Posted on: February 25, 2011 10:05 am
Edited on: February 25, 2011 10:10 am

That Gonzaga-Saint Mary's game was pretty big

Posted by Matt Norlander

Though they've now traded wins in each other's gyms, it's hard to overstate how important last night's victory was for Gonzaga and how detrimental the loss was for Saint Mary's.

Huge game. Huge, huge game.

The Bulldogs got it to overtime, where they won, 89-85. If you happened to be up at 1:30 a.m. ET (like I was; sleep? Nah, I'm good), you caught a great fight that, truthfully, Saint Mary's should have won. But good on Gonzaga to grit out this W. We'll get to more on Mark Few's team in just a second.

I'd like to interrogate the Gaels, who've now lost three in a row and seen their once-likely at-large profile get set aflame. First it was the terrible loss to San Diego last Wednesday, then Utah State came in and tattooed SMC for the BracketBusters game last weekend. Though its record is 22-7, this is a 20-7 team in the eyes of the Selection Committee, as early-season wins over non-D-I opponents College of Idaho and Point Loma Nazarene (sounds like a place were lives were lost in a war) do not count toward the Gaels' postseason profile.

Crossing out its road win over Gonzaga on Jan. 27 with a home loss to the Bulldogs last night, you now have to search pretty hard on the Gaels' resume for quality wins. St. John's is one to keep in your pocket. After that, 18-10 Long Beach State or ... yeah, that's it. In recent years, Saint Mary's has been able to clutch on to a few nice wins and garner good standing with the Selection Committee. Last season it was San Diego State and Utah State, plus a good showing in the WCC tournament. In 2008, Drake, Oregon, Gonzaga and San Diego were enough.

Now, 2009, that's when SMC didn't get a bid, and it had some controversy because the team went 26-6. But three of those losses came to Gonzaga. We could have a repeat of that "snub" type of season this year, though don't expect as much consternation if the Gaels don't get in.

As for Gonzaga, it's on pace to win another West Coast Conference regular-season title. Remarkable this season, because Gonzaga's looked bad, inept and as out of sorts as I can ever remember a Mark Few team being. It's 9-3 in the conference, and I don't know how good this team is. A first-round loss as an 11-seed is all too possible. But barring another bad loss or two, Gonzaga's probably going to get in now.

The Zags can claim Marquette, Baylor, Xavier and Oklahoma State as victims. It's not incredible, but it's better than a number of teams still fighting. Avoiding the Saint Mary's sweep was so vital to this team. Now, win out the final two games of the season against San Diego and Cal State Bakersfield, and you'll get a ticket, Gonzaga.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 25, 2011 7:02 am

The Morning Drive: Centenary breaks through

Posted by Jeff Borzello

There were no 52-point performances or buzzer-beaters in bubble games, but Thursday had some highlights. Three teams clinched regular-season titles, while another one clinched at least a share of the league championship. Bubble teams won, bubble teams lost. There were upsets and close finishes. What more can you ask for? Reach me on Twitter: @jeffborzello

Standing Ovation: Centenary went into last night with an 0-28 record, losers of 33 straight games. The Gentlemen would have been the first 0-30 team in college basketball. Somehow, though, they shot 62.5 percent from the field and defeated Western Illinois, 73-60. Maxx Nakwaasah scored 24 points to lead Centenary, who will be dropping to Division-III next season.

Top Performer: Arizona had a chance to give itself some breathing room atop the Pac-10 heading into the weekend, but Nikola Vucevic had other ideas. The USC big man had 25 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Trojans to a 65-57 win at home. He was 9-for-17 from the field, as well as 7-for-7 from the free-throw line. Defensively, he helped hold All-American Derrick Williams to just eight points.

Round of Applause: Four teams clinched NIT automatic bids last night, although I’m sure they will be more excited if they win the conference tournament. It started with Florida Atlantic defeating Troy to clinch the Sun Belt; then George Mason had a closer-than-expected win over Northeastern to win the Colonial; and Long Beach State followed that up with a win over Cal Poly to win the Big West. In the Big South, Coastal Carolina clinched the title with Liberty losing at Winthrop.

Stepping Up: Gonzaga was left for dead a few weeks ago, but it is now one game from getting a share of the WCC title after going on the road and beating Saint Mary’s in overtime. Expect the loser of the WCC Tournament to be right on the cut line come Selection Sunday. Last night, Sam Dower came through for the Bulldogs, hitting his first seven field-goal attempts and finishing with 21 points.

Stat-Sheet Stuffer: Charleston was another team that didn’t capitalize on its opportunity to clinch a regular-season title on Thursday. Appalachian State’s Donald Sims had a say in that. Sims put up 32 points on six 3-pointers, also grabbing five rebounds and dishing out six assists. The Mountaineers knocked off Charleston, 85-70.

Yawn: Just like Jimmer Fredette putting up another 30-point performance, it’s become expected that Oakland’s Keith Benson will put up gaudy scoring and rebounding stats. He did just that against UMKC last night, finishing with 26 points and 14 rebounds, also adding three blocks on the defensive end.

Dishing it out: Montana took one step closer to a Big Sky title last night, going on the road and beating Portland State by one, 85-84. Will Cherry led the way for the Grizzlies, scoring 24 points and racking up 10 assists (with only one turnover). He knocked down two 3-pointers and also grabbed three rebounds. More importantly, Cherry iced the game from the free-throw line in the final seconds.

In a Losing Effort: It wasn’t a losing effort, but I have no clue what Washington Adventist is, so I’m counting Longwood’s win as a de facto loss. With that said, center Antwan Carter put up some huge digits. The Longwood big man went 14-for-20 from the field en route to a 33-point, 20-rebound night. Five of his boards were on the offensive glass, and he was 5-for-7 from the free-throw line.

Filling it up: Normally when a player who has scored in double-figures just 10 times all season explodes for 34 points, it’s because he got hot from 3-point land. Fairleigh Dickinson’s Terence Grier dropped 34 in a win at Sacred Heart, snapping the Knights’ 11-game losing streak. Grier hit four 3-pointers and two free-throws – the other 10 field-goals came from inside the arc. Not bad for a 6-foot guard.

Dub-Dubbing: In a battle for second-place in the Summit, Oral Roberts completely dominated IUPUI, getting a 92-74 win. It was the Golden Eagles’ seventh straight win heading into the finale. The leader for ORU was Steven Roundtree, who was 10-for-12 from the field and 7-for-8 from the free-throw line, finishing with 27 points and 12 rebounds, six coming on the offensive end.

Backyard Brawl: An injury to back-up big man Talib Zanna didn’t slow down Pittsburgh, as the Panthers emerged victorious in the Backyard Brawl, downing West West Virginia by 13. Brad Wanamaker had 11 points, seven rebounds and eight assists to lead the Panthers. As for West Virginia, the Mountaineers dropped to 8-7 in the Big East – they could end up finishing 10th in the league.

Bonus Basketball: Marquette faced a must-win situation heading into Connecticut last night, and the Golden Eagles finally came out of a close game with a win. Darius Johnson-Odom scored nine of his 17 points in overtime to lead Marquette to a 74-67 win over the Huskies, who were playing without Jim Calhoun on the sidelines. Kemba Walker had 27 points, but struggled mightily late in the game.

Set the DVR: Don’t set your DVR tonight. Do non-basketball things. But if you must, make sure Harvard and Princeton keep winning.

Numbers Don’t Lie:

  • Pittsburgh has now won 25 games in six straight seasons.
  • Derrick Williams’ eight-point performance was the first time he was held in single-digits this season.
  • Florida’s six-game SEC winning streak is its longest since 2007.
  • Kemba Walker is the first player since Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor to score 600 points in a season. He has 622 points. 

Notes and Notables:

  • Florida picked up its ninth top-50 win of the year, holding off Georgia at home, 71-62. Chandler Parsons had 16 points, while Kenny Boynton dropped 18. Georgia sits squarely on the bubble.
  • Old Dominion just needs to avoid bad losses in order to get an at-large bid, and the Monarchs handled their business on Thursday, beating James Madison on the road, 75-59. 
  • Penn State has very slim hopes for an at-large bid, but the Nittany Lions got back to .500 in the Big Ten with a 14-point road win at Northwestern.
  • Morehead State vs. Murray State was supposed to be one of the better mid-major games of the year, but Murray had a 17-2 run to begin the second half and never looked back. The Racers clinch the top-seed in the OVC Tournament.
  • With Milwaukee beating Cleveland State and Valparaiso losing, there is now a three-team tie for first-place in the Horizon, with Valpo one game back. If Milwaukee wins this weekend, it will get the No. 1 seed and a double-bye.

Photo: US Presswire (Adam Woods)

Posted on: February 1, 2011 9:35 am
Edited on: February 1, 2011 9:50 am

Gonzaga, Butler's stinging BracketBusters irony

Posted by Matt Norlander

You take a look at that hearty television slate of BracketBusters games scheduled for three weeks from now, and there are two notable absentees: Gonzaga and Butler.

The once-Davids are no longer cute, niche programs on the national level. Both have become respected teams who are now able to schedule quality teams outside their conferences on a legitimate level.

How ironic, perhaps unfortunate, then, that in a year when both teams could absolutely use the résumé boost they've outgrown the desk in the kiddie classroom.

It's looking like Gonzaga and Butler will need to win their conference tournaments in order to make The Dance, something that's become unfamiliar territory for both programs.

At 14-8 and 4-3 in the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga's in some serious trouble. This is unlike years past, when it's been picked off once or twice in conference and stumbled a bit against good non-con foes. In those seasons, it was still dominant enough in the WCC to avoid much sweating heading into March.

This year, Gonzaga's anything but a really good team. If you'd like a word, choose inconsistent. The Bulldogs have good wins over Marquette and Xavier, but the Baylor W has little-to-no shine now. San Diego State, Illinois, Washington State, Kansas State and Notre Dame all picked off Mark Few's team in the non-conference. And from Jan. 20 to 27, Gonzaga endured a three-game losing streak to Santa Clara, San Francisco and Saint Mary's.

Think a game against Wichita State, Utah State or Old Dominion would've helped at this point? Absolutely.

As for neo-Gonzaga, Butler, they're in as much trouble. Perhaps more, in fact. Currently sitting with a 14-8 record, just like their Bulldog brethren to the west, Brad Stevens' team is 6-4 in the Horizon, which is coincidentally just about as strong as the WCC.

But it's not strong enough. Last year's national runner-up has now taken on too much water. Think a game against Virginia Commonwealth, Northern Iowa or Missouri State would act as buckets to dump some of that H2O over the ship's walls? Yep.

It's the danger in being a small school that gets progressively better and better: you can't leave your conference. And when the bulls-eye gets really big and you get picked off a few times, suddenly making The Tournament gets extremely sticky. And now there's no safety net (read: BracketBusters opportunity) for these two major programs to fall back on.

On Feb. 19 Gonzaga will play 11-11 San Francisco, Butler 6-16 Chicago, while 22 other teams get a chance to show the committee their ability and worthiness of a selection and seed three weeks later.

Sometimes it hurts to grow up.

Category: NCAAB
Tags: Butler, Gonzaga
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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