College Basketball Nation: Omar Samhan

Saint Mary's has high expectations

July, 29, 2011
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Saint Mary's faltered down the stretch last season, and for that was snubbed by the selection committee despite capturing 25 wins and a share of the West Coast Conference regular-season title.

This coming season, the Gaels won't have WCC player of the year Mickey McConnell to lead the way.

But forward Rob Jones, Saint Mary's leading returning scorer, believes that the team will make it back to the NCAA tournament.

"We have high expectations," Jones told the team's website. "We know what we could have accomplished last year, but we kind of underachieved a little bit I think. But I think this coming year ... definitely tournament-bound, hopefully win a couple of games. I can't give you too many details because I don't want to act like I'm talking mess, but we have high expectations for the postseason."

Jones has emerged as more of a scorer since transferring from San Diego to Saint Mary's, and he'll have plenty of experience around him in the frontcourt.

But what do the Gaels do without McConnell, who helped carry them two years ago to the Sweet 16 and served as their unquestioned leader since then? While Saint Mary's can expect a big year from Matthew Dellavedova, coach Randy Bennett will have to sort out the point guard position between Stephen Holt and SMU transfer Paul McCoy.

"Every year I feel like Saint Mary's, they lose this great player, and they think that we're not going to be as good a team, but we always seem to rise to the occasion," Jones said. "After the Sweet 16 they lost Omar [Samhan], and we had Mickey step up. So this year is just an another opportunity for another player to step up."

St. John's-Saint Mary's quick reactions

November, 16, 2010
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Some quick impressions after Saint Mary's 76-71 win against St. John's:
  • Not that we didn’t know this before, but Dwayne Polee II is really athletic. He showed off his great leaping ability with a breakaway dunk in the first half, revealing why it was really a coup when Steve Lavin got him to come to St. John’s in his first recruiting class.
  • Saint Mary’s doesn’t have Omar Samhan anymore, but appears to have enough frontcourt depth to get by. The Gaels started transfers Rob Jones and Kenton Walker II, rotating in Mitchell Young and Tim Williams when Jones got into foul trouble. Williams came up big down the stretch.
  • Clint Steindl brought Saint Mary’s back with huge 3-pointers in the second half. At 6-foot-7, he likes to camp out beyond the arc to set himself up for the shot. The Australian is as fundamentally sound as they come and one of the reasons the Gaels will be fine going forward.
  • Lavin coached his first regular-season game in seven years, and what happens? He picked up a technical foul for complaining a little too hard to the referee. Give him credit though for taking on the challenge and playing in a tough road environment.
  • Stephen Holt is an impressive freshman for St. Mary’s. He started, and you can see that he has a good feel for the game even as a young player. Look for the Gaels to use plenty of three-guard sets with Holt, Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova.

Hoopsbag: Answering our mail

October, 27, 2010
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Each Wednesday, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this space. To submit, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the page. You can also e-mail me or send me your entries via Twitter. Let's begin with a video response to a couple of similar questions about Colorado and Louisville:

Matt from New Jersey writes: Where is Seton Hall? It returns the best scorer in the conference, the best rebounder in the conference, two great perimeter guards that can defend, an Ole Miss transfer (6-foot-6 forward Eniel Polynice) and has Jeff Robinson for a whole season. The best part is that they finally have a sane, calm coach with a good demeanor who will preach the two most important elements: defense and rebounding.

Eamonn Brennan: Matt, I assume you're asking about Seton Hall's lack of presence in various preseason discussions of the Big East, and not actually trying to find Seton Hall geographically. But just in case, here you go.

Also, I hope you are not insinuating that former Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez was insane. What would make you think that?

Google Maps-related jokes aside, your question, vague though it may be, is valid. But there are a few reasons why Seton Hall probably isn't on most preseason prognosticators' minds, and I think they're valid too. The first is uncertainty. Kevin Willard takes over as a first-year coach in the Big East, and that's not an easy job for anyone, even a guy like Willard, who is familiar with the territory. Forward Herb Pope is key to Seton Hall's chances, and no one was really sure whether or not he was going to be able to play in 2010-11 -- or, for that matter, ever again. (Pope collapsed during a workout last spring but appears to be able to play this season.) The third is talent: Even with Pope, leading scorer Jeremy Hazell, and forward Jeff Robinson for much of last season, Gonzalez's team struggled to get to 9-9 in the Big East. Returning talent is nice, and adding Polynice gives the Pirates some depth, but is this team really that much better than last year's? And if not, do they really deserve the preseason love?

Don't get me wrong: Seton Hall could definitely surprise some people this season. Willard is inheriting a solid nucleus. If Pope is productive, an NCAA tournament bid is well within reach. But you can't blame preseason scribes from warily avoiding Seton Hall until the Pirates prove a few things on the court. That's only fair.


Tom D. from Austin, Tex., writes: I saw that Duke hung 141 points on last year's CIAA champs in an exhibition game with no player getting more than 22 minutes. Does this mean anything at all?

Brennan: Let's see: The reigning NCAA national champs and 2010-11 preseason No. 1 beat a CIAA team (St. Augustine's) that lost six players? And they did so by a considerable margin?

Uh, yeah. This means nothing at all. It might actually mean less than nothing. If there was an "absolute nothing," this would be it. (Like absolute zero? See what I did there? Har? OK, moving on...)


Stephen from Evansville, Ind., writes: Everyone always seems to get caught up on how many teams a conference gets into the NCAA tournament as a measure for the quality of the conference. What should the Missouri Valley expect as far as NCAA tournament teams and success year-in and year-out?

Brennan: In terms of resources and conference affiliation, it's a little unrealistic to expect the Missouri Valley to recreate its brilliant 2006 run, when the MVC got four NCAA tournament bids and saw two teams streak to Sweet 16 appearances. Like many other mid-majors, it's hard for teams in the MVC to put together strong overall résumés, because it's so hard to convince the big boys to play them. It ain't fair, but that's just life in the sub-high-major world.

I think the Valley would be pretty excited if it could consistently place three teams in the NCAA tournament every year. That means at least two or three programs are building the sort of long-term success that doesn't require a one-year flash in the MVC tourney to get in to the Big Dance. That could be the case this year, as both Wichita State and Creighton (and maybe even Northern Iowa) look like potential NCAA tournament teams. But it's a lot to expect from a conference like the Missouri Valley on a year-to-year basis.


Tim Watts from Philadelphia, writes: Will Ohio State still be a contending team without superstar Evan Turner? And do they have a chance of winning the Big Ten over Michigan State?

Brennan: Yes and yes. Turner was a special player, but Ohio State has a coterie of experienced guards who can share Turner's ballhandling and scoring roles (William Buford, David Lighty, Jon Diebler), and could end up being much deeper and more balanced than last season's team. That's because forward Jared Sullinger could be a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate in the post, and OSU's other highly touted recruits should be able to contribute right away. Sullinger remains unproven, so you have to give Michigan State the nod, but if he pans out, the Buckeyes might be even better than last season. Hard to imagine after the year Turner had, but imagine it anyway.

(As an aside, I hope I'm not the only college hoops fan who is thoroughly disappointed with how Turner's NBA career -- thus far marred by supposed attitude problems and lack of productivity -- has begun. Philly coach Doug Collins even benched Turner for Wednesday night's season opener, instead opting for ... Jason Kapono. What a bummer.)


Tony Waffen from Wasilla, Alaska, writes: What is your evaluation of the Saint Mary's Gaels this year? And what happened to Omar Samhan?

Brennan: Greetings from Wasilla? I promise not to make any Sarah Palin jokes. I think I can hold off.

I also think St. Mary's is clearly a notch or two below Gonzaga this season, if only because coach Randy Bennett doesn't have a clear replacement for the inside-out forward combo of Samhan and Ben Allen. But Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova are as good a guard combo as the WCC will have -- McConnell shot 51 percent from 3 last season, which is just silly -- and with a few contributions from guys like Clint Steindl and Jorden Page, I think Saint Mary's is still a factor at the top of their conference.

As for Omar? After an encouraging stint with the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA summer league, Samhan signed a contract with Zalgiris Kaunus, a club in Lithuania. There's a decent chance Samhan gets a few more NBA looks -- he definitely made an impression on a handful of GMs this summer -- but for now, he's getting paid to play hoops in Eastern Europe. There are worse fates. (And let's hope Omar has been brushing up on his Lithuanian, so he can be the funniest basketball player on two continents, and not just one.)


Derek Rainbolt from Bloomington, Ind., writes: With Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee and Georgia leading the way for the SEC, why does it seem the league is not getting national buzz?

Brennan: And let's not forget Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, both of whom are likely NCAA tournament teams. This is a good conference.

That said, I'm not sure I agree with your premise. "National buzz" is sort of hard to gauge in the first place, but from where I'm sitting (and I might not be the best judge, since I basically spend every day holed away in front of my computer reading and writing about college basketball), I'm not sure the SEC has received any less of this mythical buzz than conferences like the ACC or the Big East, both of which have their strong teams, but both of which are less deep than we're used to. In any case, if the SEC isn't getting the requisite amount of love, that will change as soon as its top five or six teams start proving themselves this winter. Until then, I wouldn't worry about it too much.


Eric from Bethlehem, Pa., writes: Would you consider C.J. McCollum of Lehigh one of the top players in the mid-major ranks? He dominated the Patriot League and played well against Kansas in the NCAA tournament last season.

Brennan: Why yes, yes I would. McCollum won player of the year and rookie of the year awards as a freshman at Lehigh last season. That's big-time stuff no matter the conference, and his performance in the first round of the NCAA tournament -- 26 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block -- was very impressive. Maybe the most exciting thing about McCollum (assuming he doesn't decide to transfer at some point, in which case, sorry, Lehigh fans) is that he was only a freshman. He's already one of the better mid-major players in the country, and his ceiling remains very high.


Armand from Springfield, Mo., writes: How much more does Mike Anderson need to do to get some respect? Look at the last two seasons: Big 12 champs in 2008 with an Elite Eight finish. Second round in 2009, with inferior talent compared to K-State, Kansas, Texas and Baylor. Despite a proven system, every fall experts predict Missouri to finish behind all these teams. Well, now we have the best junior college transfer in the country as well as a five-star recruit in Tony Mitchell (eligible in the spring sem., right when conference play begins). Mizzou will be a force to be reckoned with and Big 12 coaches realize this, but the media never seems to. #TheFastest40Minutes

Brennan: First of all, hashtag in a mailbag question gets an immediate thumbs up. You should shorten that and use it to live-tweet Missouri games. After all, like Forrest Gump said, you never know what you're going to trend.

Second, Mizzou fans are awesome. I'm not being sarcastic. Every week the mailbag has at least two or three Missouri-related questions or comments. Columbia is excited about their program.

Then again, why shouldn't they be? I have a couple of soft spots when it comes to Missouri basketball. I love uptempo play, I love a properly run full-court press, and I love a coach who is willing to buck the conventional X's-and-O's wisdom to run a chaotic, onions-to-the-wall style because he believes in it. Mike Anderson has done all three at Missouri, and there's no question it's paid off.

Last Thursday at Big 12 media day, Anderson made a comment to a reporter about his team's propensity to be ranked in the lower half of the league before the season, only to finish among the conference's leaders. I asked him if he thought his system explained the gap. He downplayed it, telling me he thought his players didn't get enough credit, that he had had some underrated talent in his tenure, and that his staff worked hard to develop his guys as the season went along.

It was a nice answer, but it's barely half-right; his system deserves a lot of the credit. Missouri puts opponents on their heels for a full 40 minutes. They shoot from anywhere on the court, they force you to rebound on every possession, they make you move the ball 80 feet to get into your offense, and they don't let up once you do. It's brilliant to watch, and I think it's better proof that undermatched teams can change the conditions of the game than anything Malcolm Gladwell cited last year.

The scary part is what happens when Missouri has the same kind of talent as Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and Texas. Assuming Mitchell is able to get eligible for the spring semester, the Tigers will be a fearsome bunch. And, as always, incredibly fun to watch.

Saint Mary's sticks with team concept

September, 15, 2010
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Coming off a banner year in which Saint Mary's advanced to the Sweet 16, the Gaels will apparently attempt to recreate their success by sticking with what works.

After all, the Gaels dusted off the T-shirts they wore during the NCAA tournament and posed in them in this advertisement for a fundraiser event in late October that will celebrate the start of the season.

The Boston Globe took notice of those shirts during the tournament.
When the Gaels arrived in Providence for their first practice and news conference, they wore red T-shirts with slogans that seemed to define their roles. For 6-11 shooting forward Ben Allen, his shirt read: "iShoot.’" [Omar] Samhan's read: "iBeast," and [Mickey] McConnell’s said: "iCreate."

With the inside-outside presence of departed seniors Samhan and Allen no longer available, it will undoubtedly be the job of the senior point guard McConnell to create and rely on some others to take on larger roles.

Jorden Page, for example, is one of four Australians on the roster and wears the shirt that reads "iBounce." As a freshman, it was his athletic 3-point play in the WCC tournament title game that put some distance between Saint Mary's and Gonzaga and also gave a look into the bright future of the program.

And if the Gaels do indeed come together once again and sustain their success using the team concept, don't be surprised if it ends up being the shirts off their backs that their fans will want.

Omar Samhan really wants to get drafted

June, 23, 2010
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Omar Samhan appeared happy to play the role of the quotable underdog in the NCAA tournament -- outgoing off the court and ready to sneak up on you on it. It seems as if the former Saint Mary's center is taking the same approach leading up to the NBA draft.

One of the media darlings of the tournament, Samhan is already becoming one in NBA circles even though it's very possible he might not be drafted tomorrow and might never even play a single minute in the league.

But don't tell that to Samhan. Here's what he has to say on the prospect of not getting drafted in the Associated Press:
"The politically correct answer would be, 'Oh you know, it happens, that's the way it is,'" Samhan said after a workout with the Minnesota Timberwolves this month. "I think it's crap, to be blunt with you. I feel like I do a lot for my team, for my school and still just don't get a lot of credit, a lot of love."

During the many workouts Samhan has attended, teams like his skills, but also understand that he lacks in the athleticism department. Samhan told the San Francisco Chronicle he's heard mixed reviews.
"It's been frustrating to go to a workout one day," Samhan said in Moraga on Thursday, "and have them say, 'Hey, we really like this guy,' and I'm like, 'Cool, it's looking good,' and then two days later, I'll go to another one where (they say), 'Man, this guy's horrible.'

"And I'm like, 'Man, I'm not getting drafted.' "

Of course, that hasn't stopped Samhan from showing off to the pros his hilarious personality, as he did during the tournament when he professed his love to Taylor Swift. His obsession with her was actually a topic NBA teams asked about during interviews, and Samhan said it was the strangest question he got from executives.
"If I have gone on a date yet with Taylor Swift. Everybody asked me that after the tournament. I told them I broke up with her. I was done with Taylor. I've moved on to Saint Mary's softball. They had a great year this year. My girlfriend's a pitcher on the team. I'm done with Taylor. Me and her are breaking up."

So it appears Swift won't be invited to Samhan's draft party tomorrow night. But Samhan told reporters after his workout with the Warriors that no matter what happens -- whether his name gets called or not -- he plans of having a great time.
"I don't know for sure I'm getting drafted, so I don't want to have a big party and not get drafted. It could be awkward. But if that happens, we'll just have to open up the bar and have some real fun, huh?"

The Omar Samhan drink special

May, 20, 2010
5/20/10
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Omar Samhan might never have to pay for a meal again in Moraga, Calif. after leading Saint Mary's to the Sweet 16, and for tonight, he'll be able to celebrate with a drink special in his honor.

At a "uniform retirement ceremony" being held at McCovey's Restaurant in Walnut Creek for Samhan and former Saint Mary's star Patrick Mills, fans buying a drink can receive a second for only 50 cents in honor of Samhan's No. 50 jersey.

Samhan is expected to attend the event and is likely coming armed with plenty of one-liners. College basketball might not be big enough to contain his personality, and he has recently taken his show to NBA workouts.

Samhan, who once asked Taylor Swift out on national television, used last week's media session after working out with the Washington Wizards as an opportunity to challenge President Obama to game of one-on-one (video from Wizards Extreme).

"Yesterday, I wanted to get a little warmup one-on-one with Obama," Samhan joked. "He said he was too busy for me. Barack, if you're out there, I'm looking for that one-on-one game still."

Not to give Samhan any ideas, but proposing a 50-cent beer summit might be another way to get him into the White House.

Seniors getting one more game

March, 27, 2010
3/27/10
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The Reese's College All-Star Game will be played at the Final Four on Friday, and some seniors will get an extra college game and a trip to Indy under their belts. According to a UCLA press release, here's how one of the teams coached by Gene Keady will stack up:

Michael Roll (G, UCLA)

Robert Glenn (F, IUPUI)

Trevon Hughes (G, Wisconsin)

Jerome Randle (G, California)

Adam Koch (F, Northern Iowa)

Omar Samhan (C, Saint Mary's)

Aubrey Coleman (G, Houston)

Bryan Davis (F, Texas A&M)

Tyren Johnson (F, Louisiana Lafayette)

Quincy Pondexter (F, Washington)

UPDATE: Pondexter won't be playing.

Saint Mary's 'One Shining Moment'

March, 27, 2010
3/27/10
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Step aside, Gordon Hayward for a moment, and let a pro take the microphone and do the rapping for the so-called mid-majors.

Oakland rapper Mistah F.A.B. is a big basketball fan has been trading tweets in recent days with Saint Mary's star Omar Samhan about putting together a theme song for the Gaels, and hours before they got blown out, he released "The G."

The track is along the same lines as Uncle Luke's "The U," an ode to the University of Miami football program.

Only that Samhan, Mickey McConnell, Clint Steindl and Ben Allen get shoutouts at the end.

And why not? Rooting for the Golden State Warriors gets tiring.

Saint Mary's fans still enjoy the day

March, 26, 2010
3/26/10
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Alana Ubeda and Luis Ramirez, with their faces painted Saint Mary's colors, sat in front-row club-level seats at AT&T Park, and the seniors at the school seemed to carry with them a sense of responsibility.

They stood up and chanted "Let's Go Gaels," but were unable to sustain it for the desired length of time.

"I know, right?" Ubeda said. "We're trying. What is going on?"

That's what happens when your team is trailing by 30-some-odd points. With the Gaels never making a ballgame of it against Baylor, those who came out for a watch party on a cloudless day simply made a nice afternoon of the event rather than a raucous one.

Admission into the ballpark was free to watch the game on the high-definition scoreboard and the TVs inside. Most of the party goers mingled over beers and garlic fries with a view overlooking McCovey Cove rather than get too worked up about the rout.

Waiting in line for some ballpark fare, Saint Mary's grad Steve McCarthy smiled as his young daughter seemed more interested in the ship docked in the distance of San Francisco Bay rather than how many points Omar Samhan had or hadn't scored.

McCarthy and his wife, Valerie, went to the school and got married in the campus chapel. He recently visited the tent on the chapel's lawn to pick up some Sweet 16 gear.

Ian Tongol, a 2006 grad, made a stop there as well earlier today and came to party with a shirt that still had the hologram sticker on it.

With time winding down, the former GaelForce member leaned back in a chair to survey the crush of Saint Mary's supporters who came with their "God is a Gael" shirts, Australian flags and SMC stenciled onto their faces.

To see some old friends and the community come alive was nice. And the long drive into the City to watch a horror show on television?

"Well worth it even with the score," Tongol said. "It took us 51 years to get here. I don't know if we'll ever be in this situation again in our lifetime."

Tweety CarterRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesTweety Carter and Baylor breezed past Saint Mary's and into the Elite Eight.
HOUSTON -- The picture shows the Baylor team huddled up at midcourt and just two words appear above the photo:

We’re Special.

The makeshift fliers hung everywhere inside the Bears’ locker room, taped to the doors, the walls, above lockers and on lockers.

“It’s something we did as players,’’ Quincy Acy said. “We just feel like there’s something special going on here. You can feel it. I don’t know how to describe it but you can feel it.’’

You could certainly see it on Friday night. The Bears put a hurting on Saint Mary’s usually reserved for a 1-16 first-round game, a 72-49 win that, believe it or not, wasn’t even that close.

The Gaels could do absolutely nothing against the Baylor zone -- the usually high-scoring, good-shooting team hit only 6 of 22 3-pointers and shot an anemic 35 percent from the floor -- and was equally helpless to stop Baylor.

LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter looked like they were on rollerskates as they blew by the flat-footed Gaels. Dunn finished with 23 points and Carter 14, reinventing athletic ways to score with each trip down the court.

Baylor makes its first appearance in the Elite Eight against either Duke or Purdue on Sunday.

“The best part was just seeing the excitement on all of the players’ faces,’’ Scott Drew said. “All that hard work finally paying off for them.’’

No one in the Baylor locker room would bite on the idea that they were interested in quieting the ever-yapping mouth that is Omar Samhan. They just wanted to play their game, didn’t think about it -- all of the perfect clichés. But the fact remains that Samhan, stuffed and crushed by Ekpe Udoh and Josh Lomers, finished with the most inconsequential 15 points ever recorded in a basketball game. He needed 17 shots to score those 15 points and struggled to get anything by Udoh and Lomers.

“No, we didn’t even talk about that at all,’’ Lomers said with a slight smile. “Just play our game.’’

Samhan may have taken over the spotlight this week, but the Bears have long been hanging in the shadows.

Picked to finish 10th in the Big 12, even as they started to put together good wins, the Bears were overshadowed by Kansas’ success, Texas’ failures and Kansas State’s surprising turnaround.

Now the Bears will have to guard against an unfamiliar foe -- success. Baylor’s thumping of Saint Mary’s ought to come packaged with game tapes from Syracuse. The Orange dismissed the Gaels’ West Coast Conference foe, Gonzaga, with ease, playing so well it seemed effortless. With or without Arinze Onuaku, Syracuse looked like a Final Four team.

And then the Orange got squished by Butler.

Baylor players said on Thursday they were in town for a business trip. They’ll need to keep their tie and their heads straight for Sunday’s Elite Eight game.

“We’re not done yet, we know that,’’ Acy said. “We haven’t won anything yet.’’

But they are awfully close to doing something no one could have expected. Never much of a player on the national scene to begin with, the program was written off after the 2003 tragedy/scandal involving Patrick Dennehy and Dave Bliss.

Now the Bears are 40 minutes from the Final Four.

“Forty minutes from the Final Four? In a word? Fantastic! Ecstatic! I don’t know if I can do that,’’ Udoh said.

How about special?

Final: Baylor 72, Saint Mary's 49

March, 26, 2010
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HOUSTON -- Wrapping up a 72-49 Sweet 16 game that was never a game here at Reliant Stadium. Baylor moves on to its first Elite Eight since the tournament expanded (Baylor played in and lost the national title game in 1948), and a program decimated only seven years ago will play for a Final Four berth with a serious home-court advantage. It was every bit as green and loud in here as it was for Michigan State at last year's Final Four in Detroit.

Whoever the Bears face -- either Purdue or Duke -- will have its hands full. Here's why:

  • Baylor is every bit as good inside as it is out. It's hard to judge from the rout of Saint Mary's since the Bears were so much more athletic and talented, but the fact is the Tweety Carter-LaceDarius Dunn combo in the backcourt can dominate and so can the Ekpe Udoh-Quincy Acy-Josh Lomers triple threat inside. Mix in the way the Bears play defense with their zone and there's a very good reason why Baylor is in the Elite Eight.
  • The only worry the Bears have right now is falling into the Syracuse trap. Remember, the Orange absolutely pasted Gonzaga in the second round and fell apart against Butler on Thursday night. Baylor can't afford to put a whole lot of stock in this win. The Bears played near flawless basketball, but the caveat is the opponent wasn't exactly up to snuff either. I'd suggest not even watching the tape.
  • You have to feel for Omar Samhan and the Gaels. The quotable senior ends his collegiate career humbled and silenced. He had 15 points but they were all but inconsequential in this rout. Samhan was exposed against the much stronger and tougher Baylor big men.

HOUSTON -- Some quick thoughts from a halftime beatdown that resembles a CYO versus NBA All-Star game.

Yes, that's the correct score. No, it is not a typo. Yes, it is that bad.

  • The word mismatch does not adequately describe what's happening here. Baylor is stronger, tougher and more athletic at every single position. Saint Mary's has no one who can penetrate the Baylor zone, no one who can contain LaceDarius Dunn or Tweety Carter, no one who can match up with Ekpe Udoh.
  • The Gaels, who said they played against zones all year, look like they've never seen one before in their lives. They are 2-of-12 from behind the arc, have no idea how to get the ball inside and have spent more time standing around than moving.
  • Omar Samhan has gone from potential NBA player to a guy in need of a stand-up routine. The big man has two points and cannot get his shot off against the Baylor bigs. He's 1-of-8 from the floor.
  • Meantime anyone who thought the Baylor to the Final Four pick was just trendy, please consult the score. Dunn and Carter have 27 points combined and have done things with the basketball that the St. Mary's players couldn't do with a ladder. Mix in a 25-15 rebounding edge against a team that has just as much size, six 3-pointers and just two turnovers and what's not to like?
HOUSTON -- Here’s a quick look ahead at the Sweet 16 matchups in tonight’s South Region:

Baylor vs. Saint Mary’s

Key to the game: Overlooked in the Omar Samhan frenzy is the fact that the Gaels are one of the best shooting teams in the country. They set a school record with 270 3-pointers this season and connected on 41 percent from beyond the arc. Saint Mary’s will need all of that and more against a Baylor zone that, with Ekpe Udoh in the middle, is both long and active.

“Our defense changes as far as our zone," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “We’ll always tweak it and adjust it to the team we’re playing and what they like to do. I know with Saint Mary’s, they have an inside and outside attack. We’ll have to make sure that we keep them on their toes and try to keep them guessing and not let them get in a rhythm.’’

Player to watch: LaceDarius Dunn. The most highly recruited player to choose Baylor when he signed three years ago, Dunn has more than lived up to the billing. A gifted athlete who can shoot 3s, beat you off the bounce and is one of the best finishers in the game, Dunn is averaging 19.4 points per game. Only five teams have been able to hold him under double digits in scoring all year and frankly, Saint Mary’s doesn’t have anyone in the backcourt to keep up with him.

“Dunn is one of those guys you might do a great job on defending him and he still might score," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. “We’ve watched enough film on him. We know he’s a tough match-up for anybody."

Who has the edge: Considering how well the Gaels did against Villanova it’s hard to say they’ll have a tough time because of the backcourt of Baylor. But here’s the twist: The Bears have a much better frontcourt than the Wildcats. Ekpe Udoh, the Michigan transfer, and Quincy Acy add length to that zone but also offer inside/low post scoring.

Mix in what will essentially be a homecourt for Baylor -- Waco is just a three-hour drive and many alums call the Houston area home -- and the Saint Mary’s magic runs out.

Duke vs. Purdue

Key to the game: Purdue has had trouble scoring since Robbie Hummel went down with his knee injury, but the real problem in this game for the Boilermakers is going to be rebounding. If Purdue can hold its own on the boards, the Boilers’ improbable run can continue. If they can’t, it could be like last year all over again when the Blue Devils crushed Purdue on the boards, 44-26, in a 16-point rout in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

“At times with this team, when we’ve won against teams that are bigger than us, it doesn’t come down to always about with that size,’’ Matt Painter said. “It comes down to chasing down rebounds and being quicker to the basketball. That’s what we’re going to have to do to be successful against them.’’

Player to watch: Jon Scheyer. The guard is coming off a horrible shooting night against Cal, 1-of-11 from the floor, 1-of-8 from the arc. Mike Krzyzewski talked to him after the game, reminding Scheyer to relax and just play his game. If he starts shooting it well early, Purdue could be in trouble quickly.

“He doesn’t shoot the same shot all the time and that means you’re thinking about different things,’’ Krzyzewski said. “Jon wants it so badly. I came in here and heard his answer, ‘I knew we were playing great defense and if I hit that shot, we could break it open.’ So that’s not the reason you take that shot. You should take your shot because it’s open and you shoot it. So he’s putting more on it.’’

Who has the edge: Duke hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2004, not much of a drought for most programs in this country but Duke isn’t most programs. The Blue Devils are well aware of the drought and the doubting Thomases flocking around their program. But it’s not just the desire to prove people wrong that gives Duke the edge. The Blue Devils are one of the better defensive teams in the country, holding teams to just 48.5 points in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. For a team like Purdue that has been struggling to score since losing Robbie Hummel, that’s not good news.

Saint Mary's made beautiful

March, 26, 2010
3/26/10
3:47
AM ET
Matthew Dellavedova wears a two-toned mouthpiece that he can't keep in his mouth and Omar Samhan plays with holes in his flat tops while proclaiming himself a beast to Taylor Swift's beauty.

There's little that's pretty about Saint Mary's blue-collar style, you might think.

But check out Saint Mary's student Bryan Navarro's stylized video of the team practicing in Houston.

It's a slow-motion tribute to the basketball fundamentals of Randy Bennett's ragtag bunch and takes you to a fantasy world where every shot from the Gaels drops through the hoop.

Consider it the relative calm to what should be more craziness from today's Sweet 16 action.

Samhan rings bell for Saint Mary's

March, 25, 2010
3/25/10
6:50
PM ET
HOUSTON -- For four years he was the best-kept secret in college basketball. As Patty Mills stole the Saint Mary’s show, Omar Samhan worked his act in the shadows.

Now Mills is gone, Saint Mary’s is in the Sweet 16 and the college basketball world is on an Omar binge.


Stew Milne/US PresswireSt. Mary's Omar Samhan is one of the NCAA tournament's most quotable players.
Three-year-olds accost him in the Safeway for his autograph and a media starving for something other than Bull Durham clichés hang on his every word.

If only Taylor Swift would notice him.

“Are those cameras on?’’ Samhan asked from the podium during pre-game interviews on Thursday. “I love you, Taylor. You should call me.’’

Hey, rumors once paired the singing starlet with Gonzaga’s Matt Bouldin, so she’s familiar with the West Coast Conference.

If Saint Mary’s keeps winning, it’s not like she could avoid hearing about him.

Ali Farokhmanesh's 3-pointer may be the picture of the NCAA tournament, but Samhan is the sound.

He is an uninhibited trash-talker. Upon exiting his locker room, Samhan spied a Baylor player across the way. “Bring it on,’’ he said, before going over to introduce himself to Tweety Carter.

And he’s an unabashed predictor.

“I said we were going to win the national championship,’’ Samhan said. “My coach said, ‘You did not just say that,’ but I did and I mean it.’’

But the tongue-wagging big man is very conscious of being just a lot of white noise.

“He says what he says but he also knows what he’s doing,’’ Randy Bennett said. “He’s enjoying the moment, but when the game starts he’s as focused as anybody.’’

On the bulletin board in his dorm room is every critical article written about him this year. When a friend found something arguing why Saint Mary’s couldn’t beat Baylor, he immediately asked for a copy and hung it on the wall of honorable dishonor.

His mom keeps the good stuff, a stack of laudatory stories that Samhan won’t enjoy until after the season is over.

"My friends always come in and are like, 'Oh wow,' and then they start to read and they're like, 'Why do you have this on your wall?" Samhan laughed.

The clips are perfect fodder for a kid once considered too overweight, a complete diamond in the rough that no team other than the Gaels was much interested in taking a leap on. He is fueled by doubters, people who counted Saint Mary's out against Richmond and said he couldn't handle the brawling nature of the Big East when the Gaels played Villanova.

Saint Mary’s is a tiny Catholic school, chronically stuck in the second fiddle role behind Gonzaga.

The Gaels needed a spokesman.

And they found a bullhorn.

“People think we should be scared for some reason, because we don't play in gyms this size, because we don't have McDonald's All-Americans on our team,'' Samhan said. "We don't need McDonald's All-Americans to win. We don't need a huge gym to win. We're 11 guys that work hard and play hard together. I think that's what I want American to know and everybody to know, that we're America's team.''

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