CIO… the West Coast ConferencePosted by rtmsf on December 11th, 2012
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
- Zags supreme? The steady rumble of Gonzaga media support reached a higher pitch than usual this preseason, perhaps fueled by the Zags’ strong showing in the NCAA Tournament last March (dispatching West Virginia 77-54 and taking Ohio State to the wire before succumbing 73-66). With everyone back and anticipation building over incoming 7’1″ freshman Przemek Karnowski, the Zags’ success this year seemed foreordained. And their fast start, humbling West Virginia for the second time in eight months, 84-50, and roaring through the Old Spice Classic with wins over Clemson, Oklahoma and Davidson, amped up the volume. By the time Gonzaga faced Illinois last Saturday in Spokane, it was off to its best start in school history at 9-0 and ranked #10 in the AP poll. The Illini, however, under new coach John Groce, have dreams of their own, and were also riding an undefeated start (9-0) and high AP ranking (#13). Illinois spanked the Zags 85-74, temporarily derailing the express train to the Final Four, but didn’t dislodge Gonzaga from the top spot in the preseason WCC poll.
- Welcome back, Traz and Kevin: If ever a team was glad to get back two stars temporarily sidelined, it was Santa Clara and seniors Marc Trasolini and Kevin Foster. Without Trasolini out of action all last year because of a knee injury, and without Foster for the last eight conference games following a drunken driving arrest, the Broncos stumbled to a humiliating 0-16 record in the WCC. Things are looking up for Kerry Keating’s Broncos this year, thanks to a heavy dose of Foster and Trasolini. Foster was named WCC Player of the Month for November after averaging 21.7 points per game, moving past Kurt Rambis to become Santa Clara’s all-time leading scorer and moving to third-place in WCC history for made three-point baskets. Trasolini has also been stellar, averaging nearly 15 points and 7.2 rebounds per game as Santa Clara fights back toward respectability.
- Cousy for Delly? Saint Mary’s Matthew Dellavedova was among the final five candidates for last year’s Bob Cousy Award given to the nation’s outstanding point guard (North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall won the award in 2011-12) and has been nominated again this year. Can Delly buck the headwinds from players from larger conferences (e.g., Aaron Craft of Ohio State, Phil Pressey of Missouri, Peyton Siva of Louisville) and capture the prize this year? He seems to be building the type of season that would make a great case for it, leading the Gaels in scoring with 18.4 points per game and dishing out 5.6 assists per game, but his non-statistical contributions are even more compelling. Without muscular Rob Jones in the Gaels’ lineup this year, Dellavedova has shouldered both the scoring and leadership roles, twice scoring more than 30 points (32 in a win over Drexel, and 31 in a win against Drake) and holding his team together until newcomer Matt Hodgson settles in on the front line. A lot may depend on how well Saint Mary’s does in the postseason, and Delly will need some help if that is the deciding criterion.
- Gonzaga (9-1):Until they ventured into Pullman, Washington on December 5 for their first true road game of the year against Washington State, the Zags seemed to be building toward a dominating season. They let the pesky Cougars, who had already suffered a 58-56 loss to Pepperdine and were picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12, tie them with 14 seconds left, however, and were saved by a last-minute layup by Kevin Pangos to pull out a 71-69 win. Things got worse three days later with the Illinois loss, but Gonzaga has shown intimidating depth on the front line with the rejuvenation of 7’0″ forward Kelly Olynyk, who redshirted last season to work on his game. Olynyk, interrupting teammate Sam Dower’s expected break out season, scored 22 points in the second half against Washington State and 16 against Illinois. The Zags face daunting opponents Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State in the coming weeks, which will either restore them as postseason favorites or dampen their luster heading into the WCC season.
- Saint Mary’s (6-2) and Santa Clara (6-2): The Gaels started strong with a 67-58 road win over Utah State and a 76-64 win over Drexel in the first round of a tournament in Anaheim, but the wheels quickly fell off in the final two rounds of the tournament as the Gaels were surprised by Pacific, 76-66, and held down by Georgia Tech, 65-56. Randy Bennett took the car into the Moraga garage and tuned it up for a pair of high-scoring wins over Cal Poly (86-68), coming off its upset road win over UCLA, and 88-73 over Drake in Des Moines, IA. Bennett’s charges can boast of two true road wins with another coming up on Dec. 22 against Northern Iowa, but questions still remain over who will replace Jones as a consistent presence for the Gaels alongside Dellavedova. Meanwhile, led by Foster and Trasolini, Santa Clara also blasted out of the gate, highlighted by a 74-62 road win over St. Louis en route to a 5-0 start, the Broncos’ best since 1968. Foster scorched Saint Louis for 30 points and Trasolini notched 29 against Utah Valley to celebrate his return to the Santa Clara lineup, but the Broncs lost a heartbreaker at home to Utah State, 80-78, and then another a few nights later, 83-80, to so-so UC Santa Barbara. With a 77-42 win over lightly-regarded Pacific Union on Dec. 8 and a game tonight against cross-town rival San Jose State, the Broncos still have some questions to answer.
- San Francisco (5-2): So far, so good in San Francisco’s version of Total Basketball Makeover. The Dons raised some eyebrows and probably caused Steve Lavin to ponder the value of returning to one’s roots with an 81-65 pasting of St. John’s at War Memorial Gymnasium on Dec. 4. Lavin is a San Francisco native, but couldn’t have enjoyed watching Dons’ point guard Cody Doolin have an 18-point, 14-assist game against him, or its outstanding wing, De’End Parker, drop 20 points on his Red Storm. It has been that kind of season for Rex Walters’ troops, who have embraced newcomers like Parker, Tim Derksen, Tao Xu, Avry Holmes and Frank Rogers as a way of forgetting a boatload of players who left the program after last season. Combined with holdovers Doolin and rebounding machine Cole Dickerson, who was leading the nation for a good part of the preseason with more than 15 boards a game, Walters has forged a smooth-running machine to give the Dons hope of an upper-tier WCC finish.
- BYU (6-3) and Pepperdine (6-3): Wither the efficient Provo assassins of a year ago? With Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies anchoring the front line and Matt Carlino peppering away from three-point range, BYU looked to be a strong contender for a WCC title. That hope faded somewhat and the Cougars fell to third place, but it must seem like the good old days to Dave Rose. Hartsock is gone, Carlino has been benched and Davies is holding down the front court himself. Returning from his two-year mission, wing man Tyler Haws has been brilliant, but BYU seems lost in the backcourt. Walk-on Craig Cusick, whom no one would list as one of the most feared players in the conference, now starts at the point and Carlino comes off the bench – an attempt by Rose to limit Carlino’s turnovers and forced shots. The W-L record doesn’t look bad, but the Ws have come against the likes of Georgia State, UT-San Antonio and Cal State-Northridge, while the Ls have been painful – 88-70 to Florida State and 83-62 to Iowa State, among them. One bright spot: looking on as BYU defeated the previously unbeaten Cal State-Northridge 87-75 was the nation’s most highly-sought high school recruit, Jabari Parker, who is considering BYU as his college choice. Meanwhile, for Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson, it’s probably not the comfortable W-L record that cheers him, nor the four-game winning streak that propelled it – it’s news about who is getting healthy. Transfer sharpshooting forward Malte Kramer, who scorched the nets during two years at Cuesta Community College in San Luis Obispo before joining the Waves this year, made his season debut in Pepperdine’s 63-56 road win over Hawaii on Dec. 8. Rounding into shape following knee surgery this summer, Kramer nailed two late three-pointers to help the Waves defeat Hawaii. With 7′ center Jan Maehlen also starting to play after he, too, was sidelined in the early going, Wilson can envision some support for his yeoman band of guards who have done most of the heavy lifting so far this year. Returning senior Lorne Jackson, out last year with a knee injury, fellow senior Caleb Willis and emerging sophomore star Jordan Baker, have done most of the scoring, aided by freshman forwards Stacy Davis and Jett Raines. If Kramer and Maehlen can stay healthy and keep contributing, Pepperdine will be a tough out.
- Loyola Marymount (5-4): The Lions have had a quiet preseason, with a 73-70 win over rebuilding Long Beach State its most notable result. Junior point guard Anthony Ireland has been brilliant, averaging 21.1 points per game and 4.7 assists per game and the rest of Max Good’s largely veteran cast has done its part as well: senior forward Ashley Hamilton is averaging 15.7 points per game, including 24 in LMU’s 92-86 win over Northern Arizona on Dec. 5, junior wing man Ayodeji Egbeyemi (“Call me Deji”) has been contributing at 12.2 points per gameand sophomore Bruce English has been filling in well for departed two-guard Jarred DuBois, averaging 10 points per game. C.J. Blackwell has been contributing after a knee injury sidelined him early and prized recruit Nick Stover is chipping in, averaging more than 15 minutes a game. All seems well with Good’s crew, but a stiff test against a good team would be a good way to see just how strong the Lions will be in the conference season. A Dec. 22 road game against St. Louis might provide that test.
- San Diego (5-5): Saturday’s 78-72 home win over a 7-2 Tulane squad was the best evidence that Bill Grier’s squad is poised to capitalize on last season’s late run to relevance in the WCC. It was no surprise that sophomore sharpshooter Johnny Dee was on target for 23 points and that senior forward Ken Rancifer notched a season-high 16 points, but Grier was greatly pleased that 6’9″ senior forward Chris Manressa was able to chip in 10 points and six rebounds. Manressa had been out since the Toreros’ opening game until the game before Tulane, and Grier needs him to bolster the front court. Dee, who has twice been named WCC Player of the Week in the early going, and his backcourt mate Christopher Anderson spark San Diego, but Manressa and his fellow bigs Simi Fajemisin and Dennis Kramer will have to contribute strongly as well if the Toreros are to rise.
- Portland (3-6): Eric Reveno’s Pilots are the only WCC team with a losing record in the preseason, as the league has been winning at a 64 percent clip. It looked as if Portland would bolster the league’s reputation with an upset of UNLV in Portland on Dec. 4, but a late rally by the Runnin’ Rebels brought them a 68-60 win. The Pilot’s outstanding forward Ryan Nicholas posted 15 points and 19 rebounds, but couldn’t lead his mates to victory. Part of the reason is turnovers, as Portland remains dangerously generous to opponents, including 21 giveaways to UNLV. Sophomore guard Kevin Bailey is the only other Pilot besides Nicholas to average double digits in scoring, totaling 10.1 points per game so far.
- It’s finals week for several WCC schools, so the week ahead is light. After a breather tonight against winless Jackson State, Saint Mary’s will undoubtedly be seeking revenge when the Pacific Tigers roll into Moraga next Wednesday (December 19). Although having only one day to prepare for the Gaels’ pick and roll offense led by Dellavedova, veteran Pacific Coach Bob Thomason proved to be a quick study, consistently frustrating Delly and his mates to spring an upset at the Anaheim tournament. Pacific, which will enter the WCC next year, is introducing itself to the ranks rather rudely, following up the win over Saint Mary’s with a 67-59 win over San Francisco, although Gonzaga did beat them, 85-67. Santa Clara is the next future WCC foe to get a shot at Pacific, with a match-up in Stockton this Saturday (December 15).
- Also on Saturday, Gonzaga hosts Kansas State in the Battle in Seattle, and will have thoughts of another Midwest foe, Illinois, firmly in mind. Kansas State, although 7-1, looks to be a good candidate for Zag revenge as it lost its only game of consequence, 71-57 to Michigan, and squeaked by a mediocre George Washington squad 65-62 last weekend.
- San Francisco will get a good test Saturday night in Reno when it takes on Nevada, which is coming off a 76-73 upset of Washington in Seattle. Same goes for San Diego, which wages its annual battle for city bragging rights against a tough San Diego State team Saturday in the Aztecs’ lair.