentage (52.0%). Saint Mary’s, largely on the strength of its 120-67 blowout of Jackson State, led in scoring offense – 81.3 PPG to Gonzaga’s 80.8 PPG – and the Gaels also topped the league in free throw percentage (78.7%) and three-point field goal percentage (41.0%). How is Santa Clara sustaining its consistent preseason performance? Partly by leading in four categories: assists (18.0 per game), steals (9.4 per game), turnover margin (+7.0 per game) and assist/turnover ratio (198 assists to 121 turnovers, for a 1.6 ratio). Loyola point guard Anthony Ireland continues to lead the league in scoring with 20.7 PPG, followed by Tyler Haws of BYU at 20.3 PPG, Kevin Foster of Santa Clara at 20.2 PPG, Matthew Dellavedova of Saint Mary’s at 19.5 PPG and Brandon Davies of BYU at 19.2 PPG. The most impressive individual stat in the early going is San Francisco forward Cole Dickerson’s 13.1 rebounds per game, which places him among the nation’s leaders.
Gonzaga (11-1): The Zags stayed home and took it easy last week, cruising to a 74-52 win over the Campbell University Fighting Camels out of the Big South Conference.
Santa Clara (11-2): Santa Clara’s redemption tour continues unabated, as the Broncos knocked off Alcorn State and Wagner last week to win its own Cable Car Classic. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Vernetti is the West Coast Conference correspondent for RTC.
Bye-bye Gonzaga? Shuffling through the barrage of reports, rumors, and guesses that emerged from the defection of the Catholic Seven from the Big East Conference, one could conclude that:
Gonzaga might join a new alliance of those seven plus some other basketball-only schools to form a new super-conference.
Saint Mary’s might also join the party.
Neither Gonzaga nor Saint Mary’s were ever in the plans of the Seven.
That the WCC already has what the Catholic Seven are seeking: a mostly homogeneous group of geographically contiguous schools with a common academic philosophy and a commitment to quality basketball.
Involving the WCC in the Big East blow-up was mostly the work of Gonzaga coach Mark Few and his ever-reliable mouthpiece, Andy Katz of ESPN. Katz reported last Wednesday (December 12), before the seven departing schools had announced a decision, that, “Sources say the Zags would love to part with the West Coast Conference and be a member of a national, branded basketball conference… the Zags are looking out for themselves and would like to be positioned with fellow national Catholic-based schools instead of regional ones in the WCC.”
Is Gonzaga going to jump ship? Only time will tell (AP)
No one familiar with Few’s musings a few weeks ago was worried about what would happen to Gonzaga in the case of a BCS/everybody else-type split in the college basketball ranks had any doubts who Katz’s source was. And it is safe to say that no one else belonging to or friendly with the WCC appreciated Few’s willingness to throw the conference under the bus on the basis of some unfounded worries about an imminent basketball schism.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Zags supreme? The steady rumble of Gonzaga media support reached a higher pitch than usual this preseason, perhaps fueled by the Zags’ strong showing in the NCAA Tournament last March (dispatching West Virginia 77-54 and taking Ohio State to the wire before succumbing 73-66). With everyone back and anticipation building over incoming 7’1″ freshman Przemek Karnowski, the Zags’ success this year seemed foreordained. And their fast start, humbling West Virginia for the second time in eight months, 84-50, and roaring through the Old Spice Classic with wins over Clemson, Oklahoma and Davidson, amped up the volume. By the time Gonzaga faced Illinois last Saturday in Spokane, it was off to its best start in school history at 9-0 and ranked #10 in the AP poll. The Illini, however, under new coach John Groce, have dreams of their own, and were also riding an undefeated start (9-0) and high AP ranking (#13). Illinois spanked the Zags 85-74, temporarily derailing the express train to the Final Four, but didn’t dislodge Gonzaga from the top spot in the preseason WCC poll.
What else is new? Mark Few has his Gonzaga squad playing at a high level (AP)
Welcome back, Traz and Kevin: If ever a team was glad to get back two stars temporarily sidelined, it was Santa Clara and seniors Marc Trasolini and Kevin Foster. Without Trasolini out of action all last year because of a knee injury, and without Foster for the last eight conference games following a drunken driving arrest, the Broncos stumbled to a humiliating 0-16 record in the WCC. Things are looking up for Kerry Keating’s Broncos this year, thanks to a heavy dose of Foster and Trasolini. Foster was named WCC Player of the Month for November after averaging 21.7 points per game, moving past Kurt Rambis to become Santa Clara’s all-time leading scorer and moving to third-place in WCC history for made three-point baskets. Trasolini has also been stellar, averaging nearly 15 points and 7.2 rebounds per game as Santa Clara fights back toward respectability.
Cousy for Delly? Saint Mary’s Matthew Dellavedova was among the final five candidates for last year’s Bob Cousy Award given to the nation’s outstanding point guard (North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall won the award in 2011-12) and has been nominated again this year. Can Delly buck the headwinds from players from larger conferences (e.g., Aaron Craft of Ohio State, Phil Pressey of Missouri, Peyton Siva of Louisville) and capture the prize this year? He seems to be building the type of season that would make a great case for it, leading the Gaels in scoring with 18.4 points per game and dishing out 5.6 assists per game, but his non-statistical contributions are even more compelling. Without muscular Rob Jones in the Gaels’ lineup this year, Dellavedova has shouldered both the scoring and leadership roles, twice scoring more than 30 points (32 in a win over Drexel, and 31 in a win against Drake) and holding his team together until newcomer Matt Hodgson settles in on the front line. A lot may depend on how well Saint Mary’s does in the postseason, and Delly will need some help if that is the deciding criterion.
Gonzaga (9-1):Until they ventured into Pullman, Washington on December 5 for their first true road game of the year against Washington State, the Zags seemed to be building toward a dominating season. They let the pesky Cougars, who had already suffered a 58-56 loss to Pepperdine and were picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12, tie them with 14 seconds left, however, and were saved by a last-minute layup by Kevin Pangos to pull out a 71-69 win. Things got worse three days later with the Illinois loss, but Gonzaga has shown intimidating depth on the front line with the rejuvenation of 7’0″ forward Kelly Olynyk, who redshirted last season to work on his game. Olynyk, interrupting teammate Sam Dower’s expected break out season, scored 22 points in the second half against Washington State and 16 against Illinois. The Zags face daunting opponents Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State in the coming weeks, which will either restore them as postseason favorites or dampen their luster heading into the WCC season. Read the rest of this entry »
Mike Lemaire is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between St. John’s and San Francisco.
The return of St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin to his hometown for a game against the San Francisco was supposed to be an opportunity for the third-year coach to show off a team brimming with athleticism and potential. Instead the USF Dons used last night’s tilt to expose the Red Storm and prove to those watching that all the athleticism and potential won’t make a difference if the Johnnies can’t play smarter, more consistent basketball. Within the first two minutes of the game, the Dons had canned a pair of uncontested three-pointers sandwiched around an easy transition layup and while the Red Storm clawed back into the game for a few minutes in the second half, open looks became a common theme as the Dons shot 50 percent from the field and 60 percent from behind the three-point line en route to a rather easy 81-65 victory, their fifth in a row.
It Was All USF Last Night in San Francisco (Kelley Cox/USAT)
“Tonight I thought was our most uneven performance from start to finish,” Lavin said. “We have to give credit to USF because they were doing some things really well, but I wasn’t pleased from my perspective with the unevenness of our play. Both offensively and defensively, I don’t think we were tied together and we weren’t playing with much purpose.” Lavin didn’t directly attribute the inconsistency to the inexperience of his team, but he did later say he thought his team played “immature basketball” and given the Red Storm’s shot selection, defensive breakdowns and consistent venting at the referees, it wouldn’t be much of a leap to assume that youth and inexperience played a large role in the disappointing performance. Lavin said the the team had three goals going into the night; cut down angle penetration; stick to shooters; and never lose Dons’ star De’End Parker. The Johnnies accomplished none of those things. Point guard Cody Doolin (18 points and career-high 14 assists) carved the Red Storm up with penetration, the Dons’ shooters buried nine three-balls, and Parker finished with a game with a team-high 21 points.
Mike Lemaire is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Friday night’s Stanford-San Francisco game in Oakland.
The season-opening matchup against San Francisco was never supposed to be a game where we would learn whether Stanford‘s basketball team had what it took to get over the hump and make its first NCAA Tournament since 2008. After all, Stanford was the heavy favorite against a USF team that had lost four starters and had watched six players transfer in the offseason. But as the final horn sounded and Stanford left with a 12-point victory, the one thing we did learn is that if Stanford expects to compete for an NCAA Tournament berth, they will need to play better than they did on Friday.The Cardinal opened up multiple large leads in the first half as the Dons struggled mightily to find their rhythm in the early part of the contest. But each time they opened up a large lead, they allowed San Francisco to shoot their way back into the game and at halftime the Cardinal held a very slim 32-31 advantage. In fact, if it hadn’t been for junior forward Dwight Powell decided he couldn’t be stopped in the second half, the Cardinal might have been in trouble.
Powell May Have Saved the Cardinal Last Night
With the team’s star guards — Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle — on their way to shooting a combined 5-17 from the field for the game, Stanford was quick to recognize the inherent advantage Powell had in the post as the biggest and strongest player on the floor, and they took full advantage. The junior big man dumped in 18 second-half points and finished with a career-high 27 points, even smoothly burying two three-pointers in the process. The frontcourt was a major question mark for coach Johnny Dawkins and the Cardinal coming into the season, and if Powell — who averaged 5.8 points and 4.6 rebounds as a sophomore — can make the leap to becoming an all-conference player, it bodes well for Stanford’s prospects down the line. Powell won’t always have the privilege of playing against a group of vastly undersized underclassmen in every game, but he has great size and strength, strong hands, and intriguing athleticism and ball skills, which make him a player to watch going forward.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the WCC.
Showdown in Las Vegas
So, it’s decided but it’s really not. Saint Mary’s closed out the WCC regular season with a tough 67-60 victory over San Francisco on the road, earning an undisputed conference championship for the first time since the 1989 squad coached by Lynn Nance. The Gaels tied Gonzaga for the regular-season title last year – the Zags’ 11th straight WCC championship – and needed a win over San Francisco to avoid another tie this year. They got it, but not without a dogged fight from the Dons, who closed out the season with home games against the conference’s top three teams – BYU, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. They made them all pay, losing narrowly to BYU (85-84), edging Gonzaga, 66-65, and giving Saint Mary’s all they could handle before a frantic home crowd.
The WCC Tournament beginning Wednesday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas will have a lot to say about how many conference members advance to the NCAA Tournament, and, almost as important, where they will play and how high they are seeded. The tournament champion receives the automatic NCAA bid, but almost all commentators agree that both Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga will receive bids no matter what happens in Las Vegas. The same cannot be said for BYU, however, so the Cougars’ need to make a strong showing in Las Vegas – perhaps even win the championship – in one of the compelling stories that will play out over the weekend.
Can Saint Mary's Earn The Automatic Bid Into The Big Dance? Conference POY Matthew Dellavedova Will Have A Huge Say In That (AP)
Others revolve around the conference’s mystery team, Loyola Marymount, and whether San Francisco can maintain the fierce defensive intensity it displayed down the stretch at home with days off between games. The Dons’ road to a high tournament finish requires victories on Thursday against the winner of a play-in game between Portland and Santa Clara, a Friday win against a Loyola team that beat them twice in the regular season, then a semifinal contest on Saturday against the Gaels, who also beat them twice in conference. Not an easy path.
Loyola is in a better position to wreak havoc than San Francisco. Earning a first-round tournament bye with its fourth-place conference finish, the Lions play first on Friday against the winner of the San Francisco/play-in winner game. If it’s a rematch with the Dons, tournament fans will see San Francisco take a third shot at a win that eluded them in two excruciatingly close conference games – a 77-76 overtime loss at home that saw LMU erase a 17-point second-half deficit, and a 90-88 loss in Los Angeles in which LMU had to come from 16 points down. The Dons desperately want another shot at the Lions, and feel they finished stronger than LMU because of their tough battles with the league leaders and LMU’s less-than-overwhelming finish: an inexplicable 60-57 loss to San Diego and a 68-65 nail-biter win against Santa Clara, which was winless in conference play.
Figuring out the psyche of Max Good’s squad would challenge a team of Freuds, however, as the Lions bounced back and forth between helpless – a 76-63 home loss to North Texas – and sublime – a 75-60 upset of Saint Mary’s in Moraga, the Gaels’ only home loss all season. One of the Lions’ quirks is they play better on the road than at home, so maybe a trip to Las Vegas is just what Dr. Freud would order. If they do, indeed, meet and beat San Francisco in the quarterfinals, they will move on to another encounter with Saint Mary’s in Saturday’s first semifinal game (6:00 PM PT, ESPN2). That the Gaels would like another shot at LMU goes without saying, as that loss cost them both a lofty national ranking and injuries to guard StephenHolt, whose return from a torn meniscus is still undecided, center Brad Waldow, who re-injured a bruised rib and had to sit out much of the action, and even indestructible guard MatthewDellavedova, who turned an ankle and left the game for several minutes in the second half.
Who Us? Rex Walters and USF Are Playing Great Basketball (Comcast Sports Net)
BYU’s path to a possible tournament championship takes them through a quarterfinal match with the winner of a San Diego-Pepperdine contest and a semifinal rematch with Gonzaga, with whom they split regular-season games. BYU was without outstanding forward Noah Hartsock (knee injury) for all but the first seven minutes of the second Gonzaga game on Feb. 23, a 74-63 loss. Hartsock also sat out BYU’s final conference game, a 76-66 win over Portland, and his status for Las Vegas has not been announced. With Hartsock in the lineup, a BYU-Gonzaga rematch in Saturday’s second semifinal match (ESPN2, 8:oo PM PT) could be a classic, but we’ll have to wait to see whether Hartsock can go.
As for the championship game on Monday night (6:00 PM PT, ESPN), it has featured Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s for the last three years (Gonzaga won two of the three), and a similar match-up would surprise no one. It would be a rubber game, as the teams split in conference play, and could determine whether either team receives a favorable or dicey NCAA seeding.
Here’s how the 2011-12 WCC season ended up:
Saint Mary’s (25-5, 14-2).
Gonzaga (23-5, 13-3).
BYU (24-7, 12-4)
Loyola Marymount (19-11, 11-5)
San Francisco (18-12, 8-8)
San Diego (12-1, 7-9)
Pepperdine (10-18, 4-12)
Portland (6-23, 3-13)
Santa Clara (8-21, 0-16)
For the second year in a row a Saint Mary’s guard is the West Coast Conference Player of the Year. This time it is Matthew Dellavedova, the 6’4″ junior from Maryborough, Victoria, Australia, who led the conference in assists (6.6 per game) and was third in scoring (16.4 PPG). The Gaels’ Mickey McConnell rated the POY nod last year, and not many observers of the conference would bet against Dellavedova repeating in 2013. In addition to his conference honors, Dellavedova is a finalist in the Bob Cousy Award competition for the nation’s best point guard. Last week, he was named a Capital One Academic All-American, the first Saint Mary’s player to be so honored.
While the choice of Dellavedova raised no eyebrows, selecting Max Good of Loyola Marymount as coach of the year might – even among Loyola fans and alumni. Good has been on the hot seat at LMU ever since last year’s team – picked to compete for conference honors – finished in last place at 2-12. While not ducking his share of blame for the team’s collapse, Good insisted that without crippling injuries his team would have been much better. The Lions weathered some early-season injuries – most notably to All-Conference Forward Drew Viney and his front court mate Ashley Hamilton – and, indeed, did do better this year, finishing fourth in the conference with an 11-5 mark. Along the way, LMU posted wins over UCLA, St. Louis and Valparaiso in non-conference play and over BYU and Saint Mary’s in conference. Good’s fellow coaches – who make the conference honors selections – evidently believe in redemption.
Other individual honors announced by the WCC on Tuesday were Defensive Player of the Year to Gonzaga’s 7’0” senior center Robert Sacre, whose 25 blocks led the league; and WCC Newcomer of the Year to Gonzaga freshman guard Kevin Pangos, whose deadly three-point shooting accounted for 12.8 PPG and 36 three-point field goals. The WCC All-conference team is composed of:
Angelo Caloiaro, San Francisco
Brandon Davies, BYU
Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s
Elias Harris, Gonzaga
Noah Hartsock, BYU
Anthony Ireland, Loyola
Rob Jones, Saint Mary’s
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Robert Sacre, Gonzaga
Drew Viney, Loyola
The conference all-freshman team:
Gary Bell, Jr, Gonzaga
Matt Carlino, BYU
Johnny Dee, San Diego
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s
Honorable mention was accorded to Perris Blackwell, center, San Francisco; Carlino and Dee; Rashad Green, guard, San Francisco; Stephen Holt, guard, Saint Mary’s; and Corbin Moore, center, Pepperdine.