Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Notes from the St. Mary's-Santa Clara and St. Mary's-San Francisco games

Haven't had a chance until tonight to recap the St. Mary's-Santa Clara game the other night. The great Ted Robinson and I worked the game for Comcast SportsNet.

What a great atmosphere at Santa Clara's beautiful Leavey Center where Broncos coach Kerry Keating has done a great job of creating a winning culture.

Speaking of Coach Keating, he uses timeouts after his team scores to set his defense up, similar to what Ben Howland does at UCLA. This is the exact opposite of how most coaches use timeouts to set up their offense. It demonstrates that he's not afraid to do things differently and go against the grain.

As for the game, Santa Clara's freshman guard Kevin Foster really put on a show. The 6-2 Foster is one of the most talented freshmen on the West Coast and it will be interesting to see if he ends up on the NBA radar as he develops as a player. He scored 26 points on 9-12 shooting against a good St. Mary's team.

This question is whether Foster can learn to play the point position. He's too small as an off-guard, but is a flat-out shooter with three-point range. He's had some great games this season (21 vs Arizona, 20 vs Portland, 31 vs St. Mary's and Patrick Mills in January). Even with SMC focusing on him defensively, he still scored at will. On the flip side, defensively, he must improve as he's a liability at times.

SC senior center John Bryant (pictured above defending Omar Samhan) is a potential second-round pick. In their second meeting of the season, Bryant out-played SMC's Samhan. Samhan got the better of Bryant the first time they played.

As for Samhan, he's likely a late second-round pick or an overseas player. Bryant also has late second-round potential and could be a high-level player in Europe. Bryant is a better rebounder than Samhan, but Bryant can't match Samhan's speed or mobility and is poor in transition, both below most NBA centers in Athleticism . Omar's also a better passer. After battling their weight early in their careers, both guys are in terrific shape.

Bryant, who's been invited to the Portsmouth Invitational in April, has good hands and puts up numbers on the glass. He scores with his back to basket. Still, I'm concerned about his transition defense and worry that he can't play in an uptempo game. Plus, he's poor laterally defending the pick-and-roll.

St. Mary's forward Diamon Simpson is an D-League prospect where he could be a back-up. I think he'd be a good mid-level Euro League player. After posting a 23-point, 9-rebound game against San Fran, he had trouble with the big front line of Santa Clara.

It's clear that St. Mary's misses Patty Mills, who broke his right hand late last month and is out for 30 days or so. Mills is a guy who makes his teammates better. Even sitting on the bench, he has a great attitude and energy. It's like having another assistant coach. He's really showing terrific leadership. His value goes up even when he's not playing.

After watching him for two years, I can say Mills is an NBA first-round prospect. He has great speed with the ball and has improved as an outside shooter. Still, he's got to improve as a defender. Further, as a PG, his assist-to-turnover ratio is a red flag and lack of strength and size a concern.

There's no arguing his value to his team. The Gaels are like a different team without him on the floor.

Two nights before the SMC-Santa Clara game, Greg Pappa and I worked the USF-St. Mary's game. In that game, SMC coach Randy Bennett had his third PG in three games (Mills, Mickey McConnell, and Wayne Hunter). Carlin Hughes also slid over to play the point.

Before transferring to SMC, Hughes played the point for two seasons at D2 Montana State-Billings where he put up big assist numbers. Against USF, he did a nice job pushing the ball in transition.

Diamon Simpson showed some perimeter 3-man skills by stepping out on the floor vs USF. He outplayed USF junior forward Dior Lowhorn, the WCC's leading scorer, in this game. Simpson is the best defensive PF in the WCC and an excellent shot-blocker and rebounder at this level.

Lowhorn, who's played for four coaches in college (Bobby Knight, Jessie Evans, Eddie Sutton, and Rex Walters), is a mid-level European player who is an offensive numbers player. He lacks inside toughness who should be a more dominant rebounder.