San Francisco (20-10, 13-5)
Position in West Coast Convo Power Rankings: 3rd
“Third Times a Charm”
It is difficult to figure out the true etymology of the saying “third times a charm”. With some quick Googling, I found out that the phrase “Third Times Lucky” dated back to an English saying referring to criminals that have been accused and sentenced to a crime. Individuals who were able to survive three death penalties were absolved of their crime and determined innocent. Now this really has nothing to do with the 2014 West Coast Conference Tournament, but in order for the Dons to walk away as conference champions, the number three will be an underlying theme.
In the quarter-final match up on Saturday, USF will have to defeat the Toreros for a third time this season. Both games against USD this season were nail biters. The Dons trailed the Toreros for most of the game in San Diego. However, with less than five minutes left in the game, a 12-2 run ultimately gave the Dons the kick they needed to pull off a win. Additionally, in San Francisco, USF needed a final shot from Avry Holmes at the .5 second mark to take down the Toreros. Further, if the Dons hope to win an automatic NCAA Tournament berth, USF will mist likely have to defeat BYU and Gonzaga for the first time this season. These are the two teams that USF was unable to defeat during conference play – hence, “Third Times a Charm”
Before we get to the meat of this preview, let’s take a look at what the Dons have already accomplished this season. After all, you can’t know where you’re going until you’ve known where you have been. The Dons ended the season tied for second place and earned 13 conference wins. The last time USF had 13 conference wins in a season was when Bill Cartwright was playing at the Hilltop during the 1976-1977 season (in fact they sported a 14-0 conference record that season). The Dons also notched 20 wins during the 2013-2014 regular season. The Green & Gold have not accomplished this feat since the 1981-1982 season. Now they hope to make USF history within the Conference Tournament.
Players to Watch
This will be Cole’s last stand at the Orleans Arena and his last chance to win a WCC tournament Championship. Dickerson’s goal is to take USF back to the promised land and return to the NCAA tournament after a 15 year hiatus (1998). Since the WCC’s inaugural championship tournament in 1987, San Francisco has advanced to the semi-finals a mere eight times. Cole was able to participate in the 2011-2012 squad that advanced to the semi-finals, falling a game short of a chance to play for a conference tournament championship. This year Dickerson can help USF take it’s third team to the WCC Finals.
Cole has always been the silent leader on the Dons ball club. He leads by example and gets the job done. However, in the final handful of regular season games, Dickerson was uncharacteristically in foul trouble. In order to make a senior impact, Dickerson will need to keep himself off the bench and on the court. A huge part of USF’s success relies on being aggressive in the paint. Cole’s disappearance in the lineup decreases paint touches and takes the Dons out of their game.
Avry is in his sophomore year and entered the 2013-2014 season looking to break out in the WCC. After a roster shuffle early in the season, Avry was immediately thrown into the deep end and given a huge responsibility . A short experimentation included splitting time with Matt Glover as the starting point guard, but Avry ultimately found himself as the starting point for the Dons. He has only improved and impressed since his appointment in the starting role.
The defending WCC Player of Week is coming off a career high 25 point game against LMU as he shot 70% from the field. Holmes added a 66.7% performance from beyond the arch during the final week of the 2013-2014 regular season. Holmes will try to keep his hot hand in Vegas and push the Dons into a successful postseason.
Lastly, Arvy knows one way to light up an offense. Especially when he finds Mark Tollefsen for a Tolly Oop (check out the :40 second mark in the SCtop10 for February 20th)
Kruize is the only other Don to win Player of the Week honors. I was able to watch Kruize play in the San Francisco Pro-Am before the season started. During SF Pro-Am play, Kruize impressed the crowd with his mid-range shooting and ability to take control of a game. However, once the Dons season started, Pinkins, a junior college transfer, had a rough time adjusting to a new level of basketball. As the season continued, Kruize evolved into a valuable post player as he found a rhythm for D-1 basketball. Late in the regular season, Pinkins slowly started a reemergence of his mid-range shooting. With more weapons in his arsenal, Kruize can once again take control of a game and become a key player on the floor. Things are starting to come together really nicely for this Florida native and Kruize Control may be just around the corner for the WCC Tournament.
This years WCC Coach of the Year has been to this tournament six times. During this stretch he has seen some incredible runs and early exits. What he has yet to experience is a championship game appearance. As mentioned earlier, the Dons were one win away from the Championship game in the 2012 tournament. During this particular game, Rex definitely took the intensity level up a notch and played an important part from the bench. As the Dons trailed the Gaels in the second half, Rex committed a crucial and untimely technical foul. This allowed SMC to extend their lead and the Dons never came back.
One of Rex’s best qualities as a coach is his passion and heart. However, once the intensity leads to points on the board for the other team, things have gone too far. The 2013-2014 Coach of the Year will have to find a positive balance in the tournament for the Dons to succeed.
What to Expect
This is a very difficult year to make predictions in the WCC. Any team in the WCC can win or lose to any given conference opponent. The only thing I expect are tight games. As the season quickly approaches an end, the Dons can no longer afford to lose for the remainder of the season. Not only because it will take them out of the NCAA Tournament picture, but because it will probably also take them out of the NIT picture.
The most important game of the tournament is Saturday. If the Dons beat San Diego on Saturday, I believe the Dons have a great chance of winning the championship game Tuesday. Yes, the Green & Gold would still need to defeat BYU or LMU/Portland, but I believe tournament jitters in the opening game could seriously impact a relatively young Dons squad.
Lastly, after a tough loss at the Hilltop, the Dons made some vast improvements against BYU in Provo. I believe they are just a few slight adjustments away from stealing a W against the Cougars. Additionally, with the 2014 bracket adjustments, I believe the other side of the bracket will allow a team not named Gonzaga to advance the Finals. My final prediction is Dons over the Waves in the WCC Final.
Regardless of outcome, I believe this will be the most entertaining WCC Tournament in recent memory. I’m super excited for things to kick off tonight!