WCC Weekend #1 in Review:Turk’s Take
Brigham Young University – BYU looked like they were a step above GU until tripping up against LMU in the conference opener. Kyle Collinsworth is the real deal, but the Cougars don’t have a true point guard to bring any rhythm to their offense. Against LMU, it wasn’t shocking that Tyler Haws got limited points, but it was shocking that the conference’s leading scorer didn’t touch the ball much in the 2nd half to take shots. Matt Carlino returns for his junior year, and while he is 2nd on the team in scoring, he is shooting just 37% from the floor and averaging three turnovers a game. These are not good numbers for your point guard.
The bigs Eric Mika and Nate Austin aren’t really mobile and don’t pass the ball well, and like the rest of the Cougs, their lack of athleticism is evident and will hurt them in games against quicker teams like LMU and USF. In BYU’s three notable losses, Haws was awful from the floor, so keeping him in check is the obvious key to beating them. The fact that they can score a lot of points (88 ppg – 4th in the nation) makes them dangerous every night, but the fact that they are not guarding well (last in WCC, giving up 80 ppg) means they can’t have a lot of poor performances if they are going to win the conference.
The schedule could have an effect on everyone as there is no rhyme or reason on how it came together. For the Cougs, they host 6 of their last 9 games, so therein, is the slight advantage they need for their first West Coast Conference title.
Gonzaga – The Zags went 10-2, through a lighter than usual non-conference schedule. Their two losses were to a good Dayton team and a decent Kansas St. team, but their wins include Coppin St., New Mexico St., and UTSA, as well as average teams like Arkansas and West Virginny. Wherein the bigs led the way last year, it is Kevin Pangos doing most of the heavy lifting so far. Sam Dower has been solid, but he is not Elias Harris or Kelly Olynyk, and now, he is coming back from a hip injury. There is a lack of depth on the frontline, so the guards will have to continue to be the offensive focus. The team continues to shoot the ball well in typical GU fashion, ranking 3rd in the country. It is no secret that Pangos, Dower, and Gary Bell Jr. are the offensive threats, so the question is whether Kyle Dranginis, Drew Barham, and Przemek Karnowski are ready step up to do meaningful things on the court, and if David Stockton can take his game up a notch. There appears to be a tiny hole in the boat, and I think the BYU ship will be in front of them at the wire. The other challenge for the Zags is the schedule which has them playing 6 of the last 9 conference games on the road, including their last four. Also in the middle of that stretch is a roadie to Memphis.
NOTE: Gary Bell Jr. is out with a broken hand which will put more pressure on guys like Dranginis and Barham. They are not as polished offensively and prefer to just stand around on the perimeter. In addition, they are not as good defensively, so Bell’s loss is huge right now.
Loyola Marymount – I didn’t have LMU here until after the BYU game. Their athleticism and depth really showed. The Lions kept running and running, and BYU had no answer which was surprising for LMU and surprising for BYU. This game was never close. If the Lions can stay healthy, they will be a very good team. There are a lot of offensive weapons at all spots, and this squad is passing the ball unselfishly (can’t remember the last time that happened). The other part of this year’s model is not getting noticed. That is the defense and rebounding, particularly of transfer Ben Dickinson and freshman Gabe Levin. Both are in the WCC top 10 in rebounding, collecting over 16 boards total a game. Levin also leads the conference in offensive rebounding. Each is undersized, but that makes them a difficult matchup (another reason BYU had trouble). They play bigger, and I love the fact that Dickinson plays with a chip on his shoulder. He’s not afraid to be nasty. Alex Osborne is also making his presence felt in the frontcourt with some steady play.
Anthony Ireland returns for his final season in a Lions uniform, and he will not have to do it all. Evan Payne has proven to be the first legitimate scorer at the two-guard in a LONG time. He can also penetrate and defend. This team will only go as far as they want to defend. No defense, no wins – very simple. Currently, LMU leads the conference in Steals and forced Turnovers.
The schedule is not favorable at the start where the Lions play 7 of 9 on the road after opening at home. Being 2-0 becomes important already because of this upcoming stretch.
St. Mary’s College – McConnell and Delly and now Stephen Holt?? What a step down that is. Holt is trying to be like those guys, but what the Gaels will miss most is the lack of leadership and scoring punch. This squad is not deep, especially in the frontcourt. Waldow has really improved his offensive game, but is only averaging 7 boards a game and not getting a lot of help on the glass. The Gaels started 9-0 in typical Randy Bennett fashion by playing nobody, except for a pretty good Boise St. team. In fact, their first eight games were in Moraga.
They enter WCC play starting Monday at Pacific and are reeling from three losses in a row. Include the fact that Randy Bennett will miss the first four WCC games and have no contact with the team for 13 days – he cannot coach or communicate with anyone – and this is why the door is open for someone like LMU to sneak in to third place. Should they manage not to fall hard with Bennett away, the schedule is kind with four home games when he returns. By the way, Bennett’s chosen interim guy has no head coaching experience. His last job before landing at SMC four years ago was as an Ops guy for Riley Wallace at UH.
Pacific – Truthfully, the Tigers are here because I don’t know much about them, and they are 9-2. They have a new coach, and lost their starting five, but have four guys averaging in double figures. Their non-conference schedule wasn’t really tough, but that’s what you want when you have so many new players stepping in.
The Tigers are not big, and don’t share the ball well, averaging a little more than 12 assists. New coach Ron Verlin appears to be cut from the same cloth as Bob Thomason after spending the last 19 years as an “apprentice” with him. That means a disciplined team who plays hard and isn’t going to wow you with any part of their game. I am sure they are licking their chops in anticipation of getting SMC at home on Monday night.
Down the stretch UoP plays 6 of 8 on the road, and that may not be kind to the newest member of the conference.
University of San Francisco – For a program that has been in such disarray following the departure of their point guard one month ago, winning their opener at UP was not what many predicted, especially the way the Pilots have been playing. The loss of Cody Doolin means there is an offensive hole and a leadership void which also may cause depth issues at the guard spot. The other issue is what really happened? Word is that head coach Rex Walters encouraged a fight between Doolin and another player and Doolin. The USF administration has kept the whole thing very quiet, but at what point do the Dons tumble and/or does Walters implode (which he is known to do)? Regardless, it appears nothing is going to happen at this point.
Cole Dickerson has resumed his role as the Dons’ best player, and now Mark Tollefsen will have to score more if USF is going to stay out of the bottom part of the conference. The question marks for this team is who and how will the ball get distributed (can they continue to be 3rd in the conference), will they rebound (a trouble spot that continues from last year), and will they make free throws when it counts (last in the conference)?
It is an odd schedule for them – 5 of 7 on the road to close out the conference, but five in a row at home before that. If the Dons are 7th or lower in the conference come February when they finish the five-game homestand, Rex will be excited to go on the road, but expect the Dons faithful to want him gone. This Doolin thing still is way too much under wraps.
Pepperdine – Head Coach Marty Wilson has quietly gone about his business, trying to get his team ready to challenge for a spot in the top half of the conference. They are 8-5 after beating the Toreros in their WCC opener, a sign that things may finally be moving in the right direction. Pep’s non-conference schedule wasn’t exciting, but it obviously got them ready. During the last couple of years, the Waves really didn’t have an identity because of their inconsistency. That isn’t the case any longer, and they may surprise some people. Brendan Lane (transfer from UCLA) is finally living up to the hype and together with Freshman of the Year Stacy Davis, they are a very formidable frontline – Lane is averaging 15 & 8 and leading the WCC in blocked shots while Davis is averaging 16 & 7.
If they had a signature win or two, I would probably have them one spot higher, but again, the inconsistency is what they have to overcome, and they must find production from someone in their backcourt. The Waves’ schedule, like LMU’s, does them no favors.
Portland – Should Eric Reveno be happy that Larry Williams left as AD? We should probably find out soon. Word was that Williams was getting ready to move Reveno out before he left to take the AD job at Marquette 18 months ago, where he recently resigned, supposedly because Head Coach Buzz Williams is the sheriff in Milwaukee, and Larry wanted to clean-up the program. Now, after 7 total conference wins in the last two seasons, will anything less than an upper-tier finish make for a coaching change with a new AD who is now settled in?
Reveno has some veteran kids like Kevin Bailey, Ryan Nicholas, and Thomas Van der Mars to lead the way. Also, in the mix is Alec Wintering, a freshman point guard. An 8-4 nonconference mark is something to be proud of with the schedule they had. BUT, the real eye-opener is that they are averaging over 80 ppg. Portland? Reveno-coached team?? Not possible. This is the scary thing.
Their first five games are at home, including a tilt with SCU on Monday. An 0-2 start could doom the Pilots early, especially with 7 of 9 on the road to conclude WCC play. On the other hand, the Broncs might be the right remedy as Pacific and the Bennett-less Gaels visit the Purple Palace next.
University of San Diego – I had heard that USD was very guard-heavy again, but then you look at the stats and see 3rd in the conference in rebounding. Senior Dennis Kramer has been doing a good job for them in that department and has become an offensive threat at 12 ppg, up 8 ppg from last year. So, if the Toreros have Johnny Dee and some other firepower, what is the problem? They are a contradiction of sorts. This team is near the bottom in FG% and at the bottom in Scoring Offense, but leads the conference in Scoring Defense, FG Defense, and 3-PT Defense. If they can get the scoring numbers up, they might jump in to the top half of the conference. That will be a tall task, considering they don’t share the ball, averaging only 11 assists per game.
This is a pretty young team, but I don’t know how much longer Head Coach Bill Grier, in year 7, can keep his job at the pace he’s going of not making a run to the top. Interestingly, the Toreros have three kids from Spokane on their roster. If this team can hang around without falling too far down the WCC ladder, the schedule works in their favor with 7 of their last 9 at home.
Santa Clara – So, Head Coach Kerry Keating gets a new contract. The Bronco diehards have never really taken a liking to him, but Keating is always happy to remind them of his winning two postseason titles in three years (in the lesser-known tourneys) to make sure they know he is deserving. They are about to find out. The King of Spin and his Broncs were 7-6 in nonconference. Decent, right? Well, those seven wins include Bethesda, Sacred Heart, Radford, and La Sierra. Hmmm…
Enough ragging. There is some talent, but it is all in the backcourt. Branden Clark and Justin Brownridge, a freshman from North Carolina, have been lighting it up, combining for 30 ppg. Evan Roquemore seems to be out of place even though he is a senior. He is averaging 12 ppg, but only 4 apg and over 3 turnovers. This will drive KK stark raving mad and if his senior leader implodes, what is left?
Yannick Atanga is alone by himself in the frontcourt where the Santa Clara is last in rebounding. Since he is not a scorer, there is a huge void left by Marc Trasolini’s graduation.
The schedule is pretty even for them, probably the most favorable for any team in the conference. No long stretches of home or road games. That probably won’t be enough to get them out of the cellar.