RTC Summer School: West Coast ConferencePosted by rtmsf on August 10th, 2012
Over the next couple of week’s we’ll be checking in with each of the high mid-major leagues as to their mid-summer offseason status. Up next: the WCC.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Three Key Storylines
- Ex-champs Fight Back. Gonzaga’s streak of 11 consecutive seasons with at least a share of the WCC crown came to an end last year as Saint Mary’s won both the regular season title and the WCC Tournament. How will the Zags react as a challenger rather than defending champion? Is Saint Mary’s for real or just a pretender? This is the key storyline for the WCC heading into the 2012-13 season. Gonzaga answers with a strong returning lineup boasting conference leaders Elias Harris at strong forward and dual freshmen sensations Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr. at the guard spots. Rather than miss the graduated Robert Sacre, Zag partisans insist more playing time for Sam Dower will equal more production in the post. Saint Mary’s answers with a possibly even stronger backcourt of Olympics hero Matt Dellavedova and defensive terror Stephen Holt. The Gaels will have a rebuilt front line anchored by redshirt sophomore Brad Waldow and transfer forward Matt Hodgson, and looks forward to proving last year’s title was no fluke.
- Revamp or Disaster? San Francisco coach Rex Walters was consistently cool when asked about the unsettling defection of six players from his roster following last season’s disappointing season (8-8, fifth place in WCC). For the most part he knew they were leaving, Walters said, and he has replaced them with players of equal or better value. Maybe, but any time a team loses its top four scorers (Angelo Caloiaro, Perris Blackwell, Rashad Green and Michael Williams) and returns only two players with significant game experience – Cody Doolin and Cole Dickerson – it puts tremendous pressure on the newcomers. Of the many new faces on the Hilltop, former UCLA recruit De’End Parker, recently cleared to participate in the upcoming season, looks to be the Dons’ best bet for stardom.
- Broncos Healthy Again. Things could not possibly have gone worse for Santa Clara last year – really, they lost all 16 conference games – so maybe karmic forces are aligned to bring the Broncos salvation. Marc Trasolini, the hard-nosed 6’9″ forward who was looked upon to provide senior leadership, instead tore his ACL in the preseason. Outstanding shooting guard Kevin Foster was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence following a Bronco home loss to Saint Mary’s, and never returned to action. With Trasolini and Foster back this season, Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating should smile more. Keating will also have improving 7-foot center Robert Garrett and slick point guard Evan Roquemore back in the fold, so the Broncos have a solid foundation for success
Team Notes (in order of last year’s finish)
- Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett has heard it all before – after Patty Mills left early for the NBA, after Omar Samhan and Mickey McConnell graduated, and, now, following the departure of rebounding titan Rob Jones: The Gaels are in trouble and can’t possibly maintain their successful run. Never mind that the Gaels have racked up at least 25 wins in five straight seasons – among only a handful of college teams (including Gonzaga) to accomplish that – and never mind that Bennett always has an answer for the skeptics. National pundits seem to have an aversion to considering the Gaels among the top mid-major programs. Gonzaga they can handle, but Saint Mary’s is always on the outside looking in. Okay skeptics, hear this: Bennett has carefully groomed 6’11″ transfer Matt Hodgson to step in for Jones at the power forward position. He has redshirt sophomore center Waldow back after he compiled one of the most efficient seasons in NCAA play, with stellar backups in Mitchell Young and Kyle Rowley. He has perhaps the nation’s top point guard in Dellavedova and one of the best perimeter defenders in Holt, plus depth with Jorden Page and JC transfer James Walker III. The Gaels are ready to defend.
- Gonzaga fans are acting like someone snuck in during the night and hijacked their rightful place as WCC champions, and insist the Zags will be back on top this year. Like Saint Mary’s, the Zags will count heavily on proven commodities to mount their campaign, but will be buoyed by returning redshirt frontcourt presence Kelly Olynyk and intriguing freshman big man Przemek Karnowski from Poland. Both are 7-footers, and both will buttress a front line that is already strong with Harris and Dower. The backcourt is solid also, and a sleeper for the Zags might be three-man Guy-Landry Edi. Although he averaged only 5.5 PPG in a little more than 17 minutes of action and shot a paltry 26% from three-point range, Edi has the classic body of a small forward and could give the Zags another dynamic scoring threat.
- BYU might be in the “don’t get no respect” category with Saint Mary’s this year, largely because of the departure of sublime forward Noah Hartsock and his able sidekick Charles Abouo. But take a second look and you’ll see that wily Dave Rose kept his eyes squarely on the prize over the offseason. Rose knew that the Cougs’ primary weakness last year was backcourt support for talented-but-streaky guard Matt Carlino and he took major steps to alleviate that. First, he welcomed back Tyler Haws from a two-year Mormon mission, then he signed two highly-rated junior college players, guard Raul Delgado and forward Agustin Ambrosino. Suddenly, a weakness is a strength. Haws had a sensational freshman season in 2009-10, averaging 11.3 PPG and sinking a school record 48 straight free throws. If he can come close to that production this season, Carlino will have a lot of weight off his shoulders and those two, along with the WCC’s premiere returning big man, Brandon Davies, will give BYU a legitimate shot at the WCC title.
- Loyola Marymount may have the most trouble of the top-tier teams holding on to its position in the coming season. With the departure of forward Drew Viney and guard Jarred DuBois, the Lions lost more than 23 PPG worth of scoring punch, and it’s difficult to see where it will come from next year. The Lions thought they had some frontcourt help coming in 6’10″ African Patson Siame, but Siame’s status for the coming season is in doubt and he may have to wait until 2013 to join the Lions. More troublesome for LMU, another promising frontcourt addition, 6’10″ Tobe Okafor from Nigeria, decommitted shortly after LMU announced Siame’s recruitment. That leaves the Lions with promising small forward Nick Stover from LA’s Windward High, and 6’7″, 180-lb stringbean Taj Adams from LA Fairfax to bolster the Lion holdovers. Best of those is electric point guard Anthony Ireland, who may have to do even more this year than last when he averaged 16.1 PPG and 4.9 APG.
- Whither San Francisco in 2012-13? To determine that, you’ll have to do some crystal ball gazing and conjecture how a raft of new players will step in to replace four veterans who have departed – two by graduation (Coloiaro and Green) and two by defection (Blackwell and Williams). Parker has been stoking fans’ interest by his play in the San Francisco Pro-Am this summer, but that league almost prohibits teams from defending one another so no conclusions can be drawn. After Parker comes, in no particular order, Oklahoma City recruits Matt Christiansen (6’9″ forward) and Joe Edmonds (6’5″ guard), who lifted their Bishop McGuinness High School to a state championship; Tao Xu, a 6’11″ center from China by way of Haverford Prep in Pennsylvania; Tim Derksen, a 6’3″ guard from Tucson, Arizona; Avry Holmes, a 6’2″ guard from Salem, Oregon; Frank Rogers, a 6’9″ JC transfer from Cabrillo College; and Coltin Gelb, a 6’3″ guard from Boca Raton, Florida. If nothing else, Walters has nailed down All-Geography Team honors, but it is difficult to believe that such a hodgepodge will resemble the smooth-functioning unit of last year.
- San Diego is a study in contrast to San Francisco, and that fact may propel Bill Grier’s formerly downtrodden troops into the upper half of WCC play, perhaps at San Francisco’s expense. Grier could easily field a starting five identical to one from last year, with his backcourt tandem of Chris Anderson and Johnny Dee, forwards Ken Rancifer and Dennis Kramer and center Simi Fajemisin or Chris Manressa, with super sub John Sinis. That’s a good team, and Grier has brought in some newcomers to add depth: Guard Mike Davis, a transfer from Texas Tech who is eligible this fall, and forward Thomas Jacobs, a former starter at Cal State Northridge who will be eligible after the fall semester.
- Pepperdine’s first-year head coach Marty Wilson could hardly have been satisfied with the Waves’ season, so he did something about it. Not only is Wilson bringing in five new players, but he also revamped his assistant coaching ranks by hiring Syracuse and NBA star Jason Hart to succeed John Impelman, and UC Santa Barbara graduate Jon Pastorek to succeed Matt Levy. Now, back to the drawing board. To provide stability, Wilson can call upon sophomore guard Jordan Baker, who dazzled at times last year, and former starter Lorne Jackson, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Another guard who logged major minutes last year, Caleb Willis, is also back. Of the newcomers, JC transfer Malte Kramer of Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo may be the most important. A 6’8″ forward who made 47 percent of his three-point attempts last season en route to a 16.5 PPG average, Kramer should step into a starting position. Brendan Lane, a 6’9″ forward who exhausted his eligibility at UCLA but has a fifth year coming, should also help immediately.
- Portland’s Eric Reveno will finally have two upperclassmen in his rotation this season – juniors Tanner Riley and Ryan Nicholas – and he hopes that fact, combined with a quantum maturation of the remaining troops, will lift the Pilots from their eighth-place finish of a year ago. Three of his potential stars – post presence Thomas van der Maars, guard Kevin Bailey and forward Dorian Cason – will be sophomores, however, so it will still be a little choppy. Reveno landed Oregon 5A Player of the Year Jake Ehlers, a 6’7″ forward from Corvallis High School, along with Sacramento Metro area star guard Bryce Pressley (Jesuit High) and Latvian guard Oskars Reinfelds to keep the pipeline full, but it is uncertain when it will deliver a winning season.
- If San Diego looms as a threat to San Francisco, Santa Clara is even more so. Knocked for a loop last season, Keating’s troops look to regroup this fall. A frontcourt of Garrett, Trasolini and 6’8″ senior Niyi Harrison, backed up by 6’8″ sophomore Yannick Atanga and 6’9″ junior John McArthur, is as deep as any team in the conference. The loss of Foster forced Keating to dig deeper into his guard reserves and he pulled out a plum in 6’3″ Denzel Johnson from Clovis West in Fresno, who impressed everyone with his outside shot and ball handling. Combining Johnson with the Broncos’ two Clark(e)s – 6’0″ Brandon and 6’3″ Julian (he’s the one with an “e” on the end) – gives Keating depth in the backcourt as well. Now, if they can only remember how to win.
Recruiting for 2013 is the major buzz, and the sound isn’t coming from Spokane. BYU has landed verbals from two ESPN Top 100 players, guard Nick Emery and his high school teammate, forward Eric Mika. Just for good measure, another member of Lone Peak High School’s current team, T.J. Haws, has committed for 2014. Can you spell F-E-E-D-E-R S-C-H-O-O-L? Emery is the younger brother of former BYU guard Jackson Emery and Haws is the younger brother of Tyler Haws. This is the kind of family and Mormon tradition BYU has counted on in the past and is the reason they will always be a force in college hoops.
Close behind, depending on how much you value the ESPN Top 100 rating system, are two Saint Mary’s 2013 recruits, Cullen Neal of New Mexico, and Calvin Hermanson of Oregon. Neal has been in and out of the ESPN Top 100 and Hermanson, who blew up with stellar AAU play this summer, is a top 100 pick by MaxPreps.
Pepperdine briefly got in the 2013 mix with a verbal from highly-regarded Brandon Randolph from Playa del Rey, California, but he changed his mind shortly after making the announcement, and verbals are not binding.
Gonzaga, which used to set the standard for WCC recruiting with such players as Adam Morrison, Austin Daye and Matt Bouldin, has received verbals from two lesser-known 2013 players, Lucas Meikle from Bellarmine of Tacoma, WA, and Ryan Edwards from Kalispell, MT, but neither was considered a top prospect.
A Look Ahead
Heading into the 2011-12 WCC season you could throw a blanket over Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and BYU and know one of them would emerge as champion. Nothing has changed for 2012-13, as these three programs have separated from the rest of the conference. All three drew NCAA bids last year (BYU’s was a play-in game), and there is no reason to think that pattern won’t repeat this season. The last four WCC Tournament championship games have been between Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga (they’ve split 2-2), and the only like difference this year might be BYU taking one of those spots.
Whoever gets to the tournament championship in March 2014, will have a tougher time than the past several years, as the WCC has announced it is discarding the double bye system that guaranteed the first two teams in regular season play would play no more than two games in the tournament. In contending for those championship games, Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga were both seeded directly to the semifinals, but that luxury will end when Pacific becomes the 10th member of the conference for the 2013-14 season.