Player of the Week
Chet Holmgren, C, Gonzaga
The top prospect in the high school Class of 2021 is making his mark for the No.1 Gonzaga Bulldogs. Mark Few’s squad entered the Good Sam Empire Classic against the Central Michigan Chppewas and handled business with a 107-54 win.
Holmgren posted 19 points on 77.8% shooting from the court, five rebounds and three blocks on the night. But the eyes were not focused on that game, they were focused on the next day, where the No. 2 UCLA Bruins would seek revenge for the Jalen Suggs buzzer-beater in a Final Four game for the ages.
In the marquee game of the night, it was all Bulldogs from the tip. Holmgren made his presence felt in the paint as he blocked four Bruin shots and grabbed six boards. He turnen defense into offense in his craftiness and handles. At a lanky 7 feet tall, Holmgren shows the abilities of a guard and the size of a big man, which he utilized in his 15-point performance on 75% shooting and 50% conversion rate from the perimeter.
Holmgren is developing into a formidable big man before fans’ eyes. If he can stay healthy all season and keep developing his strength and perimeter skills, and Gonzaga goes on another deep run in the tourney, there’s no reason to think he won’t be the top pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Dan Fotu, F, St. Mary’s
The senior forward from St. Mary’s is making the Maui Invitational his tournament. At 6 foot 7 inches, the Auckland native has been on a tear since the start of the season, putting up double-digit points in five out of the six games the Gaels played this season.
In the “ninth island of Hawaii”, Las Vegas, Nev., Fotu has put up some major stats that led the Gaels to the Maui Invitational Championship game against the Wisconsin Badgers.
The coming out party started when St. Mary’s had a small holy war against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Fotu went 8-9 from the field and a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc en route to a 22-point performance. They moved on to take on the Oregon Ducks in the semifinals, where Fotu dropped 16 points on 60% shooting, adding four rebounds, one assist and one steal to his box score. He went on a 10-point run to end the half for the Gaels to increase their lead heading into the locker room.
Fotu had a quieter night for the Gaels in the Maui Championship against the Wisconsin Badgers. Fotu started off hot in the first half, getting nine points in the process, but ended up getting two points for the rest of the game off a pair of free throws. Regardless, his performance as of late had been able to be game changing show outs for St. Mary’s
St. Bonaventure Bonnies, Atlantic 10
It was no surprise that St. Bonaventure would be a good team this season, but no one expected them to be this good. The Bonnies find themselves at 5-0 on the year, atop of the Atlantic 10 Conference, and taking down huge opponents in the fascinating ways.
After some struggles against the Boise St. Broncos in the opening round of the Shriners Children’s Charleston Classic, Mark Schmidt got the job done as four of his five starters in the game reached the double-digit mark. Standout senior guard Kyle Lofton led the way with 17 points on an ugly shooting day, going 6-14 from the field.
Those struggles continued into the next round when facing off against the Clemson Tigers. The Bonnies went down 51-37 in the middle of the second half, with their leading scorers in Lofton and Jaren Holmes making one 3-pointer in the first half.
The Bonnies would later go on a 21-2 run, with five makes from beyond the arc in the process. Lofton would step up and nail two free throws to seal the game for St. Bonaventure as they took down the Tigers 68-65.
This led to the 16-point win over a Marquette Golden Eagles off a huge upset against the previously No. 10 Illinois Fighting Illini. The Bonnies relied heavily on their five starters as the bench put up four out of the team’s 70 points. Depth will be a problem later down the road, but the team’s continued success is a high point for the Bonnies.
VCU Rams, Atlantic 10
The Rams are usually a perennial team that finds an at-large bid to make the NCAA Tournament. As of now, they may not make the tournament.
With a 2-2 record, VCU has had some ugly wins, with their best win being a 48-37 win against the Vanderbilt Commodores. Diving deeper into that game, the Rams shot 32.7% from the floor and 31.6% from the perimeter. That was nothing compared to Vanderbilt’s 22.6% from the floor and 8% from three.
A year removed from a 2nd place finish in the Atlantic 10 tournament, VCU finds themselves in a weird state of averaging 50.8 points per game yet allowing 51.3 points per game. The team can get it done defensively but seems to struggle offensively.
A bit of improvement helped in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament as the Rams took down a Syracuse team struggling to get things going for coach Jim Boeheim. A step in the right direction, but a few more wins down the road are needed to help this program climb out of their early season woes.
Darius McNeill, G, UTSA Roadrunners
Darius McNeill is in a slump right now. Averaging 24 minutes per game, the senior guard has averaged 5.6 points per game. His highest scoring game was a 6-point performance against the Denver Pioneers back on Nov. 16 and the Texas A&M Commerce Lions a day before.
McNeill is getting minutes to start, yet finds himself not contributing in many ways. His shots are not falling and he has a hard time creating opportunities for his teammates.
After spending two years at Cal and his junior season at SMU, fitting into the new system seems to be his main issue. he may figure things out, but McNeill is facing some struggles in the process.
Top 5 Mid-Major Conferences
1.) West Coast Conference
When you think of the WCC, the first team that pops into your mind is the Gonzaga Bulldogs. However, the conference is more than the No. 1 team in the nation.
Head over to Utah and you’ll find a BYU Cougars team that is primed to give Gonzaga a fight for the conference crown. The Cougars are No. 18 in the nation and sitting at a 4-0 record, with a great floor general and a key resume building win over the No. 12 Oregon Ducks, beating them by 32 points.
Other than the Cougars, St. Mary’s is making their presence known. The Gaels have always given Gonzaga trouble in previous years, but this year may be something different.
The Gaels sit 6-1 and have taken down major Power 5 programs in Oregon and Notre Dame, and St. Mary’s gives more potent programs like Wisconsin a run for their money, like they did in the Maui Invitational Championship game. Their depth can provide opportunities to keep fresh legs on the court.
2.) American Athletic Conference
The conference has had recent success, with the Houston Cougars making a run to the Final Four last season. Houston is picking up right where they left off last season.
The Cougars find themselves taking third place in the Maui Invitational. Most thought they would win it all in Las Vegas, but a bad first half against the Wisconsin Badgers crushed that dream. As for talent. It all runs through Marcus Sasser and Kyler Edwards leading the offensive charge, but the team goes deep on the bench to get production.
Their close rival in the Memphis Tigers is on a path of destruction led by freshmen duo Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren. The tandem is causing nightmares for opposing defenses and leading them in points per game; the only players on Memphis’ roster to average double-digit points per game.
The depth on the bench can provide relief as the two stars get rest to go back in when crunch time hits. This Memphis team may be a dark horse candidate for a national title if coach Penny Hardaway can get them to fully gel together and mature.
3.) Atlantic 10
The Atlantic 10 is always a competitive field, but one team stands out from the rest: St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies find many ways to impose their will on many teams, whether Power 5 or not.
The field consists of a Dayton team that had many players come through to make it in the NBA, like Obi Toppin, a St. Louis Billikens team that always sneaks their way into a tournament bid, and the Rhode Island Rams that have a passionate fanbase to create havoc for opposing teams.
The Atlantic 10 can provide many teams to wreck contenders’ seasons. It’s only a matter of who it will be.
4.) Ivy League
The Ivy league has seen a good number of teams come and go in the tournaments, but some teams are not afraid to make noise throughout the season. Six out of the conference’s eight teams are sitting above .500 on the year.
The Cornell Big Red and the Princeton Tigers are slowly starting to separate themselves from the field. Both teams are currently at a 4-1 record, with hopes to fulfill that one automatic bid in their conference tournament.
Over previous years, we have seen different teams emerge as the favorite. There has been the Harvard Crimson, the Yale Bulldogs, and the Penn Quakers going in and out of past tournaments. The presence of new success in the Ivy League brings a fresh feel to the tournament each year.
5.) Western Athletic Conference
Looking at the teams in the WAC, two of them made it to the NCAA tournament last season, with a third and fourth team who has made the tournament in previous years.
One memorable team from last year’s tournament in this conference is the Abeline Christian Wildcats, who upset the No. 3 seeded Texas Longhorns in regulation, thus ending the Shaka Smart Era in Austin.
Grand Canyon made their inaugural debut in the tournament, only to fall to the No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes. Grand Canyon recently moved up to Division I status in 2017, thus making them eligible for that 2021 tournament.
Both New Mexico State and Stephen F. Austin have made noise in the tournament, but if you take down a blue blood in the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor (looking at you Lumberjacks), then that can deem a conference suitable enough to cause chaos come March.