CIO…the West Coast ConferencePosted by CNguon on January 2nd, 2013
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
- Conference Roars Back: Five minutes into the second half of last Saturday’s Duke-Santa Clara game Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski might have had a passing thought along the lines of, “Who are these guys?” His undefeated and number-one-ranked Blue Devils were trailing Santa Clara, 45-44, and the Duke coach would have had a hard time believing this was the same Santa Clara squad that went 0-16 in the WCC last year. What kind of conference produces a last-place team that can threaten the Dukies on their home court, Coach K might have wondered. Duke’s fears eased, as a disastrous flagrant foul by Santa Clara’s Yannick Atanga on Miles Plumlee produced a five-point turnaround that put Duke up 49-44 and led them to a 90-77 win. Santa Clara’s bold attack on the Durham fortress remained on Krzyzewski’s mind afterwards, however, as he remarked, “This was like a February ACC game.” Indeed, Santa Clara’s gutty effort epitomized a strong week for the WCC, as it completed its non-conference season with an 80-44 mark (.645 winning percentage). Gonzaga led the way with strong wins over Baylor at home and Oklahoma State on the road on Monday to burnish a 13-1 record and No. 13 national ranking. Saint Mary’s completed a sweep of the Ivy League with a last-second 70-69 win over Harvard also on Monday following a 78-62 win over Yale, and BYU ran away from Virginia Tech 91-71 behind 42 points from Tyler Haws, the WCC Player of the Week.
- Pangos Bangos: If not for Haws’ outburst against Virginia Tech, the talk of the conference would certainly have been Kevin Pangos’ 31-point effort against Baylor. Last year’s Golden Boy was slumping heading into the showdown with Baylor, scoring under the 10 PPG mark and shooting just 38 percent. But Baylor seemingly forgot what Gonzaga’s foes from last year have surely learned – you can’t leave Pangos alone beyond the three-point line. He drilled the Bears at a 10-of-13 rate, including 7-of-10 from long distance.
- Gonzaga (13-1): All systems are go for the Zags to reclaim the WCC title they surrendered last year to Saint Mary’s, as Mark Few’s squad completed its most impressive non-conference slate in several years. Kelly Olynyk has returned from a redshirt year reinvigorated, providing the Zags’ frontcourt an unexpected boost – as if it needed one. With senior Elias Harris providing steady excellence (15.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG), Olynyk chipping in at 14.6 PPG and 6.6 RPG and the Zags’ backcourt coming alive as evidenced by Pangos’ 31 points against Baylor, this is the WCC’s most complete team heading into conference play.
- Saint Mary’s (11-3): It has not been so smooth for Randy Bennett’s Gaels, as losses to underwhelming Pacific, Georgia Tech and Northern Iowa have revealed flaws in the Saint Mary’s offense. Matthew Dellavedova’s scoring (18.5 PPG) and assist numbers (6.3 APG) are excellent, but teams have been able to keep him from hurting them. Bennett has cobbled together a two-part solution to the power forward spot vacated by Rob Jones, getting a combined output of more than 16 PPG and 10 RPG out of Mitchell Young and Beau Levesque, but it is not as smooth as last year. The Gaels’ salvation may prove to be its excellent guard foursome of Dellavedova, Stephen Holt (11.3 PPG), James Walker III (9.8 PPG) and Jorden Page (8.3 PPG), but they need redshirt sophomore post man Brad Waldow (10.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG) to step up every night if they are to defend their title.
- Santa Clara (11-3): The Broncos haven’t beaten anybody notable besides St. Louis on the road, but their effort against Duke shows they are serious about making an impact in the WCC this year. No one has a more prolific scoring trio than Kevin Foster (18.9 PPG), Marc Trasolini (15.9 PPG) and Evan Roquemore (14.0 PPG), but Kerry Keating needs to find someone to assist Trasolini in the front court for his team to make a run at the league leaders. Seven-foot sophomore center Robert Garrett has shown flashes of promise, especially since he discovered a cure to debilitating sleep apnea that had robbed him of strength, but someone else among Atanga, Niyi Harrison or John McArthur needs to wake up if the Broncos are to soar.
- BYU (10-4): BYU ended the preseason the right way, drubbing Virginia Tech behind Haws and Brandon Davies, but the Cougars didn’t answer all the questions that have been raised this year: who is going to step up behind the Big Two – Haws (20.9 PPG) and Davies (20.1 PPG); who is going to make an impact at strong forward; and, perhaps most importantly, when is Matt Carlino going to come out of his funk? BYU can’t expect Haws to knock down 42 every night in conference, and it might not be enough anyway as Virginia Tech is hardly a world-beater (e.g. an 88-52 loss to Colorado State). Carlino has struggled with his shot and his confidence all year, and no one else has emerged as a backcourt force. This may be the team Santa Clara has circled to supplant as the best behind Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s.
- Pepperdine (8-5): Pulling out a one-point win (60-59) over Division II Fresno Pacific may not be an ideal way to end the non-conference season, but Marty Wilson’s Waves will take it anyway. Eight is the highest number Pepperdine has won in the preseason in eight years, and Wilson has been trying to build a culture of winning. As usual, it was senior guard Lorne Jackson making the big plays for Pepperdine, sinking a three-pointer to give the Waves a temporary lead against Fresno Pacific, then going the length of the floor for a lay-up as time expired for the game-winner. Jackson and fellow guards Jordan Baker, Caleb Willis and Nikolas Skouen have been carrying the load, along with freshman forward Stacy Davis, but Wilson needs post man Jan Maehlen and transfer forward Malte Kamer, both injured early in the season, to contribute if his Waves are going to compete successfully in the WCC.
- Loyola Marymount (7-6): It has been a nothing special non-conference effort by LMU, with no significant wins (two of its victories were over Cal State-Bakersfield) and a loss to Division II Alaska-Anchorage. Anthony Ireland has been brilliant at the point, leading the WCC in scoring at 21.3 PPG, but he is going to need significant help from the likes of Ashley Hamilton (14.8 PPG, 7.4 RPG) and Ayodeji Egbeyemi (11.3 PPG) if the Lions are to move up in the conference standings.
- San Francisco (7-6): The Dons ended a five-game tailspin with a win over East Tennessee State in the consolation round of the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu, then tacked on a 93-76 win over Division II Dominican to rise above .500, but it is hard to see whom they will leapfrog to move up.
- San Diego (7-8): Bill Grier’s Toreros showed some early promise with a win over Tulane and close losses to Oregon State (86-79) and James Madison (62-59), but limped to the finish line with a 66-63 squeaker over 3-7 Morgan State. The Toreros outstanding back court performers Johnny Dee and Christopher Anderson have picked up where they left off as freshmen, but will have to play brilliantly to lift their teammates.
- Portland (7-8): The Pilots were the only WCC team to finish the non-conference season with a loss, a 56-52 defeat at the hands of so-so Texas-Pan American. Junior forward Ryan Nicholas remains the Pilot leader in scoring (13.7 PPG) and rebounding (9.7 RPG), with sophomore guard Kevin Bailey contributing 11.9 PPG.
- Santa Clara gets a chance Wednesday to show that its strong showing against Duke was no fluke, hosting Bay Area arch-rival San Francisco in the conference opener. The Broncos face an even tougher challenge on Saturday when Gonzaga drops by.
- On Thursday the Zags will open at Pepperdine, while LMU travels to Provo to face BYU and Portland flies down to San Diego.
- The first week’s action concludes on Saturday with LMU playing Saint Mary’s in the Gaels’ only conference game this week, BYU coming to San Francisco and Portland staying in Southern California for a game against Pepperdine.