Is the Pac-10 REALLY the Nation’s Top Conference?
For those who might have gone to bed before checking the ESPN ticker last night, chalk another one up for the little guy.
St. Mary’s College, the tiny liberal arts school nestled in equally tiny Moraga, California, put on quite a show against Pac-10 power Oregon this evening. McKeon Pavilion was absolutely jam-packed and thunderous throughout, with everyone from what looked to be Moraga’s version of Barrel Man to the fourth-graders mopping the floor during time-outs getting the crowd fired up.
But no one did more to fire up the Gael Force (St Marys’ student section) than Patty Mills, a relatively unheralded freshman out of Australia. The 6’0 combo guard was absolutely sensational, putting in the best individual performance I’ve seen live since Adam Morrison dropped 35+ on San Francisco back in January 2006. Only five to seven of his 37 points came in “garbage time” with the game already in hand.
Time and again, Mills knocked down big threes in the first half, and found the open lanes in the second. After this game, I’d be shocked if the Gaels’ #13 didn’t win WCC Player of the Year.
The only bright spot for Oregon was Maarty Leunen, who showed some serious heart in trying to contain Gaels’ big man Omar Samhan. Samhan only ended up with five boards for the game; Leunen pulled down 11. The problem was that Leunen could only box out one guy, and Oregon gave St Mary’s FAR too many second chances in the second half.
They also struggled to find any kind of offensive rhythm, with Leunen and 6’8″ Malik Hairston doing most of the ballhandling, distribution, and penetration. Redshirt freshman Kamyron Brown scored 20 points, but looked pretty unsure of himself in handling the ball for most of the game. The Ducks will get SOME help when Bryce Taylor comes back from a shoulder injury, but perhaps the biggest piece missing from any team in the country when compared to last year is Aaron Brooks for Ernie Kent’s squad.
Oregon’s loss tonight brings up an important question: Is the Pac-10 REALLY the nation’s top conference this year?
Consider the following:
- Mercer’s ONLY win of the year was at USC’s Galen Center.
- Stanford was beaten soundly by Siena in Albany.
- Arizona has already suffered a rare non-conference loss at the McKale Center, albeit to a pretty good Virginia team.
- Arizona State was absolutely obliterated by Illinois in Maui.
That’s a total of four early losses by teams thought to have a lock on an NCAA Tournament spot, and one embarrassing performance by a team that was supposed to have been vastly improved from a year ago.
UCLA and Washington State have impressed early, but Cal is largely untested, struggling to a sloppy win over Nicholls State the other night, and Oregon State is just plain not very good. Washington gutted out an ugly win over Utah in the regional final of the Preseason NIT, but we’ll know more about the Huskies after their battle with Texas A&M tomorrow night.
The conference will need to step it up in a hurry if it wants to maintain that media-hyped stranglehold on the #1 conference moniker. Plenty of other good leagues, including the Big East (Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse, among others), ACC (North Carolina, Duke, Maryland, and Virginia), and even the Big Ten (Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Illinois) are looking perhaps better in comparison to expectations this year.