San Francisco among unheralded WCC teams making noise with terrific starts

Charles Minlend San Francisco basketball

Sophomore guard Charles Minlend leads the Dons in scoring at 14.4 ppg, but he’s one of four players averaging in double figures. (Photo: Chris M. Leung for USF Dons Athletics)


They’re best known for the days when Bill Russell was donning a Dons uni, and it’s been so long since then that one of my co-workers, who only knows Russell from 2K, thinks Robert Parish could start over him on the C’s all-time team.

Come on, James. Smh.

But San Francisco, like much of the rest of the West Coast Conference, is flat balling out right now.

The Dons haven’t reached the NCAAs since 1998, and they haven’t been a national power since Bill Cartwright had ’em on the cover of SI, but they’ve raced out of the gates this college basketball season.

They’re 8-1, with wins over Stephen F. Austin, Harvard, and Cal, who they hammered 79-60, shortly after a 14-hour, trans-atlantic flight back from Belfast, Northern Ireland.

USF was in the U.K. for the Belfast Basketball Hall of Fame Classic, which they finished second in, losing only to No. 17 Buffalo, 85-81.

In their eight wins, San Francisco is outscoring opponents by a ’60s-Celtics-like average of 20.6 points.

They beat UC-Davis by 34, Maine by 43, LIU-Brooklyn by 32, Dartmouth by 21, and NCAA Tournament regular SFA by 18.

Those pastings might help explain why USF was ranked in the Top 25 in the NCAA’s Net Rankings last week, although not much explains the Net Rankings, which had Ohio State at number 1 and Belmont at 10.

Still, there’s no doubt that this San Francisco squad has what it takes to make life very tough for WCC opponents.

This is an experienced group, which has won 20 games in back-to-back years and reached the championship series of the CBI last season. The Dons also got to the WCC semis before falling victim to Gonzaga.

Sophomore Charles Minlend, who’s worked his way back from an injury that cost him all of last season, leads the team in scoring at 14.4 ppg.

Seniors Frankie Ferrari (11.9 ppg, 6.6 apg) and Matt McCarthy (11.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg) have been excellent as well, and 6-5 junior Jordan Ratinho (12.3 ppg) also averages in double figures in scoring.

The Dons aren’t the only West Coast Conference team representing so far this season, though.

Loyola Marymount is 9-1, with wins over Georgetown in Jamaica and UNLV in Vegas (see below). 6-1 senior guard James Batemon (18.9 ppg) is a name to know for the Lions.

San Diego is 7-2, with wins over Colorado and San Diego State. 6-7 senior Isaiah Pineiro (21.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg) has been outstanding for the Toreros.

And then of course, you’ve got Gonzaga, which took out Duke and might be the best team in the nation.

Oh, and we haven’t even mentioned perennial conference contenders BYU and Saint Mary’s.

Could the WCC get three bids this year? USF and LMU would have to keep winning, big, but it’s not completely out of the question.

The conference has been waiting for the day when the rest of its schools would join the Zags, Cougars and Gaels as nationally-relevant, and based on the non-conference play of USF and LMU, that day may be approaching.

It’s still too early to tell just how good these teams are, but they’ve played well enough to get our attention.

USF still has a home date with Stanford before WCC play. Win that one, and the Dons will have earned some real respect, and maybe even some at-large NCAA Tournament buzz.


Also see:

Texas’ Kerwin Roach is a great dunker, but he’s also the key to the Longhorns’ season

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