Checking In On… the WCCPosted by rtmsf on December 12th, 2011
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
[Ed. Note -- a previous version of this CIO misrepresented several of the author's thoughts. We have reverted it back to its original format, and for the oversight the editing team apologizes.]
- Who Fears the Pac-12? Not Us: Sunday’s 93-55 beatdown of Santa Clara by Washington State notwithstanding, the WCC has compiled a 5-4 record against Pac-12 teams so far in 2011. Most notable were Loyola Marymount’s season-opening 69-58 upset of then-#17 UCLA at the LA Sports Arena (Pauley Pavilion is being remodeled) before UCLA’s troubles were well-known (heck Reeves Nelson actually played in the game), and Brigham Young’s 79-65 victory over Oregon on December 3 at a “neutral” site in Salt Lake City. BYU doubled up on the Pac-12 by dumping Utah, 61-42, on December 10, again in Salt Lake City, where Pac-12 teams come to die. There are three more games in this conference rivalry, and before it is all over, the Pac-12 might regain its supremacy if not its swagger: San Diego at Stanford on December 17 (big edge to the Pac-12), Gonzaga hosting Arizona in Seattle, also on December 17 (a toss-up), and Pepperdine at Washington State on December 22. Pepperdine will not be allowed to watch the tape of the Santa Clara-Washington State game.
- Those BYU Boys Can Really Play: This was not the perception initially, as the Cougars limped out of Logan, Utah, on the wrong side of a 69-62 tussle with Not-As-Good-As-Usual Utah State on November 11, and followed that with a 73-56 faceplant against #11 Wisconsin in a Chicago-area tournament. Then, presto-chango, wily Dave Rose ended the Brock Zylstra point guard experiment, anointed freshman Anson Winder to run the offense and allowed the sharp-shooting Zylstra to go back to bombing from the wing. The wins started coming, perhaps none more impressive than the 94-66 thrashing of Weber State on December 7 at the Marriott Center. Weber State thought it was a good team, what with having the nation’s leading scorer, Damian Lillard, in its backcourt, but, BYU put the brakes on Lillard by holding the senior to 15 points (he averages 28.2 points per game), got a double-double out of veteran forward Noah Hartsock (19 points/12 rebounds) and were off to the races. Winder can enjoy his day in the sun until vaunted transfer Matt Carlino becomes eligible on December 17.
- Where Trouble Lives: Who has a more turbulent program, San Diego or Loyola Marymount? San Diego, home of the perpetually-disciplined Toreros, hit mid-season stride on November 10 by announcing that massive junior center Chris Gabriel and seldom-used sophomore guard Jordan Mackie had been dismissed. Just to keep the pot boiling, word soon leaked out that last year’s prized recruit, guard Ben Vozzolafrom Las Vegas, was thinking about leaving the team as well. What does last year’s co-cellar-dweller need the least? Defections from its less-than-overwhelming ranks, it would seem. Max Good doesn’t have as much of a disciplinary problem at LMU — some would say there’s no discipline there at all — as a consistency one: making sure the same team shows up night after night. For instance, the same team that beat UCLA in its season-opener without injured star Drew Viney in the lineup, seemed pretty good. Unfortunately, the one that showed up two nights later for a 58-51 loss to Middle Tennessee State didn’t seem so good, not to mention the team that lost to Harvard and Columbia at home. It must be said that the actual lineup of an LMU team is subject to change as much as its performance: after Viney cycled back into the lineup to participate in two puzzling losses, the Lions lost stellar forward Ashley Hamilton and starting guard Jarred Dubois to injuries, then Viney again. The more things change…
- Tie Between BYU (10-2) and Saint Mary’s (5-1) – Okay, it seems unfair because BYU has played twice as many games as the Gaels and has wandered into the deep woods with games at Utah State and against a ranked Wisconsin team in a preseason tournament. Saint Mary’s, on the other hand, under the ultra-cautious guidance of Randy Bennett, have wandered barely at all (Denver, CO, and San Luis Obispo, CA), and have played an early-season slate replete with patsies (Fresno Pacific and San Francisco State). BYU’s emergence as a WCC title contender was mentioned above, so that leaves Saint Mary’s. This was supposed to be the year of the Re-Emerging Center in Gael-land, with an imposing 7-foot transfer (Kyle Rowley) and a promising 6’9″ redshirt freshman (Brad Waldow) contending to fill the year-old empty shoes of Omar Samhan. Hasn’t happened, and Bennett has instead fielded the same lineup as last year’s with Matthew Dellavedova moving over to take the point guard spot previously handled by the sublime Mickey McConnell, and, in a real surprise, former walk-on Beau Levesque starting at one forward spot in place of veteran Clint Steindl. Seems neither Rowley nor Waldow has staked out the post as his own, although Waldow showed signs of life with a 13-point effort in 22 minutes of action in the Gaels’ closer-than-it-looks 59-54 win over Cal Poly on December 3. One constant for the Gaels has been senior forward Rob Jones, who was named the WCC’s Player of the Month for November on the strength of an 18 PPG, 11.4 RPG output – tops in the conference. The Gaels hope Jones’ teammates begin to click before they face Baylor on December 22 in Las Vegas.
- Gonzaga (5-2) – The Zags haven’t played much more often than Saint Mary’s, but they have played higher-quality opponents, including Washington State, Notre Dame, Illinois and Michigan State. They handled Washington State and Notre Dame, but found the going tougher on the road against Illinois (82-75 loss) and at home against Michigan State (74-67 loss). The Zags will get one stiff non-conference test on December 17 when they face Arizona in Seattle, and another on December 31 when they go to Cincinnati to face so-tough-it-hurts Xavier. Of interest to Zag fans has been the team’s evolving backcourt, with freshman Canadian guard Kevin Pangos arriving with a bang in the Zags’ 89-81 win over Washington State. All Pangos did was sink nine three-pointers against WSU on the way to a 33-point, six-assist effort. So this is basketball in the States, eh? Pangos’ emergence along with another prized recruit, guard Gary Bell, Jr., has pushed last year’s WCC Newcomer of the Year, guard Marquise Carter, a little deeper on the bench, and made it impossible for reserve David Stockton to get any time. NOT! Stockton has been impressive as well, leading the Zags in scoring in their close loss to Michigan State with 19 points in 22 minutes on 4-6 shooting from three-point land. Given the steady performance of the Zags’ veteran frontcourt of Robert Sacre at center and Elias Harris at power forward, coach Mark Few has been pleasantly diverted by thinking of more inventive ways to utilize his suddenly-overflowing backcourt. Few is also smiling about the imminent eligibility of transfer Guy-Landry Edi, a 6’6″ wing man who should add even more variety to the Zags’ attack.
- USF (8-3)– Okay, so the Dons haven’t really played anybody, although they eked out a 65-62 win against Montana in Missoula, but they are winning the games they should (except for a season-opening loss to North Dakota State at home). Rex Walters has been forced to tinker with his all-starters-returning lineup because of academic troubles for guard Michael Williams, but twice-injured recruit Dominique O’Connor has stepped in admirably to keep the wagon rolling. The rest of Walters’ cast is familiar, with veterans Cody Doolin, Angelo Coloiaro, Rashad Green and Perris Blackwell all contributing in the early going. The Dons haven’t been tested yet, but they seem ready for what comes.
- Loyola Marymount (6-4) – Injuries, fiery outbursts from Good and disappointing losses notwithstanding, the immensely-talented Lions have put together a respectable preseason so far. Fans can hope that all the walking wounded (Viney, Hamilton and DuBois) will one day come together and the world will see what LMU can accomplish when clicking on all cylinders.
- Santa Clara (5-3) – No team has seen more extremes of good and bad outcomes than Kerry Keating’s Broncos. They turned heads with tournament wins against Villanova and New Mexico, then turned stomachs with resounding losses to UC Santa Barbara (89-56), Oklahoma (85-73, but it wasn’t that close) and Washington State (93-55). High-scoring guard Kevin Foster has seen tougher defenses and had to play more “D” himself because of the departure of WCC Defensive Player of the Year Troy Payne, but he has been abetted by improved sophomore guard Evan Roquemore. Redshirt freshman guard Julian Clarke has emerged as another backcourt option for Keating, but he has been challenged to find a replacement for star forward Marc Trasolini, who is out with a season-ending knee injury. The jury is still out on the Broncos’ WCC conference chances.
- Tie Between Pepperdine (5-4) and San Diego (5-4) – The WCC’s only new coaching face, Pepperdine’s Marty Wilson, didn’t take long to introduce himself: in his second game at the helm, his Waves upset Arizona State 66-60 at Arizona State. It’s been a little bumpier for the Waves since then, but wins over Texas-San Antonio, Hawaii and Northern Arizona have kept hopes alive. Wilson isn’t saying what a 62-39 loss to UCLA did to those hopes. With the Toreros’ roster troubles in mind, it is a fair question to ask Bill Grier how he has managed a winning record so far. Grier probably won’t say something like “playing a bunch of patsies,” but that’s what San Diego has done. San Diego Christian, Alcorn State and New Orleans have been among the weak sisters to fall to the Toreros, but their most recent win, 76-63 over Maine, was respectable. More importantly, budding star Johnny Dee, a freshman shooting guard with the emphasis on shooting, went to Pangos country by nailing eight three-pointers to tie a San Diego school record.
- Portland (3-7) – The Pilots probably didn’t figure to be in last place at any time this season, but a young team and a tough schedule have combined to put them there at least temporarily. In addition, returning big man Riley Barker has missed the last three Pilots’ games – all of them losses – with a knee injury, and returning all-WCC performer Nemanja Mitrovic has been misfiring so far, averaging 11.9 PPG in comparison to the 13.5 clip of last year. This is not the scenario Eric Reveno envisioned when scheduling Washington, Washington State, UC Santa Barbara, Kentucky and Saint Louis, but it’s what has happened. Things could get better for Portland as the schedule eases in the future.
The highly-ranked Baylor Bears (no. 6 in AP poll, no. 7 in ESPN/USA Today) loom large in the future of two WCC contenders, BYU and Saint Mary’s. First to take on the undefeated Bears and their fearsome frontcourt of Quincy Miller, Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy is BYU, who hosts them on December 17 in the raucous environment of the 22,000-seat Marriott Center. As mentioned above, BYU has hit its stride recently, and having Baylor on its home court is a definite plus. Still, it will take a monumental effort to upset the high-flying Bears.
Just ask Saint Mary’s, which ran into Baylor a year before Jones and Miller had come to Waco, but had tons of trouble with Baylor’s backcourt of LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter, who combined for 37 of Baylor’s 72 points in a 23-point Baylor victory in Houston. The Gaels don’t have the pleasure of entertaining the Bears on their cozy court in Moraga, but will gladly accept the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, where they have played in the WCC Tournament for the past several years. Anything would be better than cavernous Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans, where Saint Mary’s faced a Baylor-friendly, almost-home crowd in March of 2010. The Gaels will be thinking revenge, but might have to settle for respectability.
Gonzaga may feel like its entering a war zone on December 31 when it travels to Cincinnati to face Xavier on its home court, the 10,000-seat Cintas Center. The arena was the scene of a bench-clearing brawl on December 10 toward the end of Xavier’s game with cross-town rival, Cincinnati. Xavier beat Cincinnati handily, but ongoing taunting throughout the contest led to the fist-swinging finale viewed by a national television audience. All suspensions will have been served by the time the Zags arrive, but they might want to refrain from saying anything negative about Xavier’s outstanding guard Tu Halloway. Seems he never forgets a taunt.