2011-2012 WCC Preview: Strongest mid-major conference this year?

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AWARDS

Player of the Year: Elias Harris, Jr., Gonzaga

Picking the WCC Preseason Player of the Year was not a simple task, as the conference brings back a ton of talent, including seven of the ten players named to the all-conference team. Harris wasn’t one of those seven, as the 6’8″ combo-forward struggled through his sophomore campaign, seeing his numbers dip across the board. There were a number of reasons for this — Harris was battling a shoulder injury during the offseason and an achilles injury all year, Gonzaga struggled to find consistent ball-handling and play-making, and Robert Sacre continued to develop as a front court presence. I picked Harris simply because there isn’t a more talented player in the league. He has the potential to be a first round pick whenever he decides to go pro. He’s too strong and explosive in the post to be defended by WCC small forwards, but he’s a bad matchup for power forwards because of his perimeter ability and the fact that he is a dangerous three-point shooter. If he is healthy, he should regain the explosiveness and conditioning that made him such a matchup problem as a freshman. Harris is the most talented player in the conference, and I’m not sure its even close. The question is whether or not he returns to and improves on his freshman year form.

And a close second goes to…: Matthew Dellavedova, Jr., St. Mary’s

Like picking the Player of the Year, this was not an easy decision based on the amount of talent in this conference. I went with Dellavedova here because A) I think that if St. Mary’s is going to compete for the WCC title, Dellavedova is going to have absorb the play-making and leadership roles left open by Mickey McConnell’s graduation and B) I think that St. Mary’s is, in fact, going to compete for the WCC title. I love Dellavedova’s game. He’s a relatively unathletic, play-making combo-guard with an awkward looking jump shot and an even more awkward haircut, but he still manages to post impressive numbers. He was second in the conference in assists last season despite playing on the same team as the conference’s leader in assists. And while its tough to give him the edge over teammate Rob Jones, who will be the heart and soul of this season’s Gael team, I think Dellavedova will be the more important piece.

Breakout Star: Anthony Ireland, So., Loyola Marymount

I really wanted to go with Gonzaga’s Sam Dower or Stephen Holt of St. Mary’s here, but in an effort to try and spread around some of the love, I’ll take LMU’s Anthony Ireland as the breakout star of the WCC. Ireland had a terrific and promising freshman campaign, playing his way into the starting lineup and averaging an impressive 10.6 ppg and 3.0 apg. He really came on at the end of the season as well, hitting for more than 20 points in two of the Lion’s last four games. As a sophomore, this is going to be Ireland’s team to take control of. Drew Viney will be the star, but with Vernon Teel out of the picture, Ireland will take the reins in the back court. And while that record is ghastly — 11 wins, 2-12 in the WCC — LMU was not nearly that bad. They lost seven of the nine games that were one possession differences or went to overtime. They still have the majority of the talent that made them a trendy pick for second in the league. I fully expect them to be better next season, and Ireland will be a major reason why.

All-Conference First-Team:

POY: Elias Harris, Jr., Gonzaga
G: Matthew Dellavedova, Jr., St. Mary’s
G: Kevin Foster, Jr., Santa Clara
F: Rob Jones, Sr., St. Mary’s
F: Drew Viney, Sr., Loyola Marymount
C: Robert Sacre, Sr., Gonzaga

All-Conference Second-Team:

G: Mike Williams, Jr., San Francisco
G: Nemanja Mitrovic, Sr., Portland
G: Rashad Green, Sr., San Francisco
G: Evan Roquemore, So. Santa Clara
C: Brandon Davies, Sr., BYU

Four summer storylines

– Marc Trasolini tears his acl: This was less of a story line as it was an isolated event, but regardless, Santa Clara losing Trasolini for the season is a big deal. The Broncos lost a number of important pieces this offseason — to transfer, graduation, and Europe — but with their big three of Kevin Foster, Evan Roquemore and Trasolini returning, this was a team that many had pegged as a sleeper to make a run at a top three finish in the league. Without Trasolini — who injured his knee playing an exhibition on a team trip to his hometown of Vancouver — SCU will head into the season without a proven front court player.

– Why does Gonzaga have so much roster turnover?: Anyone that has been paying attention to the Gonzaga hoops program will have noticed that over the past two years, there have been a multitude of players leaving the program. In fact, thanks Bud Withers of the Seattle Times, we know the precise numbers — of the 13 players that Mark Few has signed in the three classes that are currently sophomores, juniors, and seniors, seven have left the program. That includes this offseason, as Demetri Goodson transferred to Baylor to play football, Manny Arop transferred to Indiana State and Keegan Hyland left and eventually ended up at Fairfield.

The question this left folks asking is why? Why does Gonzaga have such turnover? Why is this happening at a program whose head coach is as firmly entrenched as any in the country? Is this a sign that there is something wrong with the program, or that it has fully reached the status of high-major, with kids opting to transfer out instead of waiting their turn to play and/or being recruited over? The one thing that is certain is that this hasn’t exactly had a negative effect on the program. Last year was a “down year” for Gonzaga, and they still managed to win a share of the WCC regular season title (something they have done every season since 2000), with the WCC Tournament title, and win a game in the NCAA Tournament.

– San Diego’s point-shaving scandal: Back in April, the college basketball world was rocked when news leaked that two former Toreros — including Brandon Johnson, the program’s all-time leader in points and assists — and a former assistant coach were arrested for their alleged involvement in a scheme to fix the outcome of games. Apparently, Johnson influenced the outcome of a game in February of 2010 and conspired to get another player to influence a game in January of this past season. Johnson plead not guilty to the charges

– Brandon Davies gets reinstated: Back in late August, BYU finally ended almost six months of speculation by announcing that Brandon Davies would be allowed back into school and onto the basketball team. If you’ve forgotten, Davies was suspended last March for violation BYU’s honor code by, reportedly, having premarital sex with his girlfriend. The importance of Davies to the Cougars cannot be understated. With so much leaving in the form of the graduation of Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery, losing Davies may have left the Cougars in the bottom half of the WCC this season.

Four storylines to follow this season

– How long is BYU going to be in the WCC?: Conference expansion in college sports is all about football, but its effect on hoops is far from negligible. The WCC is a perfect example of that. Due to BYU’s interest in becoming an independent on the gridiron, the WCC was able to add a program that is probably one of the nation’s 50 best over the last decade. That’s never a bad thing, especially for a school like St. Mary’s. Sure, it may be more difficult to finally win a conference regular season title, but that poor strength of schedule that cost the Gael’s two NCAA Tournament trips in the past three seasons is going to be helped immensely.

But conference expansion is far from over, and one of the rumors that has persisted throughout the past couple of months is that the Big 12 has a heavy interest in adding BYU. If BYU does, in fact, head to the Big 12, it means that their stopover in the WCC may end up being as short as a single season. Whether or not that actually happens is far from clear — does anyone actually have any rock-solid info when it comes to realignment? — but it will be a story to keep an eye on.

– Which Elias Harris will we get?: After his freshman season, Harris shocked folks when he announced that he would be returning to Gonzaga. He had a legitimate shot at being picked in the lottery. But as a sophomore, Harris was no where near the same player. Between an offseason shoulder injury and an early-season achilles injury, Harris was put on some weight, got himself out of condition, and lost some of his explosiveness — three things that made him highly-regarded by NBA folks. So which Harris shows up this year? Will he be back in shape, dominating the paint and creating mismatches with front lines around the country? If he is, than Gonzaga has to be considered the favorite to win the conference.

– Will there be more tournament teams this season than in 2008?: Back in 2008, the WCC peaked. Not only did they send three teams to the NCAA Tournament, thanks to San Diego’s epic run through St. Mary’s and Gonzaga to the WCC Tournament title, but that same Torero team knocked off UConn in the first round of the tournament. At the time, the league wasn’t a stranger to getting at-large bids — the was well into Gonzaga’s reign atop the conference — but for the team that came in second to also earn an at-large bid made a statement. Now, with the addition of BYU, the WCC has three programs — Gonzaga and St. Mary’s the other — that head into the season with the expectation, not the hope, of making the NCAA Tournament. But could there be more?

Its a possibility, but it would require a couple of things to happen. For starters, the WCC will have to clean up in non-conference play. Raising the league’s RPI makes everyone look better. The other thing that will likely have to happen is that someone from outside of the big three will need to earn the league’s automatic bid. There are some quality teams in this conference – San Francisco, Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount — but the likelihood of those schools earning an at-large bid is quite small. The odds of them getting hot for three games and making a run through the conference tournament is much higher.

– So is Loyola Marymount for real?: This team is tough to peg. There’s no question that they have talent on the roster, but talent isn’t going to guarantee wins when your team lacks chemistry, is ravaged by injuries and cannot win a close game. At least one of those issues will be solved heading into this season. Vernon Teel, who was diametrically opposed to getting along with the coaching staff, is gone. His talent will be missed, but sophomore Anthony Ireland should be enough to fill the void. Better chemistry and a better leader at the point should solve some of the problems in close games, as well. If this team stays healthy, the pieces are there for a run to the top half of the conference.

Power Rankings

1. Gonzaga: The Bulldogs had a weird year in 2010-2011. It began about as poorly as one can imagine. After being ranked in the top 15 in the preseason, they got off to a 4-5 start before finding themselves at 13-8 and 3-3 in the WCC, three games out of first place with just eight to play. Included in those losses? A 22 point whooping at the hands of Washington State and a 14 point loss at Santa Clara followed by an overtime loss at the hands of San Francisco. But once Mark Few solidified Marquise Carter as the fifth starter and David Stockton and Sam Dower as his first two players off the bench, Gonzaga took off, winning 10 in a row to take home a share of the regular season title and win the WCC tournament championship. But then after beating St. John’s, the Zags were stomped by a Brandon Davies-less BYU team in the second round of the Big Dance.

Gonzaga will, once again, have the look of a top 25 team in 2011-2012 despite some significant roster turnover. Steven Gray graduated while both Demetri Goodson and Manny Arop transferred out of the program. The good news, however, is that Mark Few does return a loaded front line, led by Elias Harris and Robert Sacre. Harris struggled as a sophomore after a promising freshman campaign that had his name being mentioned as a potential lottery pick. Some of that was an achilles injury that limited his explosiveness. If he can return to freshman year form — or improve on it — he’s a potential Player of the Year in the WCC. Sacre has slowly developed into one of the best big men on the west coast. He does a little bit of everything — scoring in the paint, rebounding, blocking shots — and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him continue to develop as a senior. The Zags are deep up front as well. Sam Dower is a potential game-changer off the bench, an active and athletic power forward that really came on strong late in the year. Kelly Olynyk can stretch the floor with his ability to shoot and can hold his own on the glass. The perimeter is more of a question mark. Sophomore point guard David Stockton — yes, that’s John’s son — was a steadying force late in the season, and while he plays smart basketball and can run the team, he’s not an overwhelming playmaker. Senior Marquise Carter, however, has the potential to be. Gonzaga’s late-season surge came when he was moved into the starting lineup, and he had a couple big games down the stretch. Carter can do a lot of things — shoot, drive, find assists — but he will need to become more consistent in his production. The third perimeter spot will be up for grabs. Sharpshooting Mathis Monninghoff started eight games but couldn’t get off the bench at the end of the season. Mathis Keita earned some starts as well, but he, too, couldn’t keep his minutes. Will freshman Gary Bell, the jewel of a six-man recruiting class, start immediately? There’s a chance. Also, keep an eye on freshman Kevin Pangos, who should push David Stockton for minutes at the point.

2. St. Mary’s: It may be hard to believe, but for St. Mary’s, a season in which they won their first share of the WCC conference title in 14 years was a major disappointment. The magnitude their collapse down the stretch — an unacceptable loss to San Diego, losses to Gonzaga and Utah State that would have sealed an tournament trip, and another loss to Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament finals — should tell you how good of a season the Gaels had for three months just to manage a share of the WCC title. In mid-February, they were 22-4 and 10-1 in the WCC, holding a two game lead with three games left while playing sensational basketball. Their season ended fittingly, with WCC Player of the Year Mickey McConnell missing a game-winning layup at the buzzer in the first-round of the NIT against Kent State.

While McConnell has moved on to the professional level, Randy Bennett’s club returns the rest of their roster from 2010-2011. Matthew Dellavedova will take the reins of this team as a junior and he should be primed for a big season as the feature guard in Randy Bennett’s offense. He will likely be joined in the back court by sophomore Stephen Holt, a highly-regarded recruit when he entered the program that had a couple of impressive performances late in the season. Jorden Page missed most of last season with a knee injury. He had a couple of big games in the WCC Tournament two seasons ago and should provide a spark off the bench. Same with Paul McCoy, a transfer that averaged 13.4 ppg as a freshman in 2008-2009. In the front court, Clint Steindl and Rob Jones will start at the forward spots. Steindl is a lanky, 6’7″ sharpshooter at the small forward spot while Jones, despite standing just 6’6″, is the team’s second-leading scorer and best rebounder. He’s more of a combo-forward than a pure power forward, but Jones plays with a mean streak. Kenton Walker got 26 starts last season, but only played 15 mpg. Mitchell Young actually played more minutes that Walker and averaged double figures off the bench. Tim Williams and Northwestern transfer Kyle Rowley will also be in the front court rotation. If Dellavedova and Jones embrace the role of the leader, youngsters like Page and Holt develop into big-time players and the Gael’s front court plays well, this is a team that has the potential to make a lot of noise; not just in the WCC, but on a national level.

3. BYU: While BYU’s storybook season was dulled by the suspension of starting center Brandon Davies in March, it shouldn’t put a damper on what was one of the most memorable years in college basketball in the last decade. Much of that credit is due to the play of Jimmer Fredette, the superstar with unlimited range, a vicious crossover, and a goodie-two-shoes image that made Tim Tebow look like Marlo Stanfield. But with the graduation of Fredette and a couple of other very important pieces and BYU’s move to the WCC for hoops, Dave Rose will, essentially, have a brand new program to work with in 2011-2012.

Not only does BYU lose The Jimmer next season, they well also be playing with out Jackson Emery and Kyle Collinsworth, who will be on his Mormon mission. What that means is that Rose is going to have to build his club around Davies, who recently was officially reinstated to the BYU program. Davies is a quality post presence, able to score on the block with a variety of effective-but-awkward post moves. Davies will be joined on the front line by Noah Hartsock, a senior with the ability to stretch the floor thanks to his jumper, and Chris Collinsworth, who will hopefully be back to 100% after battling through a knee injury and eventually having surgery in January. Throw in Stephen Rogers, a junior reserve, and the crop of freshmen bigs Rose signed, and BYU will have a solid front line, although it would be nice to see that group develop a bit of a mean streak. The perimeter is where the question marks lie. Jimmer and Emery rarely left the court, and when either one did, Kyle Collinsworth was usually the player that slid down to the two. Senior Charles Abouo is back, but he is a small forward that isn’t known for his ability to handle the ball. That leaves a trio of freshmen. Anson Winder, who redshirted last season, and Damarcus Harrison, a true freshman, will initially be relied upon to handle back court duties until UCLA transfer Matt Carlino is able to get himself eligible. How good Carlino ends up being will likely be the determining factor in whether or not BYU wins the WCC.

4. San Francisco: The Dons are in a very good position heading into the 2011-2012 season. Not only is this a team that finished 10-4 in the league last season — just a game behind both Gonzaga and St. Mary’s — they also bring back essentially their entire team, losing only Moustapha Diarra and Marko Petrovic. It didn’t take long for Rex Walters to turn around this program, as he now has USF in a position to legitimately be considered a threat to win the conference title.

The Don’s strength will be in their back court this season. It starts with Mike Williams and Rashad Green, their two leading scorers from a season ago and all-WCC members. Green has about four inches on Williams (who is listed at 6’0″), but is the better playmaker. Williams is a better scorer and more of a consistent three point threat. The back court will be held together by Cody Doolin, a freshman point guard who was forced into a starting role due to another season-ending knee injury to Dominique O’Conner in the second game of the season. Doolin proved to be a very capable WCC point guard with the potential to develop into an all-league caliber playmaker. With a healthy O’Conner and sophomores Charles Standifer and Avery Johnson joining that group, the Dons may have the second best perimeter attack in the league. Inside, losing Moustapha Diarra will hurt their depth. He was big and he produced — 7.8 ppg in just over 17 mpg. But with Perris Blackwell and Angelo Caloiaro back, the Dons will have a solid inside-outside duo. Blackwell is better around the rim while Caloiaro is more of a face-up four, although he does get to the glass at a solid rate. It will be nice if he shoots better than 32.7% from three or takes fewer than five per game, however. 6’9″ German sophomore Justin Raffington will be one of the guys counted on to provide depth in the front court. The WCC will be tough up top, and its always interesting to see how a team handles expectations (see Loyola Marymount last season), but San Francisco should be in the mix atop the WCC all year long.

5. Santa Clara: The Broncos had a terrific year in 2010-2011. They won 23 games, they finished fourth in the WCC and they were able to win a postseason title, beating Iona on the road for the CIT championship. And while Kerry Keating’s club lost two starters and a couple of bench players, the fact that they were returning their big three of Kevin Foster, Marc Trasolini and Evan Roquemore had them being picked as a potential sleeper in the WCC. That was until Trasolini blew out his knee in August.

We already talked about the loss of Trasolini above, so let’s focus on what Santa Clara does have. It starts with their back court, as Foster, a senior, and Roquemore, a sophomore, form a terrific tandem. Foster is one of the most potent scorers in the country, averaging over 20 ppg as a sophomore. Foster can be streaky. He shoots a ton of threes — exactly 10 per game last year — and when he gets hot, watch out. He went for 25 or more points 12 times, including a 36 point outburst in a win against Gonzaga in January. Roquemore is more of an all-around player and a much better creator, but he has the ability to explode as well, going for 30 points in SCU’s win over USF in the CIT. Robert Cowels looks to be in line to start the the three, but the Bronco’s back court depth will more than likely be entirely freshmen. The front court is going to have a ton of question marks without Trasolini. Junior Niyi Harrison and sophomore Jon McArthur are really the only returners, but redshirt freshman Yannick Atanga and true freshman Robert Garrett, a seven-footer, were both highly-rated recruits in high school. At least two players out of that group are going to have to develop into solid contributors this season for the Broncos to have a real shot at finishing in the top four of the league.

6. Loyola Marymount: Last season was disastrous for the Lions. They had a roster stocked with talent and a buzz heading into the season, which is why they were picked by quite a few people to contend with St. Mary’s for the second spot in the conference. But the year ended up being a disaster. The Lions were plagued by injuries, their star guard Vernon Teel couldn’t find a way to get along with the coaching staff, and LMU ended the season with just 11 wins, finishing in last place in the conference at 2-12. One thing that I am positive of is that Loyola was not as bad as their record indicated last season. As a team, its hard to argue with the results, but there was — and still is — plenty of individual talent on that roster.

The issue this season is going to be A) keeping that talent on the court and out of the training room; B) developing team chemistry, which is just as important as talent; and C) winning close games — they were just 2-7 in one possession and overtime games last year. Nine of the 11 players Max Good started in more than one game last season return, including the five guys that were starting by the end of the season. The centerpiece of this team will be forward and 17.2 ppg scorer Drew Viney. (Ed. Note: Of course, the day after we originally posted this preview, Viney had to go and get surgery on his foot.) He’ll be joined up front by sophomore Godwin Okojoni, who was starting by the end of the year in place of Edgar Garibay, another sophomore. Garibay is a big-bodied, 6’10” center that will hopefully be healthy this season. The athletic Ashley Hamilton will also play a big role, while LaRon Armstead and Tom Diedrichs should see minutes up front as well. Anthony Ireland really came on down the stretch of his freshman campaign and should develop into a quality starting point guard. He’ll be joined in the back court by sophomore Ayodeji Egbeyemi, who was able to start by the end of his freshman season because Jarrod DuBois had his year cut short by injuries. With both Teel and Larry Davis gone this year, LMU’s back court may have some depth issues. The Lions have the talent to make a push for a top four finish in the conference, but will all the pieces come together?

7. Portland: The success that Eric Reveno has had in Portland is a perfect example of why the WCC looks primed to be one of the best mid-major conferences in the country for a long time coming. Despite playing in a league that includes three perennial tournament teams in Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and now BYU, Portland has steadily been competitive, not only in the league but nationally as well, despite losing important pieces that past two offseasons. This year will be the test. After losing four starters from the 2009-2010 season, Portland appeared to be a challenger for the league title early in the season before road struggles during conference play derailed that bid. They finished .500 in league play, ending up fifth, right where everyone expected them to be. But their 20 wins and invitation to the CIT should tell you that their season was more successful than it appears on paper.

This season, Portland will once again be forced to deal with the graduation of quite a bit of talent. Leading scorer Jared Stohl graduates, as does the league’s leading rebounder in Luke Sikma and a four-year starter for the Pilots in center Kramer Knutson. The Pilots should be able to handle the loss of Stohl in stride as they have plenty of perimeter talent. Nemanja Mitrovic proved to be just as dangerous of a three-point marksmen, hitting 46.3% of his triples while shooting more than Stohl on the season. Senior Eric Waterford started 23 games at the point, while junior Derrick Rodgers, sophomore Tanner Riley and freshman Kevin Bailey — who was a highly regarded recruit — should all contribute this year. But the x-factor may end up being sophomore Tim Douglas, who earned a spot in the starting lineup late in his freshman campaign. He played well in the nine games he started, leading Portland to a 6-3 record which includes a 26 point, five rebound, four assist performance in a 15 point win over St. Mary’s. Portland lost both games prior to his insertion in the lineup as well as the last three games of the season, which Douglas missed with a foot injury. The front court is a much, much bigger question mark. Only two players that saw any action return — sophomores Ryan Nicholas and Riley Barker, who played a combined 17.1 mpg last year. A couple of freshman will be thrown in the mix as well — John Bailey, Thomas van der Mars, and Dorian Cason. Will any of those five players be able to step up and replace the production and leadership lost with Sikma and Knutson?

8. Pepperdine: Tom Asbury’s second tenure didn’t go quite as well as his first, when he built the Waves into the premiere program in the WCC in the early 90’s. To get a feel for how poorly Pepperdine performed, think about this — the Waves were 12-21 overall and 5-9 in league play while have two of their players, including star Keion Bell, suspended midway through the season, and this was the most successful year in Asbury’s three year reign. Asbury is now gone — along with Bell and second leading scorer Mychel Thompson — but all hope is not lost for Pepperdine.

Clearly, losing a player of Bell’s caliber is less than ideal, but having a player of Bell’s caliber that does not buy into to the concept is just as bad. Case in point — Pepperdine was 6-14 with Bell on the roster last season; they were 6-7 without him. The bigger loss may actually be Mychel Thompson, Klay’s younger brother, who was the team’s leading scorer after Bell left. This season, new head coach Marty Wilson will center his offensive attack around Lorne Jackson, a senior guard that turned into a legitimate go-to scoring threat late in the year, averaging 20.8 ppg in the last five games. Junior Joshua Lowery looks like he might be the answer at the point after solidifying the position as a sophomore. Throw in senior Dane Suttle, junior Caleb Willis, and a couple of newcomers, including touted freshman Jordan Baker and Norweigan JuCo transfer Nikolas Skouen, and Pepperdine has a decent blend of talent and experience on their perimeter. The starters in the front court will most likely be the senior duo of Taylor Darby and Corbin Moore, who both have some size and plenty of experience but lack upside in terms of potential. Those two will combine with sophomore Jan Maehlen and freshman Ramon Eaton, who are going to have to provide minutes even if they aren’t quite ready. The front court will be an issue, but if Pepperdine can get some solid perimeter play out of Jackson and Lowery, than I don’t think a .500 WCC season is out of the realm of possibility.

9. San Diego: Bill Grier had such an incredible start to his tenure at San Diego. He went 11-3 in the league, he knocked off both St. Mary’s and Gonzaga en route to the WCC Tournament title and then he went on to beat UConn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t get much better than that. And it also doesn’t get much worse than where the program has ended up since then. They won 16 games — and just six in the conference — the following season, seeing those numbers drop all the way to six wins and just two leagues wins last year.

San Diego’s prospects don’t look all that much better for this season. They have a young roster — eight freshmen and two sophomores — and lost two of their top four scorers from last season. There are a couple of bright spots, however. Darian Norris, a JuCo transfer playing his first season as a Division I point guard, proved that he is capable of playing at this level of basketball. He’ll be the only senior of the USD roster next year. The Toreros also have a solid front line. Chris Manresa, a junior, averaged a respectable 7.3 ppg and 5.4 rpg while Chris Gabriel went for 7.5 ppg and 3.4 rpg. Gabriel has the potential to be a real force in the WCC, but he needs to get control of his weight. He’s currently listed at 285 — which is down from the 310 he was listed at as a sophomore — but weight isn’t the only factor when it comes to conditioning. Gabriel only managed to stay on the court for 15 mpg last year. There are some decent freshmen coming in — including redshirt frosh Ben Vozzolla and point guard Chris Anderson — but they will take some time to develop. Expect another year at the bottom of the league.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

ODU graduate transfer Trey Porter headed to Nevada

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Nevada is adding an immediate impact big to its roster.

The Wolf Pack received the commitment of Old Dominion graduate transfer Trey Porter, they announced Wednesday.

The 6-foot-10 Porter averaged 13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks for ODU last season. He announced his decision to finish his career elsewhere last month.

“We are so excited about Trey Porter joining our Nevada Family,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said in a statement. “Trey is an incredible athlete, has tremendous length, and has huge upside. He is a great rebounder who can score the ball in the post and face up. He has phenomenal speed for his size and will really fit in our uptempo style on both ends of the floor.”

Porter, who began his career at George Mason, shot 58.8 percent from the field last season and registered four double-doubles.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to play at a program like Nevada,” Porter said in a statement. “As soon as I stepped on campus, I could tell how invested the coaching staff, program, and university were to my success and how I would fit in with the team. I am ready to get back to Reno and get to work on next season.”

Nevada upset Cincinnati and Texas in the NCAA tournament last season to reach the Sweet 16. They finished 29-8 overall. The Wolf Pack have uncertainty with their roster with Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin and Cody Martin all testing the NBA draft waters.

Loyola extends Porter Moser through 2026

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A trip to the Final Four might prove significantly lucrative to Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser.

The Ramblers announced Wednesday that they reached a new contract agreement with Moser that will extend his deal through 2026 with what the Chicago Tribune called a “hefty raise” on his $420,000 per year salary, citing an anonymous source.

“As I have said many times before, I am a Catholic kid from Chicago who played in the Missouri Valley Conference,” Moser said in a statement released by the school. “This is the trifecta for me. We have invested so much time and energy in this program and I’m beyond excited to continue the journey. Watching Chicago as well as Loyola students, alumni and fans get excited for this team was exactly the vision we had when we took over the program.

“I will continue to challenge our fans to fill Gentile Arena as we did for the final home game to make it one of the best college basketball atmospheres in the country.”

The Ramblers went 32-6 last year, winning the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles ahead of their magical run to the Final Four for the first time winning the NCAA tournament in 1963. They return three starters from the Final Four squad, including MVC player of the year Clayton Custer.

“We are excited to be able to announce a new contract for Porter that will keep him at Loyola a long time,” athletic director Steve Watson said. “He is the perfect fit for Loyola and operates his program the right way, with student-athletes who achieve excellence on the court and in the classroom and are also excellent representatives of the institution.

“We are fortunate to work at a university like Loyola, that values and has made a commitment to athletics. It is nice to reward Porter not just for an outstanding season, but also for the job he has done during his time here.”

 

Dayton adds Michigan transfer

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After two years with a limited role at Michigan, Ibi Watson is returning to his home state.

The Wolverines guard is transferring to Dayton, it was announced Wednesday.  

“We are very pleased to have Ibi join our Flyer Family,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said in a statement.  “He is a young man who knew what he wanted after leaving a great University and winning basketball team at Michigan.  He has seen first-hand what it takes to be successful at this level.”

Watson averaged just 5.2 minutes per game during his sophomore season in Ann Arbor. He will sit out the upcoming season and then have two years of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

“I know he will utilize his redshirt year to improve himself in every way,” Grant said, “and having an experienced, talented player to go against every day in practice next season will only help our younger players grow.  Ibi is an important piece of our future. Our team and campus community will enjoy having him become a Flyer.”

The Pickerington, Ohio native was a first-team all state selection as a senior when he averaged more than 19 points per game. He now joins Dwayne Cohill, Jhery Matos and Frankie Policelli as Grant’s 2018 class.

Report: NBA unlikely to change one-and-done rule before 2020 draft

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The Commission on College Basketball made a whole host of recommendations Wednesday. From increasing penalties on cheaters, to restructuring summer basketball to player representation, the report had plenty of ideas (though it omitted the most obvious).

One of its core recommendations, however, came in an area the NCAA has zero control.

The NBA draft.

The Commission suggested that the “one-and-done” rule be scrapped in favor of letting players leave straight from high school to the pros, a rule that has been collectively bargained by the NBA and its players union.

If any change is going to happen, it’s got to happen there, and it apparently won’t be in the next couple years. The NBA is unlikely to change its draft entry requirements ahead of the 2020 draft, according to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The subject has been broached by both the league and the union, but how any negotiation about the issue will unfold is uncertain, according to the report.

The NCAA has little leverage on the matter as the NBA and the union ultimately will act in what they believe is in their own best interests with little mind paid to what the NCAA wants. The NCAA also has little leverage in the matter as its most heavy-handed card to play is freshman ineligibility, which would seem to be an unwieldy and ill-advised option.

Disallowing an entire class to play their freshman season would likely have unintended consequences that harm college basketball while doing little to actually solve the problem The Commission set out to fix – illicit money in the game.

Commission on College Basketball Proposals: Can they actually work?

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On Wednesday morning, The Commission on College Basketball finally unveiled their findings on what changes need to be enacted in the sport to clean up the mess that has been created.

And while The Commission’s findings were far from perfect, there were some suggestions that they came up with that might actually have some benefit to the sport.

It just takes some time to actually dig them up.

Best I can tell, there are six talking points that we need to address stemming from today’s release.

Let’s work through all of them.

1. A BIG ‘NO COMMENT’ ON THE OLYMPIC MODEL AND CHANGES TO AMATEURISM RULES

We discussed this in depth in a column already posted on the site, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but the bottom-line is this: Amateurism rules are never going to work, at least not in the current form. There is too much money on the line for too many people. The Commission opted not to address the issues involving amateurism because of pending litigation involving the NCAA’s use of an athlete’s name and likeness, but based on some of the comments that Condoleeza Rice made, it seems as if they at least realized that amateurism is a root cause of the problems they were trying to answer.

Hopefully, change will be coming at some point.

2. BEGGING (BLACKMAILING?) THE NBA AND NBPA TO CHANGE THE ONE-AND-DONE RULE

The one-and-done rule, which has come to define the sport of college basketball over the course of the last 12 years, is not a college basketball rule. It is an NBA rule, which means that the NCAA is essentially powerless to change the minimum age requirements that NBA owners wanted back in 2006, when they stopped allowing high school kids to declare for the NBA draft.

The Commission’s response?

To recommend that they combat the one-and-done rule by considering reinstating freshman ineligibility or by punishing programs that recruit one-and-done players by forcing them to lose a scholarship for each athlete that leaves school after one season.

Both of those suggestions are, of course, undeniably and unbelievably idiotic.

In the last 11 drafts, there have been an average of 10.2 freshmen that have been selected. This year, there are 17 freshmen that have declared for the draft and signed with an agent. This is in a sport with 351 teams that are all allowed to give out 13 scholarships; do that math, and there were roughly 4,500 Division I college basketball players. The Commission suggesting that it is a good idea to make those 1,100-or-so other Division I freshmen ineligible for a year because they’re mad the NBA forces 1.5 percent of the class to enroll makes me wonder why we should take any of their other suggestions seriously.

Simply put: This is an empty threat.

The other option, forcing a school to have one-and-done players count against one of their 13 scholarships for one season after they leave, is just as dumb. It’s not going to stop programs from recruiting those players, but it is going to make scholarship opportunities for other athletes disappear into thin air. For an organization that claims to have the best interest of “student-athletes” in mind, revoking scholarships in anyway is and always will be hypocritical. It should never happen.

And that’s before we get into the idea that the one-and-done players are the be-all and end-all of what’s happening here. They’re not. Brian Bowen, the central figure in the allegations made by the FBI that resulted in Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, was not a one-and-done prospect. Silvio De Sousa, who was allegedly funneled money by two different shoe companies to earn a commitment to two different programs, is not a one-and-done prospect. Nine of the 15 players that were mentioned in February’s Yahoo report as receiving money and/or loans were one-and-done players. The practice of boosters paying the best players dates back to the 50s. John Wooden’s legacy is, in part, a result of Sam Gilbert being flush with disposable income.

There is, always was and always will be a black market for the best players entering college basketball, whether those are the top 15-20 players in each class — the one-and-dones that will go straight to the pros — or the players ranked in the 20-40 range, that will spend a few years on campus, developing into the crafty veterans that have won Villanova and North Carolina the last three titles.

Shoe companies with nine-figure sponsorship deals with universities want to protect their investment. Coaches that get seven-figure raises and multi-year contract extensions when they win big want to win big. Boosters with deep pockets that love their school’s basketball team are always going to look for a way to get the best players on campus.

That’s a college basketball “problem” that’s only a “problem” because something as stupid and old-fashioned as amateurism still exists.

It’s not a one-and-done problem.

3. ALLOWING PLAYERS ACCESS TO AGENT REPRESENTATION

This is certainly a good thing.

I’ve said all along that it is silly to think that it’s a bad thing for kids that have earning potential that reaches eight or nine figures cannot have a professional advising them on what they can do. There are details that are going to need to be worked out — like, for example, how the NCAA handles the inevitable loans that agents are going to make to the players they sign — but without question this is a good thing.

4. UNDERCLASSMEN THAT AREN’T DRAFTED CAN RETURN TO SCHOOL

In theory, I like this suggestion, but in practice, I think that it is going to be somewhat more complicated than people realize.

For starters, the NBA draft is in late June. Players start the process of declaring for the draft in mid-March, when they get knocked out of whatever tournament their team ends up playing in. That means there are more than three months where they will be away from their team, their coaching staffs and, potentially, out of class while they train and prepare for becoming a professional.

The other side of it is that players getting selected late in the second round often end up coming nowhere near making that team’s roster. Many times, agents and teams will already be in touch about the possibility of a second round pick signing a training camp deal or playing with that organization’s G League team. There are people that will tell you it’s better to go undrafted than it is to be selected late in the second round because it puts the player on the market and lets them pick a destination that is the best instead of being forced to go somewhere based on getting picked.

The sentiment here is great, but I’m not sure it is as simple as it seems on paper.

5. CHANGING THE WAY SUMMER BASKETBALL WORKS

This is where things stop making sense.

With all due respect to the people that were on The Commission, I’m not sure that any of them — outside of John Thompson III — truly have a feel for how AAU and grassroots basketball truly operates. Do you think that Condoleeza Rice has ever actually been to an Under Armour Association event? Have they spoken to the organizers of events like Hoop Group’s Pitt Jam Fest or the people that run Nike’s EYBL?

“We create more opportunities than anyone within the system,” said once source that helps organize events in the summer.

What it seems like The Commission is proposing is bringing summer basketball in-house, whether that is under the umbrella of the NCAA itself, USA Basketball, the NBA or all of the above. The problem with that is that there are so many different levels to college basketball and college basketball recruiting. I played college basketball. The coaches that recruited me at the Division III level saw me when I was playing on an AAU team, but the idea that there would be any benefit for anyone if a player of my caliber and one of the top players in the country were to be at the same event is ludicrous.

Then how do you determine who plays at what events? Do you really want the NCAA running hundreds of summer tournaments that include each include many hundreds of teams? How are they going to determine which players go to which events? How are they going to determine which coaches are allowed to be at which events?

And, this may be the most important part, they aren’t going to eliminate shoe companies from getting involved at the youth level. If anything, if they take away the access coaches have to shoe company events, they’ll only be making the people that run scouting services that much richer.

Asking for transparency from these apparel companies isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but then will the NCAA provide transparency into what happens with the billions of dollars that they bring in?

As one source so eloquently put it, the NCAA running their own camps is “Lolololol”.

Pretty much sums it up.

6. CHANGING ENFORCEMENT

One of the proposals that The Commission made is for stricter punishments for those that go outside the rules — longer postseason bans for schools, lifetime bans for serial offenders, punishments for schools that hire offenders. I guess that would be a deterrent, but not everything that goes on here involves people associated with the NCAA or the schools.

But that is beside the point.

Because the real issue is that the NCAA cannot dig any of this stuff up themselves. The enforcement arm is toothless, and while I do think that hiring independent investigators would help, the truth is that this was all brought to light because the FBI is allowed to tap phones and send in undercover agents that can splash around thousands of dollars of government money.

What independent investigators is going to be able to do that?