CIO… the West Coast ConferencePosted by CNguon on December 17th, 2012
Michael Vernetti is the West Coast Conference correspondent for RTC.
Bye-bye Gonzaga? Shuffling through the barrage of reports, rumors, and guesses that emerged from the defection of the Catholic Seven from the Big East Conference, one could conclude that:
- Gonzaga might join a new alliance of those seven plus some other basketball-only schools to form a new super-conference.
- Saint Mary’s might also join the party.
- Neither Gonzaga nor Saint Mary’s were ever in the plans of the Seven.
- That the WCC already has what the Catholic Seven are seeking: a mostly homogeneous group of geographically contiguous schools with a common academic philosophy and a commitment to quality basketball.
Involving the WCC in the Big East blow-up was mostly the work of Gonzaga coach Mark Few and his ever-reliable mouthpiece, Andy Katz of ESPN. Katz reported last Wednesday (December 12), before the seven departing schools had announced a decision, that, “Sources say the Zags would love to part with the West Coast Conference and be a member of a national, branded basketball conference… the Zags are looking out for themselves and would like to be positioned with fellow national Catholic-based schools instead of regional ones in the WCC.”
No one familiar with Few’s musings a few weeks ago was worried about what would happen to Gonzaga in the case of a BCS/everybody else-type split in the college basketball ranks had any doubts who Katz’s source was. And it is safe to say that no one else belonging to or friendly with the WCC appreciated Few’s willingness to throw the conference under the bus on the basis of some unfounded worries about an imminent basketball schism.
Newcomers shining: Gonzaga’s Polish recruit Przemek Karnowski garnered most of the preseason attention accorded new faces in the WCC, but as imposing as the 7’1” center looks on the court he has been shoved aside by the play of another Zag seven-footer, returning redshirt Kelly Olynyk. Mostly because Olynyk has been so stellar, Karnowski has been relegated to part-time duties. Other freshmen and transfers, however, are leaving big marks on their teams.
Undersized post man Stacy Davis of Pepperdine leads all WCC freshmen in both scoring (10.8 PPG, 18th overall) and rebounding (7.4 RPG, fifth overall), compared to Karnowski’s 9.3 PPG and 3.6 RPG. Davis, a stocky 6’6”, 235-pounder, is from that basketball powerhouse, Betty Fairfax High School in Laveen, Arizona. He has averaged more than twice the minutes of Karnowski, 29.8 to 14.1 MPG, evidence of his importance to Pepperdine while sophomore big man Jan Maehlen works himself back into the lineup following an injury, and evidence of Gonzaga’s depth that allows them to ration Karnowski’s minutes.
Another freshman making a mark in the early going is San Francisco guard Tim Derksen, who has started off-and-on for the Dons and is averaging 9.0 PPG and 4.6 RPG in 23 minutes per game. Portland feels that 6’4” freshman guard Oskars Reinfelds from Riga, Latvia, may turn out to be the long-awaited point guard successor to the departed and greatly-missed T.J. Campbell. Reinfelds provided a lift off the bench at Kentucky with four assists and two steals, while running the point for the first time this season.
Outshining all newcomers has been sophomore wing man Tyler Haws of BYU, who returned this season after a two-year hiatus for his Mormon mission. Haws has been brilliant for the Cougars, averaging 20.1 PPG and providing a spark noticeably missing from last year’s freshman standout Matt Carlino.
San Francisco’s De’End Parker, a transfer from UCLA, and Saint Mary’s James Walker III, a junior college transfer from Citrus College, are also playing big roles. Parker has been averaging nearly 18 PPG and Walker 10.4 PPG.
- Gonzaga (10-1): The Zags had plenty of time to nurse their wounds from the 85-74 loss to undefeated Illinois last Saturday, and put that time to good use. It can be expected that Few emphasized defense in anticipation of facing Kansas State in Saturday’s (December 15) annual Battle in Seattle, because his troops were relentless in hounding K-State star Rodney McGruder into a four-point night in which he didn’t score for the first 30 minutes. Olynyk had another dominating game, leading all scorers with 20 points in 19 minutes.
- Santa Clara (8-2): The resurgence of Santa Clara picked up again last week, as the Broncos recovered from their first two losses of the season with a pair of wins at Pacific (75-71) and at San Jose State (75-54). Beating the Tigers on its home floor amounted to a bit of WCC revenge on a Pacific team that had logged wins over Saint Mary’s and San Francisco (and suffered a loss to Gonzaga). As for San Jose State, it’s always nice to beat a neighbor on its home court, and the feat was made easier by the prolific Kevin Foster’s 31 points, 21 points and eight assists from Foster’s back court mate, Evan Roquemore (enabling him to surpass the career 1,000-point mark), and a double-double (13 points, 12 rebounds) from Marc Trasolini. It is generally conceded that a team with three certifiable stars has a shot at a conference championship, and Santa Clara certainly meets that criterion with Foster, Trasolini and Roquemore.
- Saint Mary’s (7-2): The Gaels had only one game last week, so they decided it might as well be a good one. The result: a 120-67 pasting of hapless Jackson State (0-7), which had some statisticians scrambling for comparative results. The Gaels’ points-per-possession mark of 1.579 (120 points in 76 possessions) turns out to be the 22nd highest among all college games in the last 15 years, and combined with a 1.564 PPP against Cal Poly 10 days earlier, gave them two games played at the top 1/30th of 1% of all games played in the last 15 years, according to Michael Rogner of Bloquin. Squeezed in between those two games was an 88-73 win over Drake in Des Moines, so whatever Randy Bennett has been preaching since the Gaels dropped two games in a Thanksgiving tournament has been well received. The three-game win streak has been accomplished without starting guard Stephen Holt, who was averaging 12 PPG before he went down with a knee bruise.
- BYU (7-3): The Cougars likewise had only one game last week, and it was a satisfying 78-68 road win over intra-state rival Weber State. Satisfying because BYU’s star post man Brandon Davies had his most dominating game in an outstanding career, notching 33 points on 14-of-17 shooting. Haws wasn’t far behind with 23 points, but, in a pattern all-too-familiar this year, that’s about where it ended, as no one else scored in double figures. Carlino, who has been MIA for most of this season, went 3-7 from the floor, including 0-3 on three-point attempts, but there was a ray of hope for BYU’s back court. Heralded freshman guard Cory Calvert scored nine points in 10 minutes of play, and if he can become a consistent force the Cougars’ future might be brighter.
- Pepperdine (6-4): The Waves continue to tantalize, including during last night’s back-and-forth loss to Central Michigan, 80-77, which was almost saved with a Lorne Jackson 3-pointer at the buzzer. Before the loss, Pepperdine had notched six wins in its last seven games and was off to its best start in eight years. It has been winning with a small front court consisting of two true freshmen, Davis and rangy 6’7” Jett Raines, along with a three-guard attack anchored by the senior Jackson, who is averaging 15.7 PPG. The Waves got one of its walking wounded back in its last win over Hawaii, as transfer Malte Kramer made his debut, and is waiting for the huge Maehlen (7’0”, 300-plus pounds) to find his way back also.
- San Francisco (5-3): The losing streak reached two with losses at Pacific (67-59) and Nevada (59-51) last week, and although it’s not nearly panic time on the Hilltop, a win over visiting Holy Cross tomorrow night would help restore the Dons’ confidence that was growing after five straight wins. It’s been poor shooting on the road that stopped the Dons in their tracks, exemplified by shooting 19.2 percent from the floor in the second half against Nevada. San Francisco was the nation’s fourth-best 3-point shooting team before traveling to Reno, but shot just 2-for-15 from the 3-point stripe against the Wolfpack.
- Loyola Marymount (5-4): The Lions held their position by playing no games last week in deference to finals.
- San Diego (6-6): Continuing to tread water, the Toreros won a laugher over Arizona Christian (88-65), but weren’t laughing after facing #15 (USA Today coaches’ poll) San Diego State on the Aztecs’ floor, dropping the intra-city rivalry contest 72-56. Ken Rancifer continues to be an early-season scoring leader for San Diego, scoring 16 against San Diego State and 27 against Arizona Christian.
- Portland (4-6): The Pilots have figured out how to avoid continuing losses – play lesser teams at home. Following a home loss (68-60) to UNLV and a road thrashing by Kentucky (74-46), the Pilots gave out a beating of their own, 95-66, to Portland Bible College. Oh yeah, it’s an NCCAA team, if you mean the National Christian College Athletics Association. Following will be two more home games against unpredictable Cal State-Bakersfield and unheralded North Florida.
The schedule remains light this week, especially if you count interesting games:
- Ultra-efficient Saint Mary’s gets a shot at revenge against Pacific on Wednesday in Moraga, then heads back to Iowa to take on tough Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls on Saturday.
- Loyola Marymount comes out of hibernation to meet Ole Miss at home on Wednesday, then travels to Saint Louis for a game against the Billikins on Saturday, constituting the Lions’ two biggest challenges of the preseason.
- Another tough foe, Oregon State, awaits San Diego at a tournament in Las Vegas beginning on Saturday.
- Santa Clara kicks off its own Cable Car Classic against Alcorn State on Friday, following a home contest tonight against Cal Poly.
- BYU has a shot at its third win in a row tomorrow against Eastern New Mexico at home, but dives into deeper waters on Friday with a contest against Baylor in Waco, Texas.
- Gonzaga has the week’s easiest assignment, welcoming Campbell University on Wednesday, but has its own date with Baylor next Friday (December 28) in Spokane.