Checking In On… the WCCPosted by rtmsf on January 12th, 2012
The Week That Was
Welcome to the wacky world of nine-team scheduling. WCC members knew some changes were coming with the addition of BYU to the league, but it has taken two weeks of conference play to absorb all that was required to make the odd-numbered format work. Here’s what the 2011-12 season has introduced:
- Monday night games in addition to the regular Thursday-Saturday format
- Asymmetrical scheduling, meaning teams play some opponents twice before playing others at all
- Front-loaded key games for some, delayed timing of key games for others
For whatever reason, Saint Mary’s has seen most of the anomalies in the early-going: a Monday night game in the same week as a crucial showdown with Gonzaga; a home game against Pepperdine which will complete the Gaels’ schedule with the Waves before they play Loyola Marymount even once. And with Thursday’s tilt with Gonzaga, the Gaels will have hosted both of its two top rivals for the league championship (98-82 win over BYU on Dec. 29) while those teams have yet to play each other.
Pending the result of tonight’s crucial contest with Gonzaga, the Gaels have weathered the changes well. They had only one game last week, a clunky 78-72 victory over energized San Diego at the Jenny Craig Pavilion, and dispatched San Francisco handily Monday night (87-72) in Moraga, thanks to a scorching 67.3% shooting performance, including 57.9% from three-point land. The Gaels were carried by WCC Player of the Week Rob Jones against San Diego (31 points, 12 rebounds) and by Matthew Dellavedova (27 points, four assists) against San Francisco.
- Saint Mary’s (15-2, 4-0 WCC)—is the first WCC team to play four games. The Gaels have overpowered both BYU and San Francisco at home, while struggling to contain San Diego’s freshman backcourt combination of Christopher Anderson (7.5 PPG/4.4 APG) and Johnny Dee (14.5 PPG) in the victory over the Toreros. The Gaels’ other win was a convincing 74-45 pasting of Pepperdine in Malibu. Jones (15.4 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 10 double-doubles) and Dellavedova (15.2 PPG, 6.5 APG) continue to lead the Gaels, with sophomore guard Stephen Holt (9.5 PPG, 3.5 APG) hovering around the double-figure mark in scoring. Holt, a dangerous defender at 6’4″ with quick hands, also leads the WCC with 34 steals on the season.
- Gonzaga (13-2, 3-0)—has cruised at home against Portland (90-51), Pepperdine (73-45) and Santa Clara (82-60), but has yet to play a conference road game (another scheduling anomaly). The Zags have been on the road only twice this season, an 82-75 loss to Illinois in Champaign and a 72-65 win over Xavier in Cincinnati. The all-freshman backcourt of Kevin Pangos (14.2 PPG, 3.53 APG) and Gary Bell, Jr. (9.2 PGG, 1.47 APG) continues to hold up well for the Zags, as has its veteran frontcourt of senior Robert Sacre (11.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG) and junior Elias Harris (12.7 PPG, 7.7 RPG). Coming on strong for the Zags lately has been reserve post man Sam Dower, a 6’9″ sophomore who is flirting with a double-digit scoring average (9.5 PPG) and chipping in with 4.3 RPG in less than 20 minutes a game.
- BYU (14-4, 3-1)—continues to shake off the effect of its league-opening loss to Saint Mary’s, with three straight convincing wins over San Diego (88-52) at home, a shaky 73-65 win over Loyola in Los Angeles and a thorough rout of San Francisco (81-56) in its last home outing. The Cougars are something of a work in progress, with transfer guard Matt Carlino still adjusting to his teammates after eight games (13.9 PPG/4.9 APG) and junior forward Stephen Rogers working his way back into the lineup after a knee injury. Rock steady have been the workhorse frontcourt of Brandon Davies (12.9 PPG/8.1 RPG) and Noah Hartsock (17.1 PPG/5.8 RPG), while junior guard-forward Brock Zylstra provided a boost with his 8-for-8 shooting (including 6-for6 three-point goals) against San Francisco.
- Loyola Marymount (9-7, 2-1) and Portland (5-11, 2-1)—The fact that the Lions and Pilots are tied for fourth place is the first potentially landscape-altering development in the early conference season. For LMU it could be the beginning of a realization of potential that has eluded the Lions throughout a 9-7 season: are they the team that posted two early-season wins over UCLA (79-68 at the LA Sports Arena, UCLA’s home this year) and St. Louis (75-68 at home), or the one that lost to Middle Tennessee State (58-51) and Columbia (69-61) at home? Max Good’s answer to that question could be, “neither,” if he wanted to note the Lions’ fluctuating lineup so far this year. All those early results came with either one or the other of LMU’s star forwards, Drew Viney or Ashley Hamilton, out of the lineup because of injuries. Viney has been back for some time, and Hamilton returned with 16 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes in the Lions’ 79-68 road win over San Diego last Saturday. With a winnable road game against southern California rival Pepperdine tonight, LMU has a chance to prepare itself for a defining game against Gonzaga at home on Saturday. For Eric Reveno’s Portland Pilots, achieving fourth-place must seem like heaven following a brutal preseason schedule that saw his team lose seven straight and fall to 3-11 on the year. Salvation came in the form of two home wins over WCC foes Santa Clara (84-74) and Pepperdine (53-43) in which the Pilots’ almost all-new cast of characters began to shine. Leading Portland in the Santa Clara game, as he has all year, was sophomore forward Ryan Nicholas, a star at Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep, who began to come on at the end of last year and tops the Pilots scoring this year with 11.3 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per game. Nicholas led five Pilots in double-digit scoring against Santa Clara, including budding star freshman guard Kevin Bailey from Clovis, Calif., the Pilots’ first-ever Top 100 national recruit (No. 11 in California), sophomore guard Tim Douglas, slumping all-conference forward Nemanja Mitrovic, freshman guard David Carr and freshman post man Thomas van der Mars from the Netherlands. Reveno hopes that this blend of not-so-old and new can keep the Pilots winning at San Francisco tonight and Saint Mary’s on Saturday.
- Pepperdine (7-8, 1-3)—Among the bottom four teams, only Pepperdine has a single win (its jolting 77-61 upset of San Francisco in Malibu in the opening week of conference play). Since then it’s been all downhill for the Waves, as they lost to Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and Portland. The Waves’ best chance of getting back on the winning track comes in tonight’s rivalry game with Loyola, in which the two L.A.-area schools compete for beach bragging rights. The game is part of a series between the two schools called the PCH Cup, named after the Pacific Coast Highway that separates their campuses by 19.1 miles. Basketball is just one of the sports contested in the Cup series (water polo, volleyball, soccer, golf, baseball, etc.), but the annual basketball games between the two garner the most attention. For trivia fans, Pepperdine leads current Cup standings 5.5 points to 2.
- Santa Clara (8-7, 0-2)—How to rank three teams whose combined league record is 0-9? Let’s go with Santa Clara first among the bottom-dwellers since its truncated schedule has allowed it to lose only two games so far. This is a far sight from where most observers felt Kerry Keating’s squad would find itself, and it is still early for the Broncos to be counted out for the year. Even so, bruising losses to Portland and Gonzaga on the road have taken some of the wind out of the Broncos’ sails, and they hope to rebound with games this week against San Diego at home and BYU on the road.
- San Diego (5-10, 0-3)—lost its games to Saint Mary’s and Loyola, but was buoyed by the play of guards Anderson and Dee. Dee especially has been a revelation since the six-foot towhead was not highly recruited despite a senior year for Rancho Buena Vista High School in Vista, CA, in which he averaged nearly 33 points per game. Maybe it was because Vista plays in the Avocado West League, and maybe it was because he spent his junior year in Kansas, where he averaged “only” 17 PPG and was named honorable mention all-state. Dee’s father, Donnie, is a former Tulsa University and NFL tight end (for the Seahawks and Colts), who passed on his athleticism (if not his 6’4″, 245-lb frame) to his son. Johnny showed advanced jock signs early, once hitting two home runs to lead his little league team into the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. Today, he has the natural composure of someone who is used to the athletic limelight. He is absolutely fearless and has the shooter’s confidence of a Jimmer Fredette. He is for real, so watch for him to keep making headlines for Bill Grier’s team.
- San Francisco (10-8, 0-4)—has the dubious honor of bringing up the rear after two weeks of conference play, and Rex Walters hopes things will get better with Portland tonight and Pepperdine on Saturday, both at home. One of Walters’ problems has been finding a consistent scoring threat to support Angelo Caloiaro’s outstanding senior season. The 6’8″ forward is averaging 14.6 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game, but although three other Dons are averaging double figures, none of them has come through consistently. Even Caloiaro was tainted by the Dons’ dismal performance against BYU, scoring only five points, but Walters took him off the hook for that one by criticizing his own coaching strategy. “I set basketball back probably 100 years trying to walk it up against BYU and getting our guys non-aggressive,” Walters told the San Francisco Chronicle. Caloiaro turned aggressive in the Dons’ loss to Saint Mary’s, scoring 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting.
- Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s, 1/12, Thursday, 8 PM, ESPN2: It’s another showdown in Moraga tonight, this time featuring the Gaels and the Zags. Last year the Gaels edged Gonzaga in Spokane on a Mickey McConnell leaner with Sacre hanging on his back, and the Zags returned the favor with an 89-85 overtime win in Moraga after McConnell’s attempt at a game-winner in regulation went off the back rim. All parties except for McConnell will be reunited tonight, and Zag newcomers Pangos and Bell will be treated to Gael hospitality in their cozy gym, McKeon Pavilion. It’s a familiar college hoops scenario: 3,500 hyper fans screaming like crazy at every twist and turn.
- Gonzaga at Loyola Marymount, 1/14, Saturday, 8 PM: The drama switches to Los Angeles on Saturday, as the Zags continue on the road to Gersten Pavilion and the erratic-but-scary LMU Lions. This could be a season-making or season-breaking game for LMU, as they let BYU squirm off the hook in an earlier home contest and will be looking to show that, at full strength with Hamilton back in the lineup, they are a match for the league’s top three teams.