Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on November 21st, 2013

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • Not only has the WCC posted an impressive .811 winning percentage (30-7) through games of November 20, but also some of its members have shown the capacity to turn the conference race into an interesting exercise. Before losing a gritty 90-88 home game to #21 Iowa State on Wednesday, BYU looked particularly strong. The Cougars have been revitalized by the return of Kyle Collinsworth after a two-year mission and the emergence of 6’9″ freshman Erik Mica as a force in the paint that will make it easier to forget Brandon Davies. Those two, combined with sizzling early-season play by Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino, have helped BYU score at a 90-plus PPG clip and sweep of Weber State, Stanford (on the road) and a couple of cupcakes. The loss to rugged Iowa State from the top-ranked (in the early going) Big 12 Conference served as a reality check for the Cougars, and they will get another test against Texas on Monday in Kansas City, but Dave Rose appears to have the fast-moving, high-scoring team he is known for.
As usual, Dave Rose and BYU are off to a fast start. (AP)

As usual, Dave Rose and BYU are off to a fast start. (AP)

  • Saint Mary’s has done a lot to dispel those “What will we do without Matthew Dellavedova?” worries by posting a 4-0 record against strong competition. By cruising past Louisiana Tech, Akron and North Dakota State – all projected to be conference winners and go to the NCAA Tournament – the Gaels have done more than any other WCC team to boost the conference’s standing. Saint Mary’s slowed a little against Drake, not considered a force in the Missouri Valley Conference, but that 67-63 win might have been the residue of playing four games in the season’s first eight days. The Gaels’ early-season efforts put them at number three nationally in the Ratings Percentage Index (admittedly a small sample of games played), but, more importantly at 19th nationally in strength of schedule. The next closest WCC competitor is Pacific’s SOS at 65th nationally and Gonzaga’s one spot behind. Brad Waldow has been a beast in the paint for Saint Mary’s, posting two double-doubles and averaging 19.3 PPG and 8.3 RPG. Veteran guard Stephen Holt has proved Delly-like in his ability to find Waldow in good position to score, has posted a nearly three-to-one assist to turnover ratio (22 assists, eight turnovers) and is scoring at 12.3 PPG.

  • Also standing 4-0 prior to a game against Northern Iowa Friday in the opener of the Virgin Islands Paradise Jam, Loyola Marymount is, like BYU, benefiting from the infusion of new blood. True freshman Gabe Levin, a 6’7″ forward from Oak Park High School (River Forest, IL) and St. Thomas More Prep (Oakdale, CT), is the first player in LMU history to score in double figures in his first four games (14.5 PPG). Levin has been joined in the frontcourt by Binghamton transfer Ben Dickinson, averaging 13.5 PPG, and true freshman Evan Payne in the backcourt, averaging 11.8 PPG. Their emergence has made life easier for the Lions’ All-Conference senior guard Anthony Ireland, who is breathing easier while posting stellar numbers (16.5 PPG, 7.0 APG).
  • The consensus preseason champion, Gonzaga, hasn’t been pushed in three wins against newly-minted D-I school Bryant University (Northeast Conference), a re-tooling Colorado State and middling Oakland playing without its two best players, who were benched for disciplinary reasons. The Zags, nonetheless, have answered some questions about their frontcourt depth, as senior Sam Dower has been averaging nearly 30 minutes per game and scoring 14.7 PPG. Freshman big man Przemek Karnowski has averaged a little over 10 PPG in about 19 minutes per game, and the Zags have gotten expected strong performances from backcourt aces Kevin Pangos (16 PPG) and Gary Bell Jr. (17.3 PPG). Newcomer Gerard Coleman, a transfer from Providence who sat out last season, has given the Zags the slasher they wanted on the wing, averaging 11.7 PPG. The Zags will get their first real test of the season Monday night in Hawaii when they face Dayton (4-0) in the opening round of the Maui Invitational.
  • Pacific (3-0) is new to the WCC and has a new coach, Ron Verlin, so the team is anxious to make a good impression in the preseason. It has. The Tigers started off the season by defeating Nevada in Reno, 80-78, then held off Big West co-favorite UC Irvine 84-79 at home in the Alex Spanos Center. A third win over rebuilding Western Illinois set them up for Saturday’s face-off against Mountain West contender Fresno State in Stockton. Pacific has been led by a quartet of seniors, guard Sama Taku (18 PPG), forward Tony Gill (15 PPG), forward Ross Rivera (12.4 PPG) and guard Andrew Bock (10.7 PPG). That kind of veteran leadership usually bodes well, and Pacific is hoping to ride it into contention in the WCC.

    Samu Taku and Pacific have a huge non-conference matchup against Fresno State on Saturday. (Pacific athletics)

    Samu Taku and Pacific have a huge non-conference matchup against Fresno State on Saturday. (Pacific athletics)

  • San Diego has reason to be excited about the upcoming WCC conference race, but its 4-0 start isn’t one of them because it has been accomplished against mediocre, at best, competition: South Dakota State – not to be confused with the Nate Wolters-led team that was really good – Grand Canyon, Morgan State and Northern Kentucky. Not even an expected win over San Diego Christian on Thursday, which will give the Toreros their first 5-0 start since 1979, is anything to celebrate about. The Toreros are getting the expected leadership from guards Johnny Dee (18 PPG) and Christopher Anderson (11.3 PPG, 6.2 APG), plus a boost from newcomer Duda Sanadze (11.3 PPG), but haven’t been tested yet. They will be if they make it past the first round of the Gulf Coast Showcase next week in Estero, FL and come up against Louisiana Tech.
  • Portland’s record, 1-2, isn’t as shiny as San Diego’s, but the Pilots have a lot to brag about. Portland was tied with Oregon State late in the second half before falling 79-73, then gave No. 1-ranked Michigan State fits – again tying in the second half – before succumbing 82-67. Both games were on the opponent’s home courts – almost unheard of in pre-season competition. Eric Reveno has rebuilt his backcourt into a reasonable facsimile of the T.J. Campbell-Jared Stohl combination that led the pilots to three successive 20-win seasons from 2008-11. Replacing Campbell is 5-9 freshman Alex Wintering from Concord, NC by way of Tucson, AZ, and the Stohl stand-in is Bobby Sharp, a skinny 6-3 juco transfer from Santa Rosa, CA (yes, he has been nicknamed “Sharp Shooter”). Wintering, filling in for expected starting point guard David Carr, who has been sidelined with a concussion, and Sharp (13 PPG), have given the Pilots the outside game they enjoyed in their banner years along with junior standout Kevin Bailey (17.7 PPG). Reveno has frontcourt strength as well in reliable forward Ryan Nicholas (17.3 PPG), West Virginia transfer Volodymyr Gerun and 6-11 junior Thomas van der Mars.
  • Like San Diego, Pepperdine caused some early buzz by opening at 3-0, including two road wins against UC Riverside and Central Michigan, but the buzz was dimmed by an 83-7 home loss to lightly-regarded San Jose State. Marty Wilson’s Waves have been largely rebuilt since last year, but WCC Newcomer of the Year, Stacy Davis, is back and has been as tough as ever in the early going (22.8 PPG). Davis has been joined on the front line by UCLA transfer Brendan Lane, and two new guards, true freshman Jeremy Major and juco transfer Malcolm Brooks, have cracked the starting lineup.
  • Kerry Keating’s rebuild of Santa Clara (2-1) has gone well so far, as the Broncos posted home wins over weak sister Bethesda University of California and San Jose State before falling to projected Big West cellar-dweller Cal State Fullerton on the road. Newcomer Jared Brownridge, a 6-2 guard from Aurora, IL, leads Santa Clara in scoring at 20.3 PPG, and another new face, Fresno State transfer Jerry Brown, has chipped in at 11.3 PPG. The Broncos face their first stern test tonight in South Bend as they face ACC powerhouse (yes, ACC) Notre Dame.
  • Rex Walters is emphatically not rebuilding at San Francisco (2-2), although two home-court losses to Nevada and Idaho State may have had him wishing he could. The Dons started well enough, registering a blowout over DII Notre Dame de Namur and a 91-82 win over a respectable Cleveland State before the wheels came off. Walters faces the daunting task of fixing what went wrong just as the Dons go on the road against Montana tonight and Oregon Sunday.

Power Rankings

  1. Saint Mary’s 4-0
  2. BYU 3-1
  3. Gonzaga 3-0
  4. Pacific 3-0
  5. Loyola Marymount 4-0
  6. San Diego 4-0
  7. Portland 1-2
  8. Pepperdine 3-1
  9. Santa Clara 2-1
  10. San Francisco 2-2

Player of the Week(s)

The WCC named Davis of Pepperdine last week’s Player of the Week, following an opening-week nod to Gill of Pacific, but Waldow has to be wondering what it takes to get some love from the conference. Analyst Michael Rogner, whose Run the Floor blog follows the WCC closely, made the following points about Waldow’s contributions through the first four games:

Through four games Waldow has been decidedly high volume (26.7 % of SMC possessions), and his offensive efficiency could only be described as filthy. He’s making 70% of his 2s, and is drawing 7.0 fouls per 40 minutes, leading to an offensive rating of 144.8. Through those four games he’s averaging 19.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and three blocks per game…

Looking Ahead

Tournament dates for LMU in the Virgin Islands (Northern Iowa tonight), San Diego in Estero, FL (UIC on Monday), Gonzaga against Washington State tonight and then in Maui (Dayton on Monday) and Pepperdine in Anchorage vs. Green Bay next Thursday highlight the upcoming schedule. Otherwise, it’s preseason action as usual, with Saint Mary’s home against Alcorn State on Sunday, Columbia and Idaho at Portland and Pacific at Oregon next Friday.

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