All about the non-Big Six: Zags’ run done?
One of the most impressive streaks in college basketball resides in Spokane, Wash., where the Gonzaga Bulldogs have won 10 straight West Coast Conference titles.
Only one other Division I school in history has claimed more consecutive league crowns: UCLA won 13 Pac-10 championships in a row from 1967-79.
“It never gets any easier,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few has said. “It’s always tough.”
Especially this year.
Perhaps more than any time in the last decade, the Zags appear vulnerable in the WCC race. Gonzaga is still an NCAA tournament-caliber team, but Few’s squad certainly isn’t as potent as it’s been in the past.
Saturday’s 96-91 overtime loss at San Francisco was the second WCC defeat for the Zags, who also fell to Santa Clara earlier in the week, marking the first time Gonzaga has been swept in the Bay Area since 1995. Few’s team is now 13-7 overall and 3-2 in league play.
St. Mary’s doesn’t have a future NBA draft pick such as former star point guard Patrick Mills. And last year’s scoring and rebounding leader, Omar Samhan, has graduated and is playing overseas.
Still, the Gaels look as crisp as ever under Bennett, whose squad has finished second to Gonzaga six of the last seven seasons.
No. 22 St. Mary’s is in the Associated Press poll for the first time since being ranked No. 22 on Jan. 26, 2009.
On Thursday, St. Mary’s will travel to Spokane for its showdown with the Zags. Gonzaga won its first three league home games by an average of 16.7 points. But it was blown out 85-71 Thursday in a rather shocking defeat at Santa Clara before falling to San Francisco on Saturday.
Losing to St. Mary’s would put Gonzaga in a three-game hole in the WCC race. If that happens, the Zags’ impressive streak of 10 straight WCC titles would seem well on its way to an end.
(Last week’s rank in parenthesis)
1. San Diego State (20-0, 5-0) – Kawhi Leonard averages 15.7 points and 10.3 rebounds. (1)
2. BYU (19-1, 5-0) – Jimmer Fredette scored 42 points in Saturday’s win over Colorado State. (2)
3. Memphis (15-4, 4-1) – The Tigers are 3-0 in overtime games. (NR)
4. St. Mary’s (17-3, 5-0) – Egads! What happened against Vanderbilt? (3)
5. Utah State (18-2, 7-0) – The Aggies haven’t lost since Dec. 4.
9. Richmond (15-5, 4-1) – Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson combine to average 30 points. (NR)
10. UNLV (15-5, 3-3) – The Runnin’ Rebels’ main weakness: rebounding.
Randy Culpepper, UTEP – The Miners are 4-1 in Conference USA play and Culpepper is one of the main reasons. The senior guard is averaging 23.8 points against league opponents compared to a 19.7 mark for the entire season.
Memphis – Less than two weeks removed from a loss to a woeful SMU squad, the youthful Tigers appear to be turning things around. Saturday’s overtime road win against a pesky Alabama-Birmingham team was the third straight for Memphis. Will Barton scored 17 points off the bench for the Tigers, who played their third straight game without suspended guard Wesley Witherspoon.
Steve Fisher – San Diego State became the nation’s first 20-win team thanks in large part to Fisher, the former Michigan coach who has resurrected his career with the Aztecs. San Diego State has now had seven 20-win seasons under Fisher. Before his arrival the school had just nine 20-win seasons in its history.
New Mexico – One season after winning the Mountain West Conference title, the Lobos are just 1-4 in league play following Saturday’s 63-62 loss at UNLV. UCLA transfer Drew Gordon is one of four players averaging double figures, but the team clearly misses 2009-10 star Darington Hobson.
Marcus Jordan, Central Florida – After a 14-0 start, the Knights have dropped four straight Conference USA games. Part of the reason is that Jordan, the team’s leading scorer, is struggling to put points on the board. Jordan is averaging just 12.8 points over his last four games – he’s averaging 16.2 on the season – and is shooting just 32.5 percent during that span.
Butler – The Bulldogs’ NCAA tournament hopes appear to be in jeopardy following last week’s loss at Wright State. Butler is now 14-6 overall and 6-2 in the Horizon League. Victories over Washington State, Florida State and Stanford are semi-impressive, but they may not be enough to get Butler in the Big Dance. To assure themselves of a spot the Bulldogs will likely need to win the Horizon League tournament.
THREE TO WATCH
San Diego State at BYU, Wednesday – The Aztecs-Cougars showdown is one of the most anticipated games of the season.
Central Florida at Memphis, Wednesday – Memphis is turning things around while Central Florida’s 14-0 start seems like a distant memory.
Butler at Valparaiso, Saturday – The Bulldogs can’t afford any more losses. Beating the league-leading Crusaders at their place will be tough.