2013 WCC Conference Tournament Preview

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As crazy as it may seem seeing as the current No. 1 team in the country resides in the WCC, there’s a pretty good chance that this conference could end up being just a one-bid league this year.

Gonzaga has been fantastic, and while they may not actually be the best team or the national title favorite, they are every bit deserving of their current spot atop both polls. The problem, however, is that the two other powerhouse programs in the league are both struggling through a bit of a down year. BYU whiffed on their four shots at quality non-conference wins, got swept by both St. Mary’s and BYU, and then lost four of their last seven league games, including dates with San Diego and San Francisco. St. Mary’s had the bad luck of losing to plucky Pacific in the Anaheim Classic and seeing Utah State, Drexel and Harvard struggle this season, which crushed their non-conference schedule strength.

The Gaels caught a break, however, when they picked up a win over a then-struggling, now-thriving Creighton in BracketBusters, which may be the win that gets them an at-large bid if they can get to the WCC finals and lose to the Zags.

Ironically enough, Gonzaga has plenty to play for right now as well. A loss could cost them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas

When: March 6-11

Final: March 11th, 9:00 p.m ET (ESPN)

Favorite: Gonzaga

Obviously. The Zags rolled through WCC play undefeated. Outside of a fluky loss at Butler in January, Gonzaga hasn’t lost since Brandon Paul did Brandon Paul things to them in Spokane in early December. Kelly Olynyk has come out of no where to be a National Player of the Year candidate, making Elias Harris a forgotten man in the front court and the talented back court of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell suddenly vastly underrated.

And if they lose?: St. Mary’s and BYU are the two teams with enough firepower to give the Zags a scare on a neutral court. The Gaels are led by phenomenal senior point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who may be the nation’s best ball-handler in pick-and-roll actions, while the Cougars have a pair of all-conference players in Brandon Davies and Tyler Haws. St. Mary’s may be the better team, but BYU’s size makes them a better matchup with Gonzaga. If chalk holds, those two will meet in the semifinals.

Sleeper: Santa Clara is the team to keep an eye on. Kevin Foster is a volume shooter capable of dropping 40 if he gets into a rhythm. Marc Trasolini is a stretch four that can draw Gonzaga’s big men away from the basket and Evan Roquemore may be the league’s most underrated player. While the Broncos were manhandled in Spokane a few weeks ago, they gave Gonzaga all they could handle at home back in January.

Studs:

Kevin Foster, Santa Clara: Foster put 30 on St. Louis in November, gave Duke 29 in Cameron in December and dropped 29 on the Zags in their first matchup.

Anthony Ireland, Loyola Marymount: It’s a shame that the Lions aren’t better, because Ireland is the real deal.

Johnny Dee, San Diego: The 6-foot-0 sophomore is San Diego’s leading scorer and has a name straight out of a Happy Days episode.

CBT Prediction: I’m going to pick an upset. I’ll take St. Mary’s getting revenge in the third matchup of the season with Gonzaga. Mostly, I just want to see Dellavedova in the tournament one last time.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”