A Grip on Sports: For area schools, it is time to move on to Chapter Two of the basketball season
Fri., March 10, 2023
A GRIP ON SPORTS • The regular, and regularly scheduled, seasons are done for the Inland Northwest’s Division I basketball teams. But that doesn’t mean basketball is over. Not by a long shot.
• The final regularly scheduled game was played yesterday in Las Vegas. Washington State’s men had the honors. And they came pretty close to pulling out a miraculous comeback.
Down 19 points in the first half, the Cougars actually led 70-68 with 3 minutes, 36 seconds left in their 75-70 Pac-12 tournament loss to Oregon. Then their offense became the TJ Bamba show, the Ducks were ready for it and WSU failed to score again.
But that doesn’t mean the Cougars’ season is over. At 17-16 – a late winning streak put them over the magic .500 mark – Washington State still is eligible for the postseason. They may end up in the NIT as they did last season, hosting, dare we say it, Eastern Washington.
Now that would be an interesting matchup. The Eagles (22-10) are guaranteed a NIT spot thanks to winning the Big Sky Conference regular season title. That came courtesy of a 15-0 start in conference play, part of their 18-game winning streak. But Eastern is on a three-game losing streak as it fell in its final two regular season games and the first time on the court in the conference tournament.
Still, matching up two close neighbors in the NIT’s first round would satisfy one of the NCAA’s charges for the tournament it now owns: It would be cheap. A bus ride. That’s it.
Will it happen? We will find out last Sunday night, after the NCAA selections capture the nation’s attention for a couple hours in the mid-afternoon. And that 3 p.m. show will have some intrigue for this area as well.
Yes, we know Gonzaga will be in it. But how highly will the committee value the 28-5 Bulldogs? Will they be admired enough – of their losses, only the one at home to Loyola Marymount could be considered bad, and the Zags have only lost at Saint Mary’s since – to earn a two seed? Or will Joe Lunardi be correct and Gonzaga will be a three seed in the West, with UCLA atop the region?
We will find out Sunday. As we will with the two women’s teams that will be playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Washington State earned its berth by rolling through last week’s Pac-12 tournament, defeating three ranked teams over four days to get it done. Charlie Creme, who does the bracketology for ESPN, has the Cougars headed to Durham, N.C. as a sixth seed. The host, Duke, is a three.
Gonzaga has no such guarantee of playing but Creme has them in, despite their WCC title game loss to Portland. A 28-4 record, with wins over Louisville and Tennessee, will earn them a ninth seed, according to someone who is paid to know these things. Problem is, if Creme is right, the Zags will open with Baylor in Columbia, S.C., home of the top-seediest of the top seeds, No. 1 South Carolina.
The only other area team with a mathematical chance to continue playing is Eastern Washington. The Eagle women have a 19-11 overall record, which allows them to continue playing but the question is, simply, will anyone ask? There are not as many opportunities on the women’s side of the ledger as the men’s.
• There is another type of competition underway. The race to end coaching tenures quickly, as to ensure the best possible candidates are available.
Idaho jumped to the front of the line in the Big Sky, firing Zac Claus before the conference tournament. The Vandals haven’t wasted any time moving ahead, as the school has already into the process of identifying candidates and setting up interviews.
The Pac-12 should have a couple of openings as well, with one, California, coming available yesterday. Former Eastern Washington coach Shantay Legans, who played in Berkeley, has made it clear over the years he would love to be the Bears’ head coach but the season his Portland squad had (14-19 overall) probably ensures Cal will pass him over. This time.
WSU: The Cougars season ended, as we mentioned above, in Vegas. And we all know about it. There goes that marketing slogan. Anyhow, we linked Colton Clark’s story above and we do it again here. … Colton also has a story detailing the Cougars’ NIT chances. They aren’t just credible. They are strong. … We can link some stories from Oregon-centric outlets as well. … The women’s success has lifted Kamie Ethridge’s profile a notch. The Athletic named her as coach of the year, as the publication gave out an award for the first time. … Colton has one more story. A linebacker who just got to Pullman a few months ago is headed out again. Was the winter too much for a Texas kid? … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and college basketball, we linked this story earlier but Jon Wilner’s thoughts on George Kliavkoff mining new revenue streams is now in the S-R. … In other tournament games, UCLA shot down Colorado from the free-throw line and moved into the semifinals. Tad Boyle moved to the locker room late after being ejected. … Arizona State kept its at-large NCAA hopes alive by upsetting USC. The Trojans should still be in the NCAAs. … The Sun Devils will meet Arizona once more, as the Wildcats pulled away from Stanford despite an injury to their point guard. … Utah has some issues to address. … The California coaching change is no surprise but some of the names on this list are. … Will Mike Hopkins be next? … In football news, what changes are coming to college football? … Dylan Morris is well respected by Washington. … Oregon is trying to develop receiver depth. … An Oregon State linebacker wants to help the school have even more success. … Utah is using the transfer portal differently this year.
Gonzaga: The regular season just finished was anything but typical for recent Bulldog squads. Nor was it boring. Jim Meehan takes some time to look back at the 1,325 minutes of basketball the Zags played. … Drew Timme is one of the finalists for the Karl Malone Award, which he won two years ago. Jim has that story as well. … Elsewhere in the WCC, Saint Mary’s has the NCAA ahead. That should help the Gaels wipe the taste of the conference championship away.
EWU and Idaho: Around the Big Sky, injuries, transfers and illnesses derailed the season for the Idaho State women.
Whitworth: In NWC news, Linfield’s suspended basketball coach wants his job back or he will sue.
Preps: Dave Nichols is getting us all prepared for The Spokesman-Review High School Basketball Showcase, which will be held at Lewis and Clark High next Tuesday. Today Dave has a story on Lake City post Blake Buchanan, who is headed to Virginia. … Dave Cook has this story on former LC star Naje Smith, who has helped Boise State get to the cusp of another NCAA tourney bid. The story, however, is more about the folks that helped Smith get to where he is at.
Mariners: If the starting rotation arms falter, there are plenty of youngsters in the organization ready to step in. … The M’s defeated the Canadian team. No, not Toronto. Canada’s WBC squad.
Seahawks: Geno Smith, John Schneider and Pete Carroll met with the media yesterday, selling Smith’s new contract. It is not only good for Smith but for the team as well. … Now the question is how the Hawks will handle the draft. The quarterbacks available seem to be shaping the first round. … Bobby Wagner and the Hawks are talking. … Seattle cut Gabe Jackson for cap space. As well as a local kid.
Kraken: The five-game winning streak is over. … Vince Dunn is back in the lineup.
Sounders: The injury bug is already biting Seattle.
Sonics: For the record, Shawn Kemp was not charged after being arrested. And he is claiming, through his attorney, self-defense.
• We’ll give March snowstorms a pass. After all, what the leave, even if it is 4 or 5 inches of the stuff – as we are expecting today – it melts away in a hurry. As long as the snowplows don’t make huge piles. Until later …
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