WCC Preview: Gonzaga’s at the head of the class

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last season the WCC welcomed BYU and to say the least it was a good season for the league, as it sent three teams to the NCAA tournament. Both the Cougars and Gonzaga won games in the Big Dance while Saint Mary’s suffered a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of Purdue, and all three are capable of making a return trip in 2012-13.

Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s both return four starters from last year while BYU can claim the same if you count Tyler Haws. Haws, after starting all 33 games as a freshman in 2009-10, returns from his two-year mission and will have a significant impact alongside Brandon Davies and Matt Carlino. Saint Mary’s has the reigning Player of the Year in Matthew Dellavedova while Gonzaga is led by All-WCC honorees Elias Harris and Kevin Pangos.

As for the rest of the conference there’s definitely talent with the point guard position looking especially deep. Whether it’s Anthony Ireland (LMU), Cody Doolin (San Francisco), Evan Rocquemore (Santa Clara) or Christopher Anderson (San Diego) the WCC has some skilled playmakers at the point beyond the likes of Carlino, Dellavedova and Pangos. Here’s a look at the WCC in 2012-13.

Five Things to Know
1. Gonzaga returns four starters from a team that won 27 games in 2011-12, with the lone departure being center Robert Sacre. Two of the key returnees are senior forward Elias Harris (13.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and sophomore guard Kevin Pangos (13.6 ppg, 3.4 apg), both of whom earned All-WCC honors (Pangos was also WCC Newcomer of the Year).

2. Reigning WCC Player of the Year and Olympian Matthew Dellavedova is back for his senior season at Saint Mary’s, but the defending WCC champions have to replace a key piece in forward Rob Jones not to mention rotation members Clint Steindl and Kenton Walker. But with four starters back Randy Bennett’s program is in good shape, and forward Brad Waldow is a player to keep an eye on.

3. Only one team returns all five starters and that’s a San Diego squad that went 13-18 (7-9 WCC) in 2011-12. But Bill Grier’s got some talent back on campus, most notably sophomore guard Johnny Dee. Dee led the Toreros with an average of 13.7 ppg and was a member of the WCC All-Freshman team.

4. BYU has to account for the departure of Noah Hartsock but led by forward Brandon Davies nine Cougars have starting experience. BYU also welcomes back wing Tyler Haws from his two-year mission, and he started all 33 games as a freshman in 2009-10 (11.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg). BYU’s perimeter depth should also be bolstered by the arrival of freshman guard Cory Calvert, who averaged more than 22 points per game as a high school senior.

5. Santa Clara, which went winless in conference play last season, welcomes back two vital pieces in guard Kevin Foster and forward Marc Trasolini. Trasolini was lost for the season during the team’s trip to Canada with a torn ACL while Foster was suspended for the second half of the season. Evan Rocquemore returns as well, and this trio should be enough to ensure a jump in the standings for the Broncos.

Impact Newcomers

C Przemek Karnowski (Gonzaga)
Robert Sacre’s graduated but with Karnowski on campus the Bulldogs become a more physical team in the paint immediately. The Torun, Poland native averaged 10.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game for Siarka Jezioro Tarnobrzeg last season, and the 7-1 305-pounder is ready to make an impact. Karnowski joins a deep front court, so while there are expectations it isn’t as if Gonzaga’s hopes rest solely on his shoulders.

G Cory Calvert (BYU)
BYU has depth on the perimeter, led by point guard Matt Carlino, Tyler Haws and Brock Zylstra. But Calvert can be a valuable contributor for the Cougars this season, as he arrives in Provo as a reliable scorer and distributor. Calvert, the Colorado Class 5A Player of the Year, averaged 22.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game at Chapparal HS last year.

F Nick Stover (Loyola Marymount)
The 6-6 Stover won’t lack for opportunities to contribute as the Lions look at life without wing Drew Viney, and the Winward HS product is capable of taking on whatever assignment Max Good gives him. Stover averaged 21.7 points and 9.1 rebounds per game for a team that won 20 games, and for his career Stover was a three-time All-CIF selection.

G James Walker III (Saint Mary’s)
Already deep on the perimeter, the Gaels get even better with the addition of the Citrus (CA) College transfer. Walker III helped lead Citrus to a 28-2 record with an average of 19.1 points per game (second-highest average in school history), and for his efforts he was named CCCAA and Western State Conference Player of the Year.

G De’End Parker (San Francisco)
Parker’s stint at UCLA was a short one as he had to return to San Francisco to care for his ailing mother, and now he’s a much-needed addition for a San Francisco program that was decimated by graduation and departures at the end of last season. At City College of San Francisco (2010-11) he averaged 12.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game, and Parker gives the Dons an athletic wing to help out point guard Cody Doolin.

Other newcomers of note: G/F Drew Barham (Gonzaga), G Chase Flint (Loyola Marymount), F Malte Kramer (Pepperdine), F Nate Kratch (Santa Clara), F Chris Reyes (Saint Mary’s)

Breakout Players

F Brad Waldow (Saint Mary’s)
As a redshirt freshman Waldow turned into a valuable piece for the Gaels alongside Rob Jones with averages of 8.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. But with Jones gone there’s room for Waldow to improve and become even more of a factor for Saint Mary’s, and if they’re to repeat as WCC champions he’ll need to do so.

G Johnny Dee (San Diego)
Dee’s name is well-known within the conference, and how can it not be given his team-best 13.7 points per game. But there’s the step of going from one of the best freshmen in the WCC to becoming one of its best players, and the Vista, California native can make that happen this season. With all five starters back USD can finish in the top half of the league standings, and Dee will have to be a leader in order for that to happen.

C Sam Dower (Gonzaga)
The presence of Dower is one reason why there shouldn’t be a ridiculous amount of pressure on Karnowski to produce immediately, and with Robert Sacre gone it’s Dower who will lead the way. A player many believe to have All-WCC level skill, Dower averaged 8.3 points and 3.7 rebounds per game last season. Sure the Bulldogs have Elias Harris, but they also have room for another double-figure scorer inside. That should be Dower.

G Jordan Baker (Pepperdine)
Baker averaged 9.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 29 games last season, but it’s what he was able to do in WCC play that makes him a breakout candidate. In league play the Tempe native averaged 11.3 points and ranked in the top ten in the WCC in minutes (32.0 mpg), assists (3.0) and steals (1.9). For a team that adds six newcomers and three redshirts (one of which being guard Lorne Jackson), Baker will be the one asked to lead the way.

F Ryan Nicholas (Portland)
Nicholas started all 31 games for the Pilots last season, averaging 11.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per contest. But those numbers weren’t enough to merit mention on either the ten-member All-WCC team or its honorable mention list. Nicholas shot 50.4% from the field in 2011-12, and with the year of experience for both he and his teammates (Eric Reveno’s team was very young) he should be mentioned for All-WCC honors.

Player of the Year: F Elias Harris (Gonzaga)
Some of the national conversation involving Harris seemed to focus on his “regression.” Question: where? Harris averaged 13.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in 2011-12, and both numbers were an improvement over his averages as a sophomore. If Harris isn’t banged up he’s a very difficult match-up for opponents, and as a senior this is his chance to go out with a bang. The prediction here is that he’ll do just that.

All-Conference Team
G Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga)
G Matthew Dellavedova (Saint Mary’s)
G Anthony Ireland (Loyola Marymount)
F Elias Harris (Gonzaga)
F Brandon Davies (BYU)

Coach under pressure: Bill Grier (San Diego) 
Since beginning his tenure with a 22-win campaign in 2007-08 it’s been a struggle for Grier at USD, as his teams have gone just 46-79 in the four seasons after. With five starters back the Toreros should be able to improve on their 7-9 WCC mark of a season ago. Going at least .500 shouldn’t be too much to ask of San Diego, but if it turns out to be that could mean trouble for Grier.

Predicted Finish

1. Gonzaga (Mark Few’s team welcomes back most of their key contributors from last season, and freshman big man Przemek Karnowski will contribute immediately)
2. Saint Mary’s (The Gaels lose Rob Jones but Dellavedova returns, and could be a breakout player)
3. BYU (Matt Carlino’s a year older while Brandon Davies anchors things in the paint. The return of Tyler Haws will definitely help the Cougars on the wing)
4. San Diego (Bill Grier welcomes back his top four scorers from last season with guard Johnny Dee leading the way)
5. Santa Clara (With Kevin Foster (suspension) and Marc Trasolini (torn ACL) back look for the Broncos to make a jump)
6. Loyola Marymount (Anthony Ireland runs the show, and freshman Nick Stover can be one of the WCC’s best newcomers)
7. Portland (Ryan Nicholas leads a team that returns four of its top six scorers, but the Pilots (allowed 76 ppg) must improve defensively)
8. Pepperdine (the return of guard Lorne Jackson (knee) will surely help the Waves as they look to account for the loss of three starters)
9. San Francisco (The return of senior point guard Cody Doolin will help matters, but the Dons simply lost too much after last season)

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

2017 NCAA Tournament Superlatives: Best Players, Unforgettable Moments, Biggest Disappointments

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With the first 60 games of the NCAA tournament now in our review, it is the perfect time to look back at what, exactly, happened over the course of the first two weekends of the greatest show in sports.

Who was the best player? The most unforgettable moment? The biggest disappointment?

We’ll break all of that down for you here:

NCAA TOURNAMENT MOP: Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina

While there were a number of names that were more than qualified for this award, to me, Thornwell is the obvious choice. He’s the leading scorer in the tournament, averaging 25.7 points, and one of the biggest reasons that the offensively-challenged Gamecocks have been anything-but through the first four games of the event. But what sets him apart from some of the other big scorers left in the tournament is that he also happens to be an elite defender, typically tasked with slowing down whoever the best perimeter scorer is on their opponent’s roster.

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM

  • Tyler Dorsey, Oregon: Dorsey has deservedly been dubbed Mr. March after his performances the last three weeks for the Ducks. He’s scored at least 20 points in all seven of Oregon’s Pac-12 tournament and NCAA tournament games, made the game-winner to beat Rhode Island in the second round and hit dagger after dagger in the upset win over North Carolina in the Elite 8.
  • Jordan Bell, Oregon: There has not been a better all-around defender in this tournament than Bell, who had three double-doubles in four games, including a dominating performance against No. 1 seed Kansas in the Elite 8: 11 points, 13 boards, eight blocks and four assists.
  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier: Bluiett was instrumental in getting No. 11 seed Xavier all the way to the Elite 8. He averaged 25 points in the three wins the Musketeers notched during the Big Dance, including 25 points in an upset of No. 2 Arizona and 29 points in the blowout win over No. 3 Florida State.
  • Luke Maye, North Carolina: As weird as it may sound, in North Carolina’s loaded front court, Maye was the best of the bunch the last two weeks. He had 16 points and 12 boards in the Sweet 16 win over Butler and followed that up with 17 points — including the regional-winning jumper with 0.3 seconds left — as the Tar Heels knocked off Kentucky.

BEST GAME: No. 4 Florida 84, No. 8 Wisconsin 83 OT

The Badgers were down big at the end of regulation and rallied to tie the game on an off-balance three from Zak Showalter with 2.5 seconds left. In overtime, the Badgers missed free throws to keep Florida close, Canyon Berry had an epic chase-down block to keep the deficit at two points and the comeback was capped with a buzzer-beating, three-point floater from Chris Chiozza:

BEST PLAY: Luke Maye’s game-winner

The ending of this game was nuts. Kentucky took a 64-59 lead with four minutes left. North Carolina responded with a 12-0 run to go up 71-64 with less than a minute left. A trio of Kentucky three combined with a missed front-end and a head-scratching five-second call allowed the Wildcats to tie the game with 7.2 seconds left on the clock, but Maye, who arrived at UNC as a preferred walk-on, had an answer. Ironically enough, I would argue the best play here wasn’t Maye hitting an open jumper, it was Theo Pinson taking the in-bounds pass and leading UNC quickly down the floor:

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: The non-goaltend goaltend

The two shots you see above were the two most memorable moments of this event, but since I already mentioned them, let’s go with the game-changing goaltend that wasn’t whistled against Zach Collins. If you’ve forgotten, Collins, a freshman center for Gonzaga, blocked a shot by putting his hand through the rim — illegal! — on a shot that would’ve cut a 20-point Gonzaga lead all the way down to three.

Chris Collins reacted by getting a technical foul, and instead of being within three with all the momentum, Northwestern was down by seven points again as Gonzaga regained their confidence and kept the Wildcats from ever threatening again.

MOST FORGETTABLE MOMENT: Matthew Fisher-Davis’ poorly timed foul

Fisher-Davis committed an intentional foul with 14 seconds left against Northwestern in the first round of the tournament, thinking that No. 9 seed Vanderbilt was down a point. Whoops! Vandy was winning, and the foul allowed Northwestern to take the lead in a game the Commodores would eventually go on to lose. Not his best moment, to say the least.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: South Carolina’s run to the Final Four

When Frank Martin took over at South Carolina, it was a program that hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament in 13 years, had reached the Big Dance just four times in the previous 43 years and who had never won back-to-back games in the NCAA tournament before. They had lost six of their last nine games before the tournament began and had spent the entirety of the season struggling to score … until they turned into the Showtime Lakers during the NCAA tournament. It’s a terrific run that puts the feather in the cap of an unlikely career for Frank Martin.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Duke and the ACC

For a conference that was as good and as dominant as the ACC was all season long, it was something of a shock that the conference only got one team into the Sweet 16 this season. Some of that was mitigated by North Carolina getting to the Final Four — if the ACC has more Final Four teams than the Big 12, the Big Ten and the Big East combined, doesn’t that make them elite?!? — but it doesn’t quite erase the shadow that was created by some individual failures in the tournament. No. 2 seed Louisville lost in the second round. No. 3 seed Florida State was blown out in the second round. No. 5 seed Virginia was embarrassed in the second round.

But the biggest disappointment of all was Duke, who had finally looked like they turned a corner during the ACC tournament, putting a tumultuous season behind them as they were primed for a run in March.

And then they lost to South Carolina in a game where they couldn’t get stops and couldn’t get the big, crunch-time buckets they needed. It was a fitting end to a year where Duke just wasn’t as good as anyone thought they had a chance to be.

Kentucky’s legacy remains complicated after heartbreaking loss to North Carolina

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Just like everything during John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky, the legacy of the 2016-17 Wildcats is going to be complicated to figure out.

After Kentucky dropped a thrilling 75-73 game against No. 1 seed North Carolina in the South Regional final on Sunday, the college careers of freshmen Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are likely finished. All three freshmen are perhaps destined to be first-round NBA Draft picks in June. The trio also helped form one of the most important groups of freshmen to ever play for Calipari at Kentucky.

The Kentucky national-title winning group in 2012 is obviously No. 1 on that list and the 2014-15 team that started 38-0 comes in close second place. You could also make a solid case for the 2013-14 Kentucky team that rallied together and made the national championship game as a No. 8 seed or the John Wall/DeMarcus Cousins led-team that also made an Elite Eight. But the 2014 team was also dysfunctional enough that they lost to South Carolina in the regular season before the Gamecocks became nationally-relevant. Cousins remains a polarizing figure who wasn’t particularly popular outside of Big Blue Nation.

This 2016-17 Kentucky team was special because their freshmen somehow lived up to the immense hype while also being incredibly fun to watch. Winning the SEC regular season, conference tournament title and making an Elite Eight are great memories for Wildcat fans to have. Basketball fans in general get the individual memories of Monk’s white-hot scoring runs, Fox’s dazzling two-way play and Adebayo’s raw power around the rim.

Monk’s 47 points against North Carolina in the regular season and 30 points in the second half a home win over Florida are two of the most memorable individual scoring performances in college basketball over the last five years. Fox will be remembered for many things as well, but destroying Lonzo Ball and UCLA for 39 points to shatter the freshman NCAA Tournament single-game scoring record is about as special as it gets.

Adebayo doesn’t have the signature individual performance to match his fellow freshmen, but with over 100 dunks on the season, there were many times that he made his presence felt in the Kentucky lineup.

Replacing those three players is going to be tough but that is what Calipari is accustomed to doing. The McDonald’s All-American game tips this week and four more future Wildcats will take the floor. Five-star shooting guard Hamidou Diallo has already been practicing with Kentucky during the second semester while redshirting for next season.

Replacing the future NBA players is actually going to be the easy part for Kentucky.

Finding senior leadership like Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis is going be the difficult thing to replace. Those two in-state seniors provided the valuable experience of playing with so many gifted freshmen over the last four years while being selfless teammates who got better over time.

Both Hawkins and Willis have replaceable games and skill levels. But it seemed like Hawkins came off the bench countless times during his Kentucky career to give the perimeter a spark off the bench. After a slow start to his career, Willis developed into a capable rebounder and floor spacer at forward who knocked in a lot of big shots during the last two years.

Seeing a role player like Isaac Humphries step up in the Elite Eight is a positive sign for next season but Kentucky is going to miss the veteran presence of Hawkins and Willis more than they know.

While most Kentucky teams under Calipari have had a few veteran holdovers each year, the 2017-18 team might be seriously lacking in that department outside of Humphries.

If Isaiah Briscoe leaves to go pro as many assume, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Tai Wynyard will all be back but they’ve barely played any meaningful minutes and none of them are guards.

Unless Calipari opts to bring in a graduate transfer — which he’s done in the past with Julius Mays — Kentucky is basically going to have to start from scratch with another ridiculous freshman core. Expectations will mean that Kentucky should be a top-15 team with a chance at an SEC title. The glaring lack of experience also means that Calipari will have to get a very young team to come together immediately.

This is the status quo for John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky. And while they’ve had disappointing results in individual seasons while falling short of the Final Four again this season, it’s hard to say the model is anything other than wildly successful.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s touching tribute to his mother will melt your heart

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Frank Martin advanced to the Final Four for the first time in his career on Sunday afternoon, and the South Carolina head coach — who has blazed an unlikely trail to the pinnacle of the college basketball world — thanked the most important person to his success in the most beautiful way imaginable afterwards.

VIDEO: Luke Maye gets standing ovation in class after game-winning shot

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You want to talk dedication to ones studies?

How about this: Luke Maye, just 13 hours after hitting a game-winning shot to beat Kentucky in the Elite 8, got a standing ovation in his Business 101 class at 8 a.m. on Monday morning.

Check out the video:

Luke, you’re a celebrity now. Going to an 8 a.m. class after your weekend heroics is iffy at best, but if you’re going to do it, we need you to start dressing a little better than this.

VIDEO: De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo inconsolable after Elite 8 loss

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Bam Adebayo and De’Aaron Fox, the two freshmen on Kentucky’s roster that aren’t Malik Monk, were sitting next to each other in the locker room following Kentucky’s loss to North Carolina on Sunday night, and the Wildcat stars were inconsolable.

As weird as this may sound, and as tough as that video is to watch at times, I love it. The problem with one-and-done kids is that it, at times, feels like they’re mercenaries, that they are players that are strictly in college because they have to be, because they can’t make millions in the NBA yet.

Fox and Adebayo certainly do fall into that category, but it doesn’t come with the typical shortcomings.

They clearly care about their school, about their teammates and about that loss.

I’ve grown cynical, I guess, and while I’ll readily admit that video was too tough for me to watch in its entirety, it is refreshing to see just how much they care.

Even if they are only making a seven month stop over in Lexington.