College Basketball Nation: Loyola Marymount Lions

Saturday's under-the-radar performances

November, 23, 2013
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On a slow Saturday for college basketball, there just weren’t many gems. North Carolina struggled with Richmond but eventually pulled away to win 82-72. Louisville dismissed Fairfield 71-57, which set up a marquee Sunday matchup against the Tar Heels.

Winless Tulsa gave Creighton a scare. But overall, it certainly wasn’t the game’s sexiest Saturday. But there were a variety of under-the-radar and mid-major programs that offered some impressive individual efforts.

These are some of the players who usually go unnoticed for the majority of the year until March approaches and we’re all scrambling to find the next Butler or VCU. Well, remember these names. These athletes might be more relevant in the coming months.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Ireland
Orlando Ramirez/Icon SMILoyola Marymount G Anthony Ireland turned in a huge effort on Saturday.
1. Keon Lewis (UTSA) -- The UTSA junior guard had a monster game in his team’s 87-76 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. He recorded 30 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals. He also went 13-for-13 from the charity stripe and 3-for-5 from the 3-point line.

2. Anthony Ireland (Loyola Marymount) -- The 2012-13 All-WCC first-teamer scored 25 points in a 76-70 win over Marist in the Paradise Jam. The senior also recorded 6 assists and 3 steals. And he made 10 of 11 free throws.

3. Jameel Warney (Stony Brook) -- The 6-foot-8 sophomore forward was in Beast Mode during Stony Brook’s 67-61 win over Florida Atlantic. He finished with 23 points and 19 rebounds in that game. He was crucial for the Seawolves, who were locked in a tied game early in the second half.

4. Langston Hall (Mercer) -- The 6-4 senior led Mercer to an 81-54 win over Yale. He connected on four of his seven 3-point attempts. He also registered 18 points, 10 assists, 2 rebounds and 1 steal.

5. Anthony Stitt (Charleston) -- The junior finished the Cougars’ lopsided 89-55 win over Furman with 4 steals. He also made 4 of 8 3-point attempts on his way to 21 points.

6. Chris Horton (Austin Peay) -- The sophomore big man is averaging 3.8 BPG. And he maintained that pace when he finished with four blocks in a 78-72 victory over Montana State. He also finished with 23 points and 9 rebounds.

7. Sean Armand (Iona) -- The 6-5 guard powered the Gaels in their 89-73 victory over Paul Hewitt’s program. Armand was 10-for-16 from the field in a 30-point performance. It was his season high in George Mason’s first blemish of the season.

8. Ray Lee (Eastern Michigan) -- What a performance by the freshman in his team’s fifth consecutive win. He scored 38 points, went 12-for-15 from the field and made all five 3-point attempts in Eastern Michigan’s 74-69 victory over Texas-Arlington. Another interesting note? His real name is Raven.

9. Shawn Long (Louisiana-Lafayette) -- Check out this stat line by the 6-9, 245-pounder: He finished with 24 points, 17 rebounds and 5 blocks in the Ragin' Cajuns' 84-75 victory over Oakland. He also hit a 3-pointer.

10. Mark Henniger (Kent State) -- The 6-9 senior led the Golden Flashes to a 102-97 win over Niagara. He was perfect. He went 6-for-6 from the field (20 points) and 8-for-8 from the free throw line. Kent State should bronze his shoes.

Video: Gonzaga 66, Loyola Marymount 48

March, 9, 2013
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Elias Harris scored 21 points as top-ranked Gonzaga moved into the final of the West Coast Conference tournament by beating Loyola Marymount 66-48.

Video: Gonzaga 88, Loyola Marymount 43

February, 1, 2013
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Seventh-ranked Gonzaga hit 13 3-pointers on its way to an 88-43 blowout at Loyola Marymount.

Olynyk made Wooden case in January

January, 31, 2013
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Kelly Olynyk has been among the nation’s best players in January. On Thursday, he’ll close out the month as the Gonzaga Bulldogs travel to Los Angeles to take on the Loyola Marymount Lions (ESPN2, 11 p.m. ET).

Olynyk started the season shuttling between the bench and the starting lineup. Since he became a full-time starter Dec. 28, he has averaged 21.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. During that span, he is shooting 64.8 from the field and has made 4-of-8 attempts from behind the arc.

So far in January, he is in the top 10 in the nation in scoring, at 22.0 ppg, and field-goal percentage, at 64.3 percent.

Olynyk is averaging 18.2 points per game this season while averaging only 25.4 minutes on the court. Among Division I players, only Creighton’s Doug McDermott averages more points per 40 minutes.

For the season, Olynyk is shooting 65.8 percent from the floor. The only Wooden Award winners to make more than 65 percent of their shots were Blake Griffin in 2009 and Larry Johnson in 1991.

The last player to average 28 points per 40 minutes while shooting at least 62.5 percent from the field was Arkansas' Corliss Williamson during the 1993-94 season. He lost out on the Wooden Award to Glenn Robinson of Purdue, but no player is having a Big Dog-caliber season in 2013.

Olynyk is fifth in the nation in effective field goal percentage. The last two Wooden finalists with a higher eFG were Johnson in 1991 and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984.

When you factor in free-throw shooting, it’s even more impressive. Olynyk moves up to third in the nation at 71.7 percent, trailing only Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Belmont’s Ian Clark.

The last Wooden finalist with a true shooting percentage over 70? That would be Johnson.

Olynyk is part of a wave of Canadian talent playing collegiately in the United States. Consider the following squad of Canadian players:
  • Center Jordan Bachynski (Arizona State): tied for third in Division I with 4.3 blocks per game.
  • Forward Olynyk (Gonzaga): third in Division I with 71.7 true shooting percentage.
  • Forward Anthony Bennett (UNLV): second among freshmen with 18.1 points per game.
  • Guard Nik Stauskas (Michigan): top 10 in nation with 49.5 3-point field goal percentage.
  • Guard Myck Kabongo (Texas): preseason All-Big 12 (currently ineligible).
  • Sixth man Kyle Wiltjer (Kentucky): The dual Canadian-American citizen scored a career-high 26 points off bench Tuesday.

ESPN.com's WCC preview

October, 23, 2012
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Before we get to the Blue Ribbon team-by-team previews for the West Coast Conference, here is Eamonn Brennan's quick wind sprint through the league:


Blue Ribbon breakdowns of all nine teams in the WCC:

Brigham Young
Gonzaga
Loyola Marymount
Pepperdine
Portland
Saint Mary's Insider Free
San Diego
San Francisco
Santa Clara

More WCC content:

-- Myron Medcalf's "Five things I can't wait to see" in the West Coast Conference
-- John Gasaway answers five burning questions for the league Insider
-- Brennan's Three Big Things on Gonzaga
-- Medcalf rates and analyzes the nonconference schedules of the WCC
-- Andy Katz on how new-look BYU will remain in contention in the WCC
-- Joel Francisco identifies the top freshmen and potential recruits in the WCC Insider
-- Katz on the new mission rule change by the LDS and how it could affect BYU recruiting
-- ESPN.com's Summer Shootaround preview of the WCC
-- See where Gonzaga, Brigham Young and San Francisco ranked in our "50 in 50" series, which attempted to identify the 50 most successful programs of the past half-century
-- For more coverage of the WCC in the Nation blog, click here.

Nonconference schedule analysis: WCC

October, 10, 2012
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This week, ESPN.com is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen of the nation's top leagues. On Monday, we began with the ACC, SEC and C-USA. On Tuesday, we focused on the East with the A-10, Big East and CAA. Today we head out West with the Mountain West, Pac-12 and WCC.

BYU

Toughest: Coaches vs. Cancer Classic (Nov. 16-17 in Brooklyn, N.Y.), at Iowa State (Dec. 1), at Baylor (Dec. 21)
Next-toughest: Utah State (Dec. 5), vs. Virginia Tech (Dec. 29 in Salt Lake City)
The rest: Tennessee State (Nov. 9), Georgia State (Nov. 13), UT-San Antonio (Nov. 21), Cal-State Northridge (Nov. 24), vs. Montana (Nov. 28 in Salt Lake City), Utah (Dec. 8), at Weber State (Dec. 15), Eastern New Mexico (Dec. 18), Northern Arizona (Dec. 27)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- If BYU gets through this nonconference slate relatively unscathed, the Cougars could be the clear West Coast Conference favorites entering league play. The gauntlet begins with a matchup against Florida State in Brooklyn and then either Top 25 Notre Dame or A-10 favorite St. Joe's the next day. Going to Ames to face a restocked Iowa State squad won’t be a leisure trip, either. And the Cougars will play Baylor on the road four days before Christmas. Nothing easy for coach Dave Rose’s squad.

GONZAGA

Toughest: West Virginia (Nov. 12), vs. Kansas State (Dec. 15 in Seattle), Baylor (Dec. 28), at Butler (Jan. 19)
Next-toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 22-25), Illinois (Dec. 8), at Oklahoma State (Dec. 31)
The rest: Southern Utah (Nov. 9), South Dakota (Nov. 18), Lewis-Clark State (Nov. 29), Pacific (Dec. 1), at Washington State (Dec. 5), Campbell (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- Gonzaga will prep for WCC play the hard way, too. The Bulldogs will face Kansas State, Baylor, Illinois and Oklahoma State in December alone. Prior to that stretch, they get West Virginia as part of the Tip-Off Marathon and then an average field in the Old Spice Classic (opening with Clemson). But overall, Gonzaga will face five or six teams with the athleticism and talent level to add an "L" to its record, including a trip to Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse for "College GameDay."

LOYOLA MARYMOUNT

Toughest: at Saint Louis (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 22-24), Long Beach Staet (Nov. 29), Ole Miss (Dec. 19)
The rest: Pacifica (Nov. 9), at SMU (Nov. 11), at CSU Bakersfield (Nov. 17), Portland State (Dec. 1), at Northern Arizona (Dec. 5), Morgan State (Dec. 27), CSU Bakersfield (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The WCC will probably be a three-team race between Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary’s. This schedule suggests that the Lions recognize they’ll need some momentum to take into the rigorous conference slate. The trip to Anchorage opens with a solid mid-major opponent (Oral Roberts), but there's not much going on in that field. Other than a road game at Saint Louis, LMU won’t face any Top 25 squads during the nonconference season, and as a result, they could enter WCC play with a respectable record, few wounds and, perhaps, a little mojo.

PEPPERDINE

Toughest: at Cal (Nov. 13)
Next-toughest: Washington State (Nov. 16)
The rest: at Cal State Northridge (Nov. 9), at Houston Baptist (Nov. 20), UC Irvine (Nov. 24), at Montana State (Nov. 29), at Utah Valley (Dec. 1), UC Riverside (Dec. 5), at Hawaii (Dec. 8), Central Michigan (Dec. 16), vs. Alabama State (Dec. 19 in New Orleans), at Tulane (Dec. 20), Fresno Pacific (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- Even for a squad that won only 10 games last season, this is an average schedule. The Waves face Cal on the road in mid-November and then it’s mostly quiet until conference play. Their second-toughest opponent (Washington State) travels to Malibu but might end up being the worst team in the Pac-12. Similar programs often try to schedule win-win games against a Top 25 level squad to boost strength of schedule and secure a shot at a quality win. Not that Pepperdine is dreaming of a postseason berth, but this pedestrian slate doesn’t really give them that chance.

PORTLAND

Toughest: UNLV (Dec. 4), at Kentucky (Dec. 8), at New Mexico (Nov. 25)
Next-toughest: at Ohio (Nov. 10), at Washington State (Dec. 1), Las Vegas Classic (Dec. 22-23)
The rest: Idaho State (Nov. 15), at Montana State (Nov. 18), Portland State (Nov. 21), Lewis & Clark (Nov. 27), Portland Bible College (Dec. 14), CSU Bakersfield (Dec. 17), North Florida (Dec. 19), Texas Pan-American (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- Now, this is more like it. Portland, a team that finished 3-13 in the WCC last season, will get paid to play the reigning national champion (Kentucky, in case you hadn’t heard), will lure a Top 25 squad (UNLV) to the Chiles Center, and will compete against plenty of other big-time opponents (Colorado State in the Las Vegas Classic, Ohio, Washington State and New Mexico on the road). That Dec. 14 matchup against Portland Bible College certainly doesn’t define the Pilots’ nonconference matchups. Memo to other schools in a similar position: Nothing wrong with a Hail Mary or two in nonconference scheduling.

SAINT MARY’S

Toughest: DIRECTV Classic (Nov. 22-25 in Anaheim, Calif.), at Northern Iowa (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at Utah State (Nov. 15), Harvard (Dec. 31)
The rest: Sonoma State (Nov. 10), Eastern Washington (Nov. 18), Cal Poly (Dec. 1), at Drake (Dec. 5), Jackson State (Dec. 11), Pacific (Dec. 19), Rhode Island (Dec. 27), Yale (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- SMC's nonconference path certainly contrasts the one taken by BYU and Gonzaga. Those two schools have slotted multiple contenders. The toughest matchup on Saint Mary’s plate is its home game versus now-depleted Harvard. The tourney in Anaheim is lukewarm this season, although the opener with Drexel is very intriguing. But it’s not like Jackson State and Sonoma State will do much for the Gaels’ résumé.

SAN DIEGO

Toughest: at San Diego State (Dec. 15)
Next-toughest: at Montana (Nov. 24), vs. Oregon State (Dec. 22 in Las Vegas)
The rest: San Diego Christian (Nov. 9), Northern Kentucky (Nov. 14), Cal State Northridge (Nov. 15), Tulsa (Nov. 16), Siena (Nov. 18), at UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 21), at Stephen F. Austin (Dec. 1), at Southern Utah (Dec. 4), Tulane (Dec. 8), Arizona Christian (Dec. 11), vs. James Madison (Dec. 23 in Las Vegas), Morgan State (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- San Diego hopes to turn the corner after another lackluster season (13-18) in 2011-12. This is a solid tuneup for a team in that position. San Diego State is a Top 25 team. Nothing guaranteed against Oregon State in Las Vegas or Montana on the road. The rest of the slate is average. But right now, coach Bill Grier’s team needs wins. A few victories against the handful of BCS schools on his team’s nonconference slate would be a bonus.

SAN FRANCISCO

Toughest: vs. Stanford (Nov. 9 in Oakland), at Nevada (Dec. 15), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25)
Next-toughest: St. John’s (Dec. 4)
The rest: UNC Pembroke (Nov. 5), Cal State East Bay (Nov. 13), American (Nov. 19), Columbia (Nov. 24), Montana (Nov. 30), Pacific (Dec. 8), Holy Cross (Dec. 18), Dominican U (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- San Francisco is rebuilding after multiple players decided to transfer this offseason. That fact only enhances the difficulty within the team’s nonconference schedule. The Dons open up the Diamond Head Classic with a matchup against San Diego State. They’ll face Stanford, Nevada and St. John’s, too. All of those games could be lopsided losses for USF.

SANTA CLARA

Toughest: at Saint Louis (Nov. 14), at Duke (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: Utah State (Nov. 28), at Pacific (Dec. 15)
The rest: Simpson (Nov. 10), USC Upstate (Nov. 20), Utah Valley State (Nov. 21), Eastern Washington (Nov. 23), UC Santa Barbara (Dec. 1), Pacific Union (Dec. 8), at San Jose State (Dec. 11), Cal Poly (Dec. 17), Alcorn State (Dec. 21), SMU/Wagner (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Last season, Santa Clara finished WCC play with an 0-16 record. So this is the right schedule for the Broncos. Heavy hitters Duke and Saint Louis will be good barometers as Santa Clara preps for matchups against the WCC’s best. The rest of the nonconference schedule features a multitude of winnable games. And if you finish 0-16 in any league, tasting victory -- regardless of the competition -- is essential. And this schedule gives Santa Clara a chance to do that.
Editor's note: ESPN.com’s Summer Shootaround series catches up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For more on the WCC, click here.

The most important player for each team in the conference ...

BYU: Matt Carlino
The former UCLA transfer showed flashes of a bright future in his partial first season with the Cougars. But as BYU's lead guard in 2012-13, he'll need to raise his own offensive game another step, while working in plenty of touches for forward Brandon Davies and bound-to-be-rusty Tyler Haws.

[+] EnlargeElias Harris
AP Photo/Kevin P. CaseyThis is the year for Elias Harris to live up definitively to the recruiting hype at Gonzaga.
Gonzaga: Elias Harris
With emerging junior Sam Dower and highly touted freshman Przemek Karnowski, the Zags are at no loss for frontcourt talent in 2012-13. So why is Harris their most important player? Because this is -- or at least should be -- his team, the last chance for one of Gonzaga's biggest-ever recruits to punctuate a hot-and-cold career.

Loyola Marymount: Anthony Ireland
Ireland is without question LMU's best player, and he's also its most important, a point guard who averaged 16.1 points and 4.9 assists per game last season. After the unexpected loss of would-be senior Jarred DuBois to transfer (Utah), Ireland will have to do even more.

Pepperdine: Jordan Baker
Baker, whose freshman season was full of promise and frustration, is important both now and in the future as Pepperdine -- which finished just 4-12 in the WCC last season in the first place -- looks to recover from the losses of leading scorers Taylor Darby and Corbin Moore.

Portland: Ryan Nicholas
Portland won just seven games last season and then lost its point guard, Tim Douglas, who led the team in usage rate before transferring. That means even more will be expected from Nicholas. The 6-7 forward led the Pilots with 11.5 ppg and 7.6 rpg last season and might need to up those totals even more as a junior.

Saint Mary's: Brad Waldow
We know what we're going to get from this team's best player, guard Matthew Dellavadova, but we don't know what to expect from his supporting cast now that seniors Rob Jones and Clint Steindl have graduated. Waldow averaged 8.1 points and 4.4 rebounds in 18.2 minutes per game as a freshman, with an offensive rating of 121.8. More minutes and touches should lead to more production, particularly on the boards, something the Gaels will desperately need.

San Diego: Johnny Dee
Dee showcased huge potential in 2011-12, including (but not limited to) his 30-point outburst against Pepperdine in the WCC tournament. Fellow sophomore guard Christopher Anderson will be crucial too, but Dee has the makings of a star.

San Francisco: Cody Doolin
When you lose this many players (nine) in one offseason, your most important player becomes anyone with a warm body. But Doolin and fellow junior Cole Dickerson stuck around, and both will have to take on major roles in the wake of all those defections.

Santa Clara: Kevin Foster
Foster was en route to a solid if unspectacular individual 2011-12 before being suspended for the final 12 games of the season. But the 3-point gunner is back for his senior year and should be the focus of the Santa Clara attack.
GonzagaCharles LaClaire/US PresswireNearly everyone returns on a Gonzaga team that's expected to reclaim the West Coast title.


As part of our Summer Shootaround series, here are the best- and worst-case scenarios for the West Coast Conference:

Brigham Young

Best-case: Losing your two most experienced and offensively accurate players is never a good thing, but there's plenty of reason to believe the Cougars could have a more balanced overall lineup in 2012-13. All-WCC forward Brandon Davies is back, as is promising point guard Matt Carlino, while the return of former All-Mountain West freshman Tyler Haws from his two-year mission in the Philippines should give BYU lights-out shooting from the perimeter. If Carlino steps into his sophomore season with panache, this team is much better than last season's trip to the First Four.

Worst-case: The Cougars like to run -- they ranked fifth in the country in adjusted tempo last season -- but, counter to the stereotype of most run-and-gun teams, this team was actually much better on the defensive end of the floor. Noah Hartsock's floor-spacing knock-down touch will be missed, and this team wasn't all that fluid on offense in the first place. Stagnancy seems the only conceivable reason this team might not exceed last season's largely forgettable post-Jimmer campaign.

Gonzaga

Best-case: A deep NCAA tournament breakthrough. Let's be honest: Gonzaga hasn't been Cinderella in a decade. Soon after the Dan Monson-led 1999 Elite Eight appearance, coach Mark Few took the program to back-to-back Sweet 16s and savvily parlayed that rise into lasting national success, complete with the creation of a national brand. (As a longtime college shorts connoisseur, let me assure you: You can buy Gonzaga shorts just about anywhere.) But for all the steady success of the Few era -- 11 straight conference titles, 13 straight NCAA tournament appearances -- this program hasn't cracked the Elite Eight since 1999 kicked the whole thing off. With all this talent and experience (Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, Elias Harris, Sam Dower, and now Przemek Karnowski form a truly elite rotation) this could, and maybe even should, be the season the Zags finally break through.

Worst-case: It's really all about the tournament. Gonzaga's days of singlehandedly dominating the WCC are over, but by all rights this team should return to the top of the league standings this season. The question is whether the Zags can notch enough early nonconference wins, and avoid bad losses in league play, in order to assure a favorable NCAA tournament position. Another first-weekend tourney exit would be massively disappointing.

Loyola Marymount

Best-case: Can Max Good's team break the Gonzaga-BYU-Saint Mary's stranglehold on the top of the WCC standings? If any non-triumverate member can, it might be the Lions, who have the benefit of an experienced point guard in Anthony Ireland and the arrival of Nick Stover, whose crafty game could be an ideal match for his new league.

Worst-case: More likely than not, Ireland will be solid, Stover will be highly intriguing, but in general LMU won't have enough all-around firepower to keep from finishing around .500 in the league. Anything significantly worse than that is probably the worst-case scenario.

Pepperdine

Best-case: Pepperdine lost two senior starters from a team that finished No. 289 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings. Improving last season's putrid offense in coach Marty Wilson's second season is the real focal point here.

Worst-case: A last-place finish in the WCC not only seems possible, but it's probably the most likely outcome. Pepperdine is years away from competing on a level basis with most of its West Coast Conference counterparts.

Editor's note: ESPN.com’s Summer Shootaround series is catching up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For the rest of the best- and worst-case scenarios for the WCC, click here.
The matchups for the 10th annual BracketBusters event were announced Monday night, but projecting how important some of these games will be three weeks before they happen is hardly an exact science.

Nevertheless, the evidence exists that BracketBusters usually help at least one team’s profile. Historically, George Mason is the most obvious example of the event helping a team’s cause. In 2006, the Patriots’ win at Wichita State was a large reason they received a controversial at-large berth -- one they used to reach the Final Four.

Every matchup may not move the meter for the 10-member selection committee, but there is a chance. So with that mind, here are my initial thoughts on what should be the top games. (Keep in mind, the home and road designations are pre-set before the season).

Editor's Note: The non-TV matchups can be found here.

All times ET

1. Saint Mary’s at Murray State, Feb. 18 (6 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2): You can debate whether the Gaels should be going to Creighton instead. I made that case in Tuesday’s 3-point shot. The Gaels are winning the WCC. The Bluejays are atop the Missouri Valley. Both conferences play at a higher level than the Ohio Valley.

That said, there’s certainly nothing wrong with this matchup. If Murray State is still unbeaten, it becomes fascinating because the Gaels will be the Racers’ best opponent this season. The best matchup is Matthew Dellavedova against Isaiah Canaan at the point. Rob Jones trying to keep Ivan Aska off the glass also will be critical.

Saint Mary’s is going to be in the NCAA tournament. Murray State will be as well barring some sort of collapse. So this is a game that won’t put a team in the tournament, but could affect seeding. And for drama, this is the game that could prevent the Racers from running the table prior to March. I’m convinced Saint Mary’s has second-weekend potential. Does Murray? This game will help us find out.

2. Long Beach State at Creighton, Feb. 18 (10 p.m., ESPN2): Hey, the 49ers are on the road again. They should be used to it. Long Beach State went to Kansas, Louisville, San Diego State, North Carolina, Montana and Pitt in the nonconference. They also played in Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic. This is a legit team. Dan Monson has his best unit at Long Beach with a star guard in Casper Ware. The 49ers are running the table so far in the Big West and with a 34 RPI should have a spot in the NCAAs regardless. Creighton, which is atop the RPI among these teams at 14, has a national player of the year candidate in Doug McDermott. Antoine Young will have his hands full with Ware, but he can also cause problems himself. Creighton has the Omaha home court advantage, but this is a matchup that could easily be seen in the NCAA tournament between two teams that could win a game.

3. Nevada at Iona, Feb. 18 (4 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2): The Wolf Pack are undefeated in the WAC. Iona is tied with Loyola (Md.) and Manhattan in the MAAC. But both teams aren’t locks for the NCAAs if they don’t win their respective conference tournaments. That’s why this game will be critical to the cause. A win by Nevada thousands of miles from Reno will get the Pack credit with the selection committee. Neither team has a standout nonconference win but there is star power on the court. Deonte Burton is a legit scorer for the Wolf Pack. Scott Machado is one of the top four point guards in the country. This will likely be an up-tempo game and a good watch. Iona coach Tim Cluess didn’t want a West Coast team for return travel. But he can’t dismiss the good fortune of at least getting a conference leader.

4. Wichita State at Davidson, Feb. 18 (12 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2): The Shockers lost in triple overtime at Drake over the weekend. Davidson lost at Samford. That takes a bit of the luster out of both teams’ ability to possibly move up in the matchups. But each team has a shelf-life win that could catch the selection committee in March. Wichita State blew out UNLV at home and Davidson beat Kansas in Kansas City. A road win by Wichita State would enhance its strength of schedule and likely bump up the 31 RPI. Davidson, at 67, could use a top-40 RPI win, too. Wichita will want to push at every opportunity. Davidson may be a bit more deliberate. No one should be shocked if both of these teams are in the tournament and in position to win a first-round game. This game may not knock the other out from contention for a bid. But clearly Wichita State may need it more since Davidson has a better shot to earn the automatic berth out of the Southern than Wichita does in the more competitive Missouri Valley.

5. Drexel at Cleveland State, Feb. 18 (11 a.m., ESPNU): The Dragons are a game behind George Mason in a cluttered group in the Colonial with ODU and VCU. Cleveland State is atop the Horizon League. Cleveland State could get an at-large bid due to its win at Vanderbilt if the Vikings lost in the Horizon League final. Drexel can’t get an at-large bid. But what if the Dragons won at Cleveland State? That’s not enough, but it would help in possible seeding. Both teams are undersized and would prefer a defensive approach. Expect a lower scoring affair that will be a grinder. And Gary Waters and Bruiser Flint, the two head coaches, love to work the sidelines in animated fashion.

6. Akron at Oral Roberts, Feb. 18 (2 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2): The Zips are in first place in the MAC and have the defensive presence in Zeke Marshall. His ability to block and alter shots will be a potential difference maker going forward. The Zips, if they can win the MAC tournament, proved that they have the ability to step up in play when they won at Mississippi State. But that was a lifetime ago. Oral Roberts is undefeated in the Summit (although that may change with a game at South Dakota State on Thursday). The Eagles’ best win was over a depleted Xavier in Cincinnati. ORU would be an interesting case for the selection committee if it doesn’t lose again and has four losses. Akron probably can’t get in without winning the MAC tournament -- the MAC can’t seem to get multiple bids.

7. Valparaiso at Loyola Marymount, Feb. 17 (9 p.m., ESPNU): The Crusaders have been the surprise of the Horizon League, a half-game behind Cleveland State. LMU has wins over Saint Louis, Villanova and BYU and is a top-four WCC team, although the Lions couldn’t stop Saint Mary’s at home last week. LMU isn’t going to make the NCAAs unless it goes on a run at the WCC tournament in Las Vegas. Valpo, though, could win the Horizon League. So this could be an opportunity to see one team in the Dance as Bryce Drew has done a solid job in his first year at Valparaiso.

8. Northern Iowa at VCU, Feb. 17 (7 p.m., ESPN2): The Rams are headed in the right direction and are a threat to win the CAA. VCU, a Final Four team last year, is tied with Old Dominion and Drexel for second place. But the Rams didn’t get any favors in this event. VCU needed a better game. Northern Iowa has slumped to 4-7 in the Valley. This game won’t move the meter for the selection committee.

The rest of the TV games (all on Feb. 18):

Buffalo at South Dakota State, 1 p.m. ESPNU: Buffalo rocked Dayton on the road and South Dakota State crushed Washington on the road. And SDSU’s Nate Wolters is a star. Oh, and I love the Jackrabbit nickname, my favorite in the sport. Go Bunnies!

Drake at New Mexico State, 3 p.m., ESPNU: Drake has come on a bit lately with the weekend win over Wichita State. NMSU is the second-best team in the WAC. This game has potential between teams that could be pests in their respective conference tournaments.

Old Dominion at Missouri State, 5 p.m., ESPNU: The Monarchs are tied for second in the CAA. Missouri State has slipped a bit to 6-5 in the Valley. This will be a grinder between teams that have been all over the place this season.

UNC Asheville at Ohio, 7 p.m., ESPN3: Ohio has D.J. Cooper and is one of the four best teams in the MAC. Asheville is atop the Big South standings. A bit stunned that Asheville got a TV game, but the Bulldogs have been solid.

UT-Arlington at Weber State, 8 p.m., ESPN3: Weber State has one of the top five NBA-level point guards in the country in Damian Lillard. Arlington is atop the Southland West division at 7-0, but there were probably better choices for this slot.

Notable omissions: Loyola (Md.) coach Jimmy Patsos has a right to be peeved that his team was left out of the TV portion of BracketBusters. The Greyhounds and Manhattan are tied with Iona atop the always-competitive MAAC, but only Iona made the cut in terms of television selections. It is important to note that both Loyola and Manhattan were designated home teams, so they couldn't have replaced, say, UTA. George Mason is also atop the CAA, but the Patriots are nowhere to be found on this list of TV games. Butler hasn’t played well and didn’t deserve a high spot, but it’s still a stark reminder of how much the Bulldogs are rebuilding this season that they didn’t even make the TV cut. Wow.

3-point shot: Calipari on NBA deal

November, 30, 2011
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1. Kentucky, which has elite freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague, could have been the biggest beneficiary if the NBA had changed the draft rule to two years out of high school. But ESPN’s Ric Bucher reported Tuesday night that the rule is likely to stay the same for the next two seasons. Wildcats coach John Calipari isn’t surprised that the rule isn’t going to change. “The players association isn’t going to give it up,’’ Calipari said. “I want it to go to two years but that ain't happening in my opinion.’’ Meanwhile, Calipari reacted to the Wildcats being No. 1 by conducting his two longest practices since the season began. Calipari said he went longer than two hours Monday and Tuesday. “We had to go up and down for Marquis Teague so he can recognize when he should make the easy plays.’’

2. Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe could have the possibility of pursuing a medical hardship. But at least one Gophers assistant doesn’t see it occurring. Mbakwe considered looking at the NBA last year but decided to come back to the Gophers. This major setback means he’ll likely look longer at providing financial backing for his family as soon as he’s healthy. The Gophers may go through the process of him possibly getting a year back but no one is now holding their breath that he will return for 2012-13. His loss means Rodney Williams had better board. And the Gophers are going to be much more guard-oriented.

3. Memo to coaches: There is no need to have a game on the way to a tournament or on the way home. History has shown it’s never a good idea to stay on the road like that after a tournament or in advance of one. Michigan State lost at Hawaii on the way to Maui one year and North Carolina did the same to Santa Clara. Now Saint Louis has fallen at Loyola Marymount on the back end of winning the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif. The Billikens were ranked No. 25 after the tournament win. Losing to LMU shouldn’t dampen any thoughts about SLU being a challenger to Xavier in the A-10. But it was an unnecessary defeat on the road.

Video: Pac-12 favorite UCLA upset by LMU

November, 12, 2011
11/12/11
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UCLA was voted the preseason favorite in the Pac-12, but the Bruins got off to an ugly start with a 69-58 loss to Loyola Marymount.

ESPN.com's WCC preview

November, 4, 2011
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Before we get to the Blue Ribbon team-by-team previews for the West Coast Conference, here is Diamond Leung's quick wind sprint through the league:



Blue Ribbon breakdowns of all nine teams in the WCC:

BYU
Gonzaga
Loyola Marymount
Pepperdine
Portland InsiderFree
Saint Mary's
San Diego
San Francisco
Santa Clara

More WCC content:

WCC preview: Coaching quotable

November, 4, 2011
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An assortment of quotes from each of the nine coaches at the recent WCC Media Day:

BYU's Dave Rose: “Brandon Davies, Noah Hartsock, Charles Abouo, they’ve played in big games, made winning plays in games, and we will play through our posts as we start the season.”

Gonzaga's Mark Few: “[Robert Sacre] is a phenomenal leader, plays the game with a lot of passion, and he’s true blue Zag all the way through. I just hope he has a fantastic senior year. He deserves it.”

Loyola Marymount's Max Good: “If [Ashley Hamilton] gives all that he’s got, he can be one of the premier players in our league.”

Pepperdine's Marty Wilson: “I can guarantee our guys will play hard, will play smart and play together.”

Portland's Eric Reveno: “Tim Douglas as a freshman gave us outstanding games and was a sparkplug, and now we’re looking for consistency.”

Saint Mary’s Randy Bennett: “Rob [Jones] has improved significantly from last year to this year. The areas are not just skill-wise. It’s composure, leadership and being able to bring it every day.”

San Diego Bill Grier: “[Ken Rancifer] is in better shape. His nickname is ‘Flash.’ I’m hoping for something like ‘Marathon’ Rancifer.”

San Francisco's Rex Walters: “We have a chance to play with what I think is the Big Three. Let’s be honest. The Big Three is BYU, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s.”

Santa Clara's Kerry Keating: “[Kevin Foster] is able to get his shot off against pressure just as easily as he does when he’s wide open.”

Nonconference schedule analysis: WCC

October, 6, 2011
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For the rest of the week, ESPN.com will be breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen different leagues. On Tuesday, we began with the ACC, SEC and C-USA. On Wednesday, we continued with the Big East, Atlantic 10 and Colonial.

We are devoting Thursday to the West, beginning with the Pac-12 and now continuing with the newly expanded West Coast Conference ...

BYU

Toughest: Chicago Invitational Challenge (Nov. 25-26), Baylor (Dec. 17), at Virginia Tech (Jan. 25)
Next-toughest: at Utah State (Nov. 11), vs. Oregon in Salt Lake City (Dec. 3), UC Santa Barbara (Dec. 22)
The rest: BYU-Hawaii (Nov. 15), Longwood (Nov. 18), Prairie View A&M (Nov. 22), vs. Northern Arizona in Prescott Valley, Ariz. (Nov. 30), Weber State (Dec. 7), at Utah (Dec. 10), Buffalo (Dec. 20), Cal State San Marcos (Dec. 27)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- BYU begins its season at Utah State's raucous Spectrum and also has a late-January date at Virginia Tech. In between, the Cougars host Baylor, play rising Oregon in Salt Lake and also head to the Chicago Invitational Challenge, where there is a game against Nevada and a likely date with Wisconsin if BYU takes care of business in the first game. It’s not always easy to get an at-large bid out of the WCC, but this nonconference schedule certainly gives Dave Rose’s team a chance.

GONZAGA

Toughest: at Illinois (Dec. 3), Michigan State (Dec. 10), vs. Arizona in Seattle (Dec. 17), at Xavier (Dec. 31)
Next-toughest: Washington State (Nov. 14), Notre Dame (Nov. 30), Butler (Dec. 20)
The rest: Eastern Washington (Nov. 11), vs. Hawaii in Vancouver, British Columbia (Nov. 19), Western Michigan (Nov. 26), Oral Roberts (Dec. 15), Air Force (Dec. 22), Longwood (Feb. 27)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- As usual, the Zags aren't afraid to play anyone this season. The refreshing part for Gonzaga fans is that some big-time programs are headed to Spokane, including Michigan State, Notre Dame and Butler, along with the traditional rivalry game with Washington State, which arrives for the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon. That Battle In Seattle with Zona should be fun and road trips to Illinois and Xavier will provide brutal environments, but Gonzaga has usually been bold about playing wherever it can find good competition. Mark Few gets creativity points too for getting center Robert Sacre a hometown game in Vancouver.

LOYOLA MARYMOUNT

Toughest: at UCLA (Nov. 11), at Florida State (Dec. 18)
Next-toughest: Harvard (Nov. 19), Saint Louis (Nov. 29), North Texas (Dec. 4)
The rest: Middle Tennessee (Nov. 13), at Idaho State (Nov. 23), Northern Arizona (Nov. 26), Columbia (Dec. 2), La Sierra (Dec. 3), Idaho State (Dec. 10), at Morgan State (Dec. 21), Vanguard (Dec. 27), TBA BracketBusters (home)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- LMU has a record number of home games this season, including ones against rising mid-majors Harvard and North Texas. It has difficult road games across town at UCLA for the season opener and also a nationally televised return trip to Florida State. The Lions need a bounceback after a disappointing 2010-11 season, and this schedule certainly offers the opportunity for statement wins.

PEPPERDINE

Toughest: at Arizona State (Nov. 15), at UCLA (Nov. 28), vs. Washington State in Seattle (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: Hawaii (Dec. 3)
The rest: Pomona-Pitzer (Nov. 12), at Cal State Bakersfield (Nov. 19), Central Michigan (Nov. 21), at UT-San Antonio (Nov. 26), at Northern Arizona (Dec. 7), Cal State Northridge (Dec. 10), Montana State (Dec. 18), at Seattle (Feb. 16)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- The Waves play three Pac-12 teams away from home, including the always-difficult trip to UCLA. That’s balanced out with a mix of mid-majors at home and on the road. It’s a schedule that should give first-year coach Marty Wilson and his team some confidence heading into WCC play.

PORTLAND

Toughest: at Washington (Nov. 14), at Kentucky (Nov. 26)
Next-toughest: Washington State (Nov. 20), at UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 22), at Saint Louis (Dec. 3), at Nevada (Dec. 22)
The rest: vs. Florida Atlantic in Seattle (Nov. 12), vs. Georgia State in Seattle (Nov. 13), Lewis & Clark (Nov. 29), at Boise State (Dec. 7), Ohio (Dec. 10), Montana (Dec. 17), at Utah (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The return trip to Kentucky is the highlight of the schedule, but where the difficulty lies is in the overall quality of the opponents. The Pilots play road games against rising programs such as UC Santa Barbara, Nevada, Saint Louis and Boise State. Home games against Ohio, Montana, and a game against Florida Atlantic in Seattle won’t be easy. There are also three Pac-12 opponents on the schedule.

SAINT MARY’S

Toughest: vs. Baylor in Las Vegas (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: Northern Iowa (Nov. 14), at Denver (Nov. 23), vs. Missouri State in Las Vegas (Dec. 23)
The rest: Shamrock Classic (Nov. 27-28), at Cal Poly (Dec. 3), Jackson State (Dec. 13), Bethune-Cookman (Dec. 17), Kennesaw State (Dec. 19), Eastern Washington (Dec. 20), at TBA BracketBusters (road)
Toughness scale (1-10): Incomplete -- Saint Mary’s has only officially released a partial schedule, so this list was compiled in conjunction with some of their opponents announcing games. The highlights for the Gaels are opening the season with a late-night affair against Northern Iowa for the Tip-Off Marathon and playing Baylor and Missouri State on consecutive days in Vegas. SMC is also hosting an event on campus that includes Weber State, Jacksonville State and San Francisco State.

SAN DIEGO

Toughest: San Diego State (Dec. 7), at Stanford (Dec. 17)
Next-toughest: Montana (Nov. 20), UC Santa Barbara (Dec. 13)
The rest: Stephen F. Austin (Nov. 14), San Diego Christian (Nov. 16), vs. New Orleans in New Orleans (Nov. 25), vs. Alcorn State in New Orleans (Nov. 26), at Tulane (Nov. 27), at UC Irvine (Dec. 3), Maine (Dec. 10), vs. South Alabama in Las Vegas (Dec. 22), at Cal State Bakersfield (Feb. 18)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- San Diego had to redo the early part of its schedule after the cancellation of the Rainbow Classic and is now headed to New Orleans for the three-game Hoops for Hope Classic at Tulane. The Toreros also host a crosstown game against San Diego State as well as solid mid-major teams in Montana and UC Santa Barbara.

SAN FRANCISCO

Toughest: Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 23-26), at Montana (Dec. 1)
Next-toughest: at Seattle (Nov. 19)
The rest: North Dakota State (Nov. 11), Northern Arizona (Nov. 12), Louisiana-Lafayette (Nov. 13), San Jose State (Nov. 16), Pacific Union (Dec. 4), Pacific (Dec. 10), Menlo College (Dec. 17), at Holy Cross (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 1 -- Rex Walters said he and school administrators decided it wasn’t in the best interest of the program to play guarantee games. That’s one reason why rising San Francisco won’t be facing any power-conference teams. With few possibilities for notable nonconference wins, the Great Alaska Shootout becomes important. Assuming it gets past Dartmouth, USF could play Murray State in the second round, with New Mexico State and Southern Miss lurking on the other side of the bracket.

SANTA CLARA

Toughest: 76 Classic (Nov. 24-27), at Washington State (Dec. 11)
Next-toughest: at UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 15)
The rest: UC Merced (Nov. 11), San Jose State (Nov. 19), Cal State Northridge (Dec. 3), Pacifica (Dec. 13), Pacific (Dec. 17), at Houston Baptist (Dec. 21), Eastern Michigan (Dec. 29), Air Force (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The 76 Classic presents a big opportunity for Kerry Keating’s team to do some damage and open some eyes. The Broncos have an opening-round game against MWC contender New Mexico and then face either Oklahoma or Washington State. They also have road trips to Washington State and UC Santa Barbara. The rest of the schedule gives them an opportunity to go into WCC play with momentum.
The rest of the schedule gives them an opportunity to go into WCC with momentum.

WCC keeps fingers crossed with BYU

September, 23, 2011
9/23/11
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Earlier this month, when Big 12 athletic directors were pursuing a possible 10th member to replace Texas A&M, they reached out to Brigham Young University.

But will the Cougars listen again if the phone rings? Would they dismiss being an independent in football and eradicate their West Coast Conference affiliation before spending a full year in the league?

BYU isn't saying boo publicly, only issuing this general statement:

“There is much speculation right now regarding conference affiliation that seems to change by the hour,’’ associate athletic director Duff Tittle said. “Commenting on such conjecture is not productive and creates a distraction for our program. As we enter the 2011-12 athletic season, BYU is focused on the opportunities ahead. We are excited about our relationship with ESPN as a football independent and our affiliation with the West Coast Conference.’’

The university would not comment further and athletic director Tom Holmoe isn’t making any public comments either.

That’s fine. It’s not his decision. Any move by BYU will be made by the school president in conjunction with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The university is adamant that it wants its own network to be successful on a national and global stage. BYUtv has an agreement with the WCC and ESPN that works to its advantage by getting games on television that weren’t available under the previous contract with the Mountain West and Comcast. Not having to share those rights on BYUtv, which is not a tier 1 or tier 2 issue, may sound familiar to Big 12 schools after squawking over the Longhorn Network, a joint venture between Texas and ESPN.

BYUtv probably wouldn’t be an issue for Big 12 membership, but the question is do both parties want each other? That’s still undetermined. The Cougars may want to sit and wait to see if the Big 12 really does stick together for the foreseeable future.

The conflicting reports out of Oklahoma and Missouri on Thursday night make it seem as if there are two differing opinions about the unity of the conference. Oklahoma made it seem as if there was an agreement in place for the schools over the next six years, while Missouri’s news conference indicated there were talks but that nothing was set in stone. In fact, MU's chancellor did not rule out his school moving to another league.

BYU’s hierarchy does like being with like-minded, faith-based universities in the WCC that can understand its mission. The Cougars do seek stability and their new conference does offer it up.

But if the Cougars did want to leave, they wouldn’t get held up by the WCC. The league fully understands that BYU may want to join a major football conference, but the WCC isn’t fretting an imminent departure. The conference is pumping up BYU’s admission with higher-profile members Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s and moved its tournament semifinals away from Sunday for the Cougars.

Bottom line: BYU will take its time surveying the scene. Could the Cougars leave independence and the WCC? Of course. But, as you can see from the interview with commissioner Jamie Zaninovich at the top of this post, no one seems to be overly worried in the WCC offices in San Bruno, Calif.

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