Tag:St. Mary's
Posted on: March 7, 2011 9:05 am

WCC tourney final gets desired matchup

Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary's: once again, but never like this.

This is the matchup the league and college basketball fans at large wanted from the WCC tournament. You can thank the format of the WCC tournament, which is similar to the Horizon League in that the top two seeds are protected until the conference semifinals. Play the best in the regular season, and you get the bye until the penultimate game. So now the WCC is ensured of its most competitive matchup, on paper.

And the question can be asked: biggest game in the history of the rivalry? That's possible, as neither team is secure with its at-large position.

Winner is for sure in, and loser will be sweating for five nights. The two split the season series, each team winning on the other's court. Gonzaga, at 23-9, has a bit more bubble wiggle room because its strength of schedule is better and it has better wins (Xavier, Baylor, Marquette) to claim than the 24-7 Gaels (St. John's, Long Beach State, Texas Tech).

What's particularly embraceable about this game, outside of the massively looming at-large question, is the star power. The Gaels have Mickey McConnell, the player of the year in the conference, and Matthew Dellavedova. Robert Sacre, Steven Gray and Elias Harris may not be Adam Morrison, Matt Bouldin and Blake Stepp, but they're still familiar faces to casual hoops fans who come around the block this time of the year.

It has now been more than a month since Gonzaga's lost, as the Bulldogs have peeled off eight in a row. That isn't their longest winning streak of the season, though; Mark Few's club won nine straight from Dec. 16 to Jan. 15. A bit ironic this team has as many as nine losses and is unstable as it is despite two lengthy streaks of victory.

Saint. Mary's can't claim to fully be recovered, despite making it to the WCC championship game for the third straight year. The Gaels dropped three straight before recovering to beat Portland in the season finale last week, and then beating Santa Clara Sunday night. How quickly many would forget the three-game slide if Saint Mary's won tonight.

Prediction: I've got a hunch the WCC is sending two teams to the tournament this year. For that to happen, Saint Mary's has to win tonight, 'cause I don't think its non-con schedule stacks up. Gaels win, 75-70. The game tips at 9 p.m. on ESPN.

Posted by Matt Norlander


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Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 20, 2011 12:13 am
Edited on: February 20, 2011 12:15 am

Utah State punches its ticket

Posted by MATT JONES

Saturday was an unbelievable day of college basketball. Watching Texas lose its chance to go to No. 1, St. John's knock off its fifth top 20 team at home and Arizona establish supremacy in the Pac 10 were all great moments for a college basketball fan. But in actuality when it comes to March Madness, only one game on Saturday truly will matter on Selection Sunday.

As close as you will ever see in the regular season of college basketball, Utah State's 75-65 victory over St. Mary's was a play-in game for the NCAA Tournament. Both teams came into the game with resumes that were decidedly mediocre to the selection committee, and both needed one more quality victory to ensure at least an at-large bid to the Big Dance. Both teams came into the game with recent crippling losses, for Utah State at Idaho and St. Mary's at San Diego, but a win would likely have put either over the hump, regardless of conference tournament finishes.

Utah State can now book its March travel arrangements. After falling down 39-29 early in the second half on the road, the Aggies stormed back on a 19-2 run to take control of the game and quiet the Moraga, California crowd. Tai Wesley, who was playing with a broken nose that he re-aggravated twice during the game, became downright beastly inside, scoring at will on the vanishing St. Mary's defense. While the Gaels struggled to find any offense, Utah State did what it has done all season, spreading production around the trio of Wesley, Brockeith Pane and Brady Jardine during its early second half run and sustaining it until the end for the victory.

The Aggies came into the game ranked and certainly one of the best 68 teams in America. But its non-conference resume was particularly weak and past years' failures by Utah State make even its biggest supporters weary about its standing for March. But the win on the road against the WCC power all but assures that Stew Morril's team will not only be in the Tournament, but likely with a seed from which it can do some damage.

As for St. Mary's, the at-large bid is likely now out the window. The loss on Wednesday to San Diego was obviously embarrassing. To blow an 11 point lead to a team that had only won three games the entire season over Division I competition was detrimental. But it likely was not devastating to the Gaels' case due to relative weakness of the bubble across America. But to then follow that performance up by watching another double-digit lead disappear at home against a potential quality resume-building win likely extinguishes the team's at-large hopes. In order for the school to make consecutive NCAA Tournaments for the first time in its history, it will need to win a conference tournament that will feature, among others, very talented Gonzaga and Portland teams. Only one will get a bid, making the WCC Tournament potentially the most competitive in college basketball.

But that type of competition will not be a worry for Utah State. It can now finish its season by winning the WAC and going to the conference tournament without the pressure of it being a must-win event. The Aggies had two chances to punch their ticket to March, and rather than wait for the crapshoot in Reno, they took care of business in the most important game in college basketball on Bracket Buster Saturday. Someone wake Wild Bill...he is headed for a "One Shining Moment" montage once again.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 31, 2011 9:03 pm
Edited on: January 31, 2011 10:48 pm

The best of Bracket Buster Weekend

Posted by Matt Jones

One of my favorite events of the college basketball season is Bracket Buster Saturday, when fans of major conference teams get a chance to watch all of the best mid-majors in a series of created matchups designed to teams a chance to improve their March resumes. On Monday, ESPN announced the pairings that would get a national television showcase:

Friday, Feb. 18
7 p.m. - VCU at Wichita State
9 p.m. - Kent State at Drexel

Saturday, Feb. 19
11 a.m. - Hofstra at Wright State
1 p.m. - Austin Peay at Fairfield
3 p.m. – Iona at Liberty
5 p.m. – Missouri State at Valparaiso  
5 p.m. – Vermont at Charleston
7 p.m. – George Mason at Northern Iowa
9 p.m. – Utah State at Saint Mary’s
11 p.m. – Montana at Long Beach State

Sunday, Feb. 20
1 p.m. - Cleveland State at Old Dominion

With the possible exception of Kenneth Faried and Morehead State, the nationally televised portion of Bracket Buster Saturday generally includes all the right teams and virtually all the mid-majors with a chance to make March noise will be on our television sets that weekend. For those of you who prefer to have a weekend not dominated by mid-level college basketball or feel that you will have to “spend some time with my family,” here are the four can’t-miss games in order of importance:

Utah State at Saint Mary’s

Without question, the marquee pairing of the Bracket Buster weekend takes place in the Bay area suburb of Moraga, California, where the Gaels will host Utah State for a Saturday primetime affair. For both teams, this game represents the best chance remaining to get a resume-building win for March and a victory is extremely important. Utah State is currently 20-2 and ranked No. 21 in America, but it suffers from a serious lack of impressive wins. The Aggies only two games against solid opponents resulted in its two losses (BYU and Georgetown) and the most notable victory may be over a sub .500 Utah team. As for St. Mary’s, what looked like a solid at-large resume has taken a big hit with double-digit losses to Vanderbilt and Portland in the last ten days. If the Tournament was selected today, both Utah State and St. Mary’s would likely barely find themselves in the field, even if they slipped and were upset in the conference tournament. But success in a few weeks is not assured and for the winner of this feature game of Bracket Buster weekend, the margin of error for the rest of the regular season will be a bit greater.

  George Mason at Northern Iowa

The battle of the last two mid-major teams to get the nation’s collective blood racing in March (Butler has joined Gonzaga in permanent non-mid major status in my book), represents the best chance for a team to win its way into at-large status of any game in the weekend. George Mason is locked in a three-way battle in the ultra competitive Colonial League with VCU and Old Dominon and the three teams are trading losses that will hurt on Selection Sunday. Thus, Mason likely needs a road victory in Cedar Falls in order to make its best case for a trip to Dayton as part of the “First Four” in March, not only for its team, but as a sign of the overall strength of the Colonial as well. As for Northern Iowa, the Panthers played their way back into the Missouri Valley race with a road win at Missouri State last week. While they likely need to end the season with an undefeated streak to get in the at-large discussion, the schedule does set up favorably to potentially pull off a surprising second straight MVC title run.

VCU at Wichita State

Virginia Commonwealth is on pace to get a rare at-large bid out of the Colonial, thanks to an impressive start in conference and a non-conference slate that includes a victory over UCLA. The Rams sit 10-1 in the Colonial and if they keep on the same pace, a win in heart of the Missouri Valley could be enough to ensure a trip to March Madness, regardless of what happens in the conference tournament. As for Wichita State, early season victories over Virginia and LSU, combined with competitive losses to UCONN and San Diego State, mean that the Shockers would be dancing if Selection Sunday were this weekend. They still have the heart of their Missouri Valley schedule ahead, including tough road games at Northern Iowa and Missouri State, meaning it is important to hold serve at home. Both teams in this game will likely be a part of the field of 68, but assuming they stay on their same path, the winner can go ahead and set up the camera shot for the CBS special with confidence.

Cleveland State at Old Dominion

Cleveland State is currently leading the Horizon League and is situated at 20-3, right on the bubble of contention for an at-large bid. The Vikings are led by the best player that no one ever mentions, Norris Cole, who is averaging 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists from the guard spot. The problem Cleveland State faces is its lack of top-quality victories over a non-Horizon opponent. A win at Old Dominion takes care of that weakness on its resume. As for the Monarchs, they sit third in the Colonial, but probably have the best set of wins of any participant in the Bracket Buster Weekend. Old Dominion has defeated Clemson, Xavier, Richmond and Dayton, while two of their five losses were to Georgetown and Missouri. If ODU gets anywhere close to the bubble, the Selection Committee will likely give them the nod, solely because of this out of conference work, and a victory over Cleveland State would only firm up their prospects even further.

Photo: AP
Posted on: January 22, 2011 4:55 pm
Edited on: January 22, 2011 5:12 pm

Two losses to remember on Selection Sunday

Posted by Matt Jones

While much of the attention of the day in college basketball has rightly been focused upon the big matchups involving ranked teams, two games a bit under the radar will have a huge impact on Selection Sunday:

You will not score easily on EzeliVanderbilt 89  St. Mary's 70

The West Coast Conference as a league has improved so much over the years that its supporters legitimately deem it worthy to procure at least one at-large bid every season. At the forefront of this revolution has been Gonzaga and St. Mary's, both of which have been contenders for the past few seasons. However, today's demolition of the Gaels by Vanderbilt leaves the WCC much closer to being cemented as a one-team league. With early losses to BYU and San Diego State, St. Mary's was, prior to today, left with its best non-conference win being over a now-reeling St. John's team. A win over Vanderbilt, or even a close performance, would have looked good if the Gaels slipped up in the WCC Tournament. However, this loss likely puts St. Mary's in a situation where it can afford no slip-ups in its two upcoming games with Gonzaga and an under-appreciated Portland team. With Gonzaga's loss last week to Santa Clara and now this embarrassment in Nashville, the WCC's at-large NCAA window is closing.

Oklahoma 67  Colorado 60

Colorado came into this week as the surprise of the Big 12 and likely needing a split in two winnable road games against Nebraska and Oklahoma in order to sustain its momentum. The loss on Wednesday to Nebraska could be forgiven, but falling to the worst team in the Big 12 is not becoming of an NCAA Tournament contender. The Big 12 is loaded in the middle and when it comes to Selection Sunday, differentiating the teams could be difficult. Colorado is now 14-6, with losses to Harvard and San Francisco and its best non-conference win against an unimpressive Indiana team. The Buffaloes have six remaining games against ranked teams and the losses this week mean that it must now steal at least a couple of these games in order to secure a bid. When you are a team looking to surprise your way into the NCAA Tournament via a major conference, you have to win the easy ones, split the medium ones and steal a hard one. Today Colorado dropped the easiest one.

Photo: US Presswire
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