For a good portion of the season, it looked as if Santa Clara was going to make a serious push to be in the running for at least a shot at getting into the top three teams in the West Coast Conference.
That was before conference season started, before they got out of the WCC gate 1-3, including a loss to Loyola Marymount -- the only conference win during the regular season for the Lions. Santa Clara led that game by 11 in the second half, and totally collapsed.
So dreams of contending to be that other team out of the West Coast Conference kind of died that night, and in the devastating loss to BYU in the next game.
This team, a team that pushed Duke until a five-minute stretch in the second half totally undid them, though
is the last one standing lasted longer than the "title contenders" from the conference, albeit playing in a tournament that not many can actually see on their televisions screen (Oops, forgot about BYU in the NIT!). That is no matter for the Broncos, a team that had the look of a championship team, if only just based on the personnel they were putting out there.
So here is what you need to know entering the start of the CBI Championship round Monday, in case you haven't been paying attention this season:
1. Get ready to hear the name Kevin Foster a lot: Only eight players in college basketball finish a greater percentage of possessions for their team, and no one does it better than Foster, who currently sports an ORat of 104.1 (Only UCSB's Alan Williams was close to the Bronco star). That is the good news for Santa Clara fans. Foster was the reason their season went as well as it did. The issue with having one man do so much for your team is that he has the tendency to sink you also when he is not on during the game. Foster had games where he took too many shots, even when he wasn't feeling it, as an attempt to get back on track. That effectively shut down the rest of the offense, which for the Broncos, is pretty good. But Foster needs to have a good game to get things moving. He will jack it up from the 3-point line (301 attempts this season), and he will pass (hard to believe, we know). Just know that Foster will be the one whose name is called a lot during this series, and he will be a major focus of the George Mason defense.
2. The rest of the starting five is pretty good: As we mentioned, this team has some personnel that should make it better than a team that finished just 9-7 in the West Coast Conference. The starting five is just packed with offensive talent. Marc Trasolini will be holding court inside for the Broncos and should be a challenge for the George Mason bigs. Evan Roquemore is the other major outside shooter for Santa Clara and helps to set up Foster within the offense. He is also ridiculously good at getting to the free throw line for this team, and makes almost 80 percent of them. Brandon Clark and Raymond Cowels also contribute on the offensive end. The Broncos use this starting five hard. They play the majority of the minutes on the team, and the bench is basically a non-factor on the offensive end. This could be a major issue for Santa Clara over the three game series, with someone needing to do something outside of these five if the team hopes to win in the three-game set.
3. Rebounding can be tricky: Keep in mind that Santa Clara basically plays a four-guard offense, with only Trasolini over 6-4 in the starting five. But they do have Yannick Atanga who comes off the bench to give the team a little more height (6-8). The two big guys become the biggest rebound generators for the team as a result, with most of the team staying far outside and throwing up threes -- Foster, Cowels and Roquemore, will probably get 15 attempts combined in these games, at a minimum. The odd part is that Santa Clara is able to get a good percentage of rebounds on the offensive end though, 33.7 percent of them. That isn't dominating, but that is pretty good and gives the team even more opportunities to get the triples that make up almost 40 percent of their shots. But on the defensive end, the story is much different. The Broncos are terrible at stopping teams from getting second chances. As a side note, George Mason has the same problem to a greater extreme. They get even more offensive rebounds, and they are even worse on the defensive end. Who knows?
4. Bench minutes: We mentioned this briefly, but the starters for Santa Clara play almost 70 percent of the minutes for this team. Atanga is one of the few players to get a significant number of minutes, whose name isn't called to start the game. But the real issue will be if they get anything from the bench time, as small as it is, outside of just defense and rebounding from Atanga. The offense really comes from that starting five. Now, given the number of weapons in that group, especially the production from Foster and Roquemore, this shouldn't hurt the Bronocos... should it?
5. Ball Control: Strength vs. strength will be on display when it comes to the guards in this matchup. Foster and Cowels are among the best in the country at stealing the ball, and the Broncos as a whole excel at forcing turnovers. But George Mason is also very good at the same thing, and it will be interesting to see what team cracks first when it comes to ball control. That could make a big difference as Santa Clara will look to push the tempo.