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.

No. 9 Michigan State bounces back and routs Indiana 85-57

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Miles Bridges scored 22 points and Nick Ward had 18 points and 13 rebounds to help No. 9 Michigan State bounce back with an 85-57 win over Indiana on Friday night.

The Spartans (17-3, 5-2 Big Ten) had a confidence-boosting performance after going from a top-ranked team to a reeling one. They were slumping after a 16-point loss at Ohio State, an overtime win over Rutgers and an 82-72 setback to Michigan at home.

The Hoosiers (11-8, 4-3) lost for the first time in four games, falling into a fourth-place tie with the Wolverines and Nebraska.

Michigan State took control with an 18-0 run midway through the first half, led by as much as 23 and was ahead 42-23 at halftime. The Spartans stayed ahead by a comfortable margin in the second half by spreading the ball around and making it tough for the Hoosiers to make shots.

Cassius Winston had 10 points, eight assists and only one turnover, while Jaren Jackson had 10 points, six rebounds, three blocks and three assists for the Spartans.

Indiana’s Robert Johnson had 21 points and the rest of his teammates struggled offensively. Josh Newkirk scored 14, but missed 12 of 17 shots and the Hoosiers were held to 34 percent shooting.

FAMOUS FAN

Alex Rodriguez, who was in Detroit for the North American International Auto Show, attended the game. He went to Michigan State’s shootaround earlier in the day and wore an “Izzone” T-shirt while standing in the student section behind coach Tom Izzo, his staff and players.

“I’ve always been a big fan of Izzo,” Rodriguez said.

BIG PICTURE

Indiana: The Hoosiers had a hard time competing without Juwan Morgan playing as he has lately. One of the Big Ten’s leaders in scoring, rebounding, steals and shooting before the game started was limited to two points on 1-of-5 shooting, three rebounds and one steal.

Michigan State: The Spartans desperately needed to get their swagger back and they did, suddenly looking like the team that was ranked No. 1 two weeks ago.

Weekend Preview: Big East showdown headlines an interesting slate of games

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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

*(NOTE: Lines are not posted for Saturday or Sunday games as of publication. Spreads referenced are via Kenpom.com)

No. 11 XAVIER at No. 19 SETON HALL (-1), Sat. 2:30 p.m. (FOX)

The only game this weekend featuring two teams that are currently ranked in the top 25, Xavier and Seton Hall square off in a battle of programs trending in opposite directions. Now that Trevon Bluiett has rediscovered his shooting stroke, the Musketeers have reeled off back-to-back wins, including a beatdown of then-No. 25 Creighton. Seton Hall, on the other hand, lost by a combined 37 points at Marquette and Creighton in the last 11 days and struggled with a Georgetown team that was down 44 points at home against Villanova.

  • PREDICTION: Xavier’s new starting lineup will be interesting. The Musketeers are much more offensively oriented right now, but Kerem Kanter and Naji Marshall are not exactly known for their defense and physicality. Seton Hall has a big, old, tough and strong front line. I think they get this win they badly needed in front of a packed out. Seton Hall (-1)

No. 14 ARIZONA (-5) at STANFORD, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (CBS)

First place in the Pac-12 is on the line as 5-1 Arizona squares off with 5-1 Stanford. And yes, you read that correctly. In their last five games in league play, the Cardinal have swept the LA schools at home, the Washington schools on the road and beaten Arizona State in their place. Now they get the best team in the Pac-12. Stanford is healthy and playing the best basketball they’ve played in a long, long time.

  • PREDICTION: If Stanford is getting five points at home I am all over the Cardinal. The problem is that I don’t think they will be. KenPom’s projections don’t factor in that Stanford is healthy and hot. I think the line will be closer to Stanford (-2), and I would still probably take them. Stanford (-5)

FLORIDA at No. 18 KENTUCKY (-3), Sat. 8:15 p.m.

This matchup is fascinating. Two teams that still have quite figured things out that play polar opposite styles of basketball. Florida is loaded with quick, veteran guards that fire up threes. Kentucky is loaded big, athletic forwards that can’t really shoot. Coming off of a loss at South Carolina, I think this game is probably more important for Kentucky, who finally looks like they are going to be healthy.

  • PREDICTION: Can Kentucky overwhelm Florida with their size or will the Gators exploit the mismatches with their guards? That answer really comes down to whether or not the Gators get hot from deep. I’m going to guess that they will since they have a tendency to show up in big games. Florida (+3)

WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO WATCH?

  • No. 1 Villanova (-17) at UConn, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (CBS): The big question in this game for me, beyond “Will UConn lose by enough for UConn to fire Kevin Ollie on the spot?”, is whether or not Villanova is the elite team in college basketball that we swear doesn’t exist. Villanova (-17)
  • No. 7 Wichita State (-1) at Houston, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPNU): The Shockers have turned into a defensive liability out of nowhere, and on Saturday they will be traveling to visit a Houston team that badly needs this win. Wichita State (-1)
  • No. 4 Oklahoma (-3) at Oklahoma State, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN): Trae Young hasn’t been right for a couple of weeks, and now he gets a rival on the road. Is this the game that he figures it out? Oklahoma (-3)
  • BAYLOR at No. 10 KANSAS (-8), Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN): Kansas has actually had some issues at home this season, more than they’ve had on the road. Baylor tends to play the Jayhawks tough. Is this a letdown spot after that massive win at West Virginia? Kansas (-8)

No. 10 Jayhawks back on top of Big 12 with fresh approach

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The hallmarks of Kansas under Bill Self over the years have been inside-outside post play and gritty defense, the kind of in-your-shorts man-to-man that leaves opponents gasping for air.

That trusted formula has produced 13 straight Big 12 championships.

But if the No. 10 Jayhawks are going to break a tie with the UCLA teams of the 1960s and ’70s for the most consecutive conference titles, their formula will look quite different this season: They are going to pour in 3-pointers, race around the court and simply outscore their foes.

“I do think you can get tougher. I do think you can get harder. I do think you can become more competitive and learn how to compete as you go,” Self said, “but the reality of it is we’re not changing right now playing four guards. Our second-best rebounder is 6-foot-5, 180 pounds. We’re not changing that. We’re not changing our next-best rebounder weighs 200 pounds. We’re not changing that fact.

“We’re playing four really average-sized guards,” Self said. “We’re not going to change that.”

So, best to adapt to it.

It helps that those four guards — Devonte Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick and Malik Newman — form one of the best backcourts in the nation. Graham is a do-everything floor general, Mykhailiuk one of the best sharpshooters in the nation, Vick the most athletic of the bunch and Newman is capable of getting to the rim with as quick of a first step as anybody in the league.

It also helps that they’re experienced: Graham and Mykhailiuk are seniors with three title rings on their fingers, Vick is a junior and Newman is a third-year sophomore who redshirted last season.

Together, they’ve led the Jayhawks (15-3, 5-1) to four consecutive wins, including road wins over then-No. 16 TCU and sixth-ranked West Virginia. They’ve pushed Kansas back to the top of the league standings headed into Saturday’s game against Baylor, and back into the discussion of a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament when the bracket is revealed in about six weeks.

In other words, they have Kansas right where it is accustomed to being.

But the route has been much different, and that was evident in the Jayhawks’ comeback victory over the Mountaineers on Monday night. Graham and Mykhailiuk combined for 20 of their final 26 points, most of them on 3s and pull-up jumpers — each of them knocked down three from beyond the arc.

The comeback in years past would have featured a big man such as Darrell Arthur or Thomas Robinson in the post, or an elite guard such as Frank Mason III going right to the rim.

Different styles, even if the results have been the same.

“I think we assume some things because of the past,” Self said. “You look at the past, I mean, Landen Lucas was tough. We’re not replacing him with the same toughness. Josh Jackson was a monster. He was an assassin. We’re not replacing him with the same type of mentality. Certainly, you can’t match Frank’s mentality in that area. Which is OK. We were so spoiled with that in the past.”

Those past teams may have had bruising big men, tough guard play and pure scorers all over the floor, and they may have been one of the best defensive teams in the country. But they also had deficiencies, and in many cases, they are the same areas where this year’s team excels.

The Jayhawks have already hit 195 shots from beyond the arc, tops in the Big 12, and are shooting 41 percent from that range. They are among the league leaders in assists and shooting percentage, numbers that help to offset the fact that Kansas ranks ninth out of 10 teams in the league in rebounding.

“We’re going to be scrappy, tough. We got to do a way better job of rebounding, obviously,” Graham said. “But yeah, basically we’ve just got to get way tougher, like I’ve been saying.”

That toughness could get a boost now that Silvio De Souza, a five-star prospect from Florida’s IMG Academy, has been cleared to play. He graduated in December and promptly joined the Jayhawks, and Self is hopeful the big man will be up to speed by the time February rolls around.

It could get another boost if Billy Preston, another five-star prospect, is ever cleared. The school and NCAA have been looking into the ownership of a car he was driving on campus last fall.

In the meantime, the Jayhawks head into their game against the Bears on Saturday riding a win streak, winning high-scoring affairs thanks to 3-pointers and an offensive flair.

“We don’t have the same team we’ve had in the past,” Self said, “and we have to understand that.”

TCU PG Jaylen Fisher to miss rest of season following knee surgery

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FORT WORTH, Texas — TCU point guard Jaylen Fisher had surgery Thursday to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee and will miss the rest of the season for the No. 24 Horned Frogs.

Fisher got hurt Tuesday, the second time in less than six months he injured a knee in practice. He had surgery after a meniscus tear in his left knee in early August.

The sophomore guard missed the team’s trip to Australia after the previous surgery, but was ready for the regular season. He averaged 12.1 points and was fifth in the Big 12 with 5.4 assists while playing the first 17 games. He had a career-high 22 points in an overtime loss Saturday at No. 4 Oklahoma, and he made 11 of 20 shots from 3-point range his last four games.

Fisher will need three to four months of recovery.

“I feel bad for him. We all feel bad for him,” coach Jamie Dixon said.

Even with his knee locked in a bent position and having to use crutches, Fisher attended TCU’s 96-73 home win over Iowa State on Wednesday night. He sat in a chair near the TCU bench.