2013-2014 WCC Preview: Can anyone challenge Gonzaga?

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source: AP
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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

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

The 2012-13 season had the makings of a special one for the WCC entering the NCAA tournament, with Gonzaga sitting atop the national polls and the top seed in the West Region. But things didn’t work out as many hoped, with Wichita State knocking off the Bulldogs on their way to the Final Four. But that loss shouldn’t erase the fact that Mark Few’s program won 32 games, and overall the 2012-13 season was a good one for the WCC. Santa Clara won the CBI, and both BYU (NIT semifinals) and Saint Mary’s (NCAA Round of 32) played in the postseason as well.

In 2013-14 the conference looks for more postseason success, and with the number of quality guards in the WCC there’s a good chance of that happening. Gonzaga’s still the favorite thanks to their prolific backcourt, but the amount of talent in the conference makes another undefeated run through league play unlikely.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Pacific (Big West)
Out: None

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. The newest member is also the lone school with a new head coach: Pacific makes the move from the Big West to the WCC, and they’ll be doing so without longtime coach Bob Thomason. Thomason announced his retirement before last season, and that combined with it being their final season in the Big West made the Tigers’ run to the NCAA tournament all the more special. Now the job belongs to Ron Verlin, who has to replace three starters from last season’s team including point guard Lorenzo McCloud.

2. Gonzaga loses key contributors inside, but the Bulldogs are loaded on the perimeter: With Elias Harris out of eligibility and Kelly Olynyk now with the Boston Celtics head coach Mark Few has two large holes to fill in the front court. But he isn’t without experience thanks to the return of Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski. Add in one of the nation’s best backcourts led by Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. (they also add Providence transfer Gerard Coleman) and the Bulldogs should once again be the favorite to win the WCC.

3. If healthy Loyola Marymount can be dangerous: Last season was absolutely brutal for the Lions, as Max Good’s squad managed to win just one WCC game during the regular season. But Anthony Ireland is back, and a talented recruiting class that includes high-scoring guard Nino Jackson has the potential to make the Lions a factor after struggling so mightily last season. Here’s the problem: health is already an issue this year. Ayodeji Egbeyemi (10.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Godwin Okonji are out indefinitely following a car accident.

4. Year two (for him, at least) in the WCC has the potential to be very good for BYU’s Tyler Haws: After returning from his two-year LDS mission Haws didn’t miss a beat, averaging 21.7 points per contest and becoming the second player in school history to score 1,000 points or more in his first two seasons. The other: Jimmer Fredette. With Haws and Matt Carlino on the perimeter and a front court that includes veteran Nate Austin and freshmen Eric Mika and Luke Worthington, Dave Rose’s Cougars may be the biggest threat to Gonzaga.

(MORE: Read Raphielle Johnson’s story on Tyler Haws’ return to BYU)

5. Saint Mary’s won’t have a bare cupboard, but it’ll be tough to account for the intangibles provided by Matthew Dellavedova: The fact that the Gaels can lose a player of Dellavedova’s caliber and still be considered a contender in the WCC speaks to the program head coach Randy Bennett has built. With Stephen Holt and Brad Waldow back Saint Mary’s will once again be a factor, but who provides the boost supplied by Dellavedova for the last four years?

source:
AP photo

PRESEASON WCC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Haws (BYU)

In 2012-2013, Haws didn’t look like a player that had just returned from a two-year LDS mission in the Philippines, leading BYU with an average of 21.7 points per game while also accounting for more than four rebounds per contest. With Brandon Davies (17.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg) out of eligibility there will likely be even more opportunities for Haws in 2013-14.

THE REST OF THE WCC FIRST TEAM:

  • G Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga): One of the best shooters in the country, Pangos will lead the way for the WCC favorite.
  • G Anthony Ireland (Loyola Marymount): LMU should rebound from a disappointing 2012-13 with Ireland (20.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.6 apg) leading the way.
  • F Ryan Nicholas (Portland): An honorable mention All-WCC selection, Nicholas (13.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg) will be asked to lead the way for the Pilots.
  • F Cole Dickerson (San Francisco): Dickerson (15.2, 9.8) led the WCC in rebounding in 2012-13, posting 13 double-doubles for the Dons.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • C Przemek Karnowski (Gonzaga)
  • G Johnny Dee (San Diego)
  • G Evan Rocquemore (Santa Clara)
  • G Cody Doolin (San Francisco)
  • G Stephen Holt (Saint Mary’s)

BREAKOUT STAR: F Stacy Davis (Pepperdine)

Davis proved to be the best freshman in the WCC last season, posting averages of 11.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. And with leading scorers Lorne Jackson (13.6 ppg) and Jordan Baker (11.4) gone, Davis will be needed to do even more as a sophomore. Look for Davis to be one of the WCC’s best front court players.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Eric Reveno (Portland)

After three straight seasons of 19 or more wins the Pilots have hit a rough patch, winning a total of 18 games over the last two seasons. But now the Pilots have some experience, with Ryan Nicholas and Kevin Bailey leading the way. And with underclassmen Alec Wintering and Bryce Pressley doing a solid job of running the show during their summer trip to Europe, Portland may be better equipped to deal with some of the better backcourts in the WCC. If this proves to be the case, Portland will be fine.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …: Once again multiple teams reach the NCAA tournament, but can any get to the second weekend?

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: The number of high-level guards in the WCC.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • February 8, Gonzaga at Memphis
  • November 11, BYU at Stanford
  • November 30, San Diego at New Mexico
  • December 7, BYU vs. UMass (in Springfield, Mass.)
  • December 21, Gonzaga vs. Kansas State (in Wichita, Kan.)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Gonzaga: Losing Harris and Olynyk hurts, but the Zags have an outstanding backcourt. If Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower hold their own inside, the Bulldogs will repeat as WCC champs.
2. BYU: In Haws the Cougars have not only the best scorer in the WCC but one of the best scorers in the country. But the wild card is Matt Carlino. If he’s consistent BYU will be Gonzaga’s biggest threat.
3. Saint Mary’s: With Stephen Holt and Brad Waldow back the Gaels should’t slip much despite the graduation of Matthew Dellavedova. The question with Dellavedova gone is who supplies the intangibles he provided.
4. Loyola Marymount: Last season was a brutal one for the Lions, with injuries being a major factor. If fully healthy LMU can surprise some people, but that’s proven to be a big “if”; two key pieces are alread recovering from injuries in a car accident.
5. San Diego: The backcourt tandem of Christopher Anderson and Johnny Dee deserves more national attention. The question: how big of a leap can WCC All-Freshman Team selection Jito Kok make inside?
6. San Francisco: Rex Walters’ squad should be a factor in the midsection of the WCC thanks to the presence of seniors Cody Doolin and Cole Dickerson. And WCC All-Freshman Team selection Tim Derksen will be a solid contributor as well.
7. Portland: The Pilots have one of the better front court players in the WCC in senior Ryan Nicholas. If guard Kevin Bailey can continue to make progress (11.4 ppg last season) Portland is capable of finishing higher.
8. Santa Clara: This prediction may turn out to be low, because even with the graduation of Kevin Foster and Marc Trasolini the Broncos still have Evan Rocquemore. But those are two big losses the Broncos will have to address.
9. Pacific: New head coach Ron Verlin wasn’t left with a bare cupboard, but this may be the wrong year to enter the WCC for the Tigers. They’ll be formidable however, with seniors Tony Gill and Sama Taku leading the way.
10. Pepperdine: Forward Stacy Davis has the potential to be a first team All-WCC player this season, but the Waves lost a lot of experience on the perimeter. And given the caliber of guards in the WCC, this may be the wrong year to be young in the backcourt.

Saturday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Saturday, March 25

6:09 p.m., TBS, San Jose
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 11 Xavier (Brian Anderson, Chris Webber, Lewis Johnson)

8:49 p.m., TBS, Kansas City
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 3 Oregon (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Dana Jacobson)

Sweet 16 Preview: Friday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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Thursday brought us a thrilling night of college basketball. Oregon won a thriller. Gonzaga did, too. Kansas put on a show, toying with the Big Ten champs. 

And that was just the appetizer for what’s on tap Friday night.

For an in-depth look at each region, check these out:

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-7.5) vs. No. 4 BUTLER, 7:09 p.m. (CBS): As weird as it sounds for a team that finished second in the Big East, that swept Villanova and that has a combined three wins over Arizona and Xavier, Butler is basically back to being a mid-major in the South Region. That’s what happens when you get stuck in a region with three of the biggest brands in the sport.

And don’t think, for a second, that Butler is going to be overmatched here. They’ve proven, time and again this season, that they are good enough to play with the best of the best even if their roster, on paper, doesn’t look that way.

But here’s the thing about North Carolina: If they play their best basketball game, they should be able to run through the Bulldogs. That’s a big ‘if’, however, especially if Joel Berry II plays the way that he has played in the first two games of the tournament. North Carolina goes as Berry goes, and he’s 3-for-21 from the floor in those two games.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (-7.5)

No. 3 BAYLOR (-3.5) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 7:29 p.m., (TBS): Baylor’s front line is massive. Johnathan Motley is an all-american in the middle, Jo Lual-Acuil was one of the nation’s most improved players this season there’s an argument to be made that Terry Maston has been the most important player for the Bears in this tournament. That’s where Baylor’s strength lies, and they play to it. The Bears want to play slow and they want to pound the ball into the paint.

Where Baylor struggles, however, is with their guard play. Manu Lecomte and Jake Lindsey are not exactly Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, and if we’ve learned anything about South Carolina this season, it’s that their defense can be a nightmare for opponents to try and run offense against. They don’t pressure in the full court, but their half court defense is just as tough and as physical and as frustrating as West Virginia’s. I think the first one to 60 wins this game, and I think South Carolina gets it done.

PREDICTION: South Carolina (+3.5)

No. 2 KENTUCKY (even) vs. No. 3 UCLA, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): Does it get any better than this?

Do you really need me to tell you that a matchup between two of the four best teams in college basketball, two teams that can legitimately win a national title, playing in the Sweet 16 is must-see TV?

You shouldn’t.

You probably know all the storylines by now, too, so I’m going to say this: I think this game comes down to how UCLA decides to matchup with Kentucky’s guards. My best guess at what happens is that Aaron Holiday chases Malik Monk around all those screens while Lonzo Ball draws De’Aaron Fox, mostly to save his legs but in part because he has the length to challenge a jump shot while playing far enough off to keep his from getting into the lane.

PREDICTION: I think Kentucky wins, but I love the over (165.5)

No. 4 FLORIDA (-1.5) vs. No. 8 WISCONSIN, 9:59 p.m. (TBS): Florida is one of the best defensive teams in the country. They have length and athletes everywhere on the floor, and head coach Mike White knows it. They pressure, they overplay passing lanes and they make life miserable for opposing playmakers. Wisconsin, like Baylor, is a team that plays through their bigs, but unlike Baylor, a post-up for Nigel Hayes or Ethan Happ is like their point guard getting an isolation. Both guys are just such great passers out of the post that Greg Gard doesn’t have to worry as much about the lack of playmakers in his back court.

I think that is a huge advantage for Wisconsin in what could otherwise be thought of as a bad matchup.

But more than anything, I trust Wisconsin’s vets more in NCAA tournament games than just about anyone else. This is going to be the 17th NCAA tournament game for Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, the most of anyone in the tournament. They’ve both played in two Final Fours and two more Sweet 16s. Hayes and Koenig are the two career leaders in NCAA tournament scoring, and Koenig may be the single-most clutch shooter left in the tournament. I’ll bet on that.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin (+1.5)

No. 11 Xavier advances to the Elite 8 with upset win over No. 2 Arizona

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Trevon Bluiett scored 25 points, Malcolm Bernard scored all 15 of his points in the second half and No. 11 seed Xavier, despite being down eight points with less than four minutes left in the game, rallied to beat No. 2 seed Arizona, 73-71, to advance to the Elite 8.

Arizona is going to regret that loss. As good as Allonzo Trier was in building that eight-point lead — he finished with 19 points, including a run where he scored 15 straight points — he went into full hero-ball mode in the final minutes, a stretch where Arizona’s point guard issues came into plain view. I’m sure that there are going to be Arizona fans that are upset with Sean Miller about the way that the final four minutes played out, but remember: this Arizona team lost Ray Smith, Terrence Ferguson and were without Allonzo Trier for the first 19 games of the season, and Miller still led them to a share of the Pac-12 regular season title and the Pac-12 tournament title.

He’s an incredible coach.

Arizona is lucky to have him.

He’ll breakthrough eventually.

But the story of this game isn’t Arizona or Sean Miller, it’s Chris Mack. It’s Xavier.

The Musketeers have now won three games in the NCAA tournament. As of March 9th, the Musketeers had won three games in the previous five weeks — all three of which came against DePaul — and were heading into a game against Butler in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament with, quite literally, their NCAA tournament bid on the line. They were very much on the bubble, evidence being the No. 11 seed they earned after adding a top 15 win to their résumé.

The Musketeers have been without Edmond Sumner (torn ACL) since the end of January and without Myles Davis (left the team) since the beginning of January. They were two of the three most important players on the Xavier roster heading into the season, and as of today, head coach Chris Mack is fielding a name whose only point guard is a four-star freshman named Quentin Goodin.

They shouldn’t be here.

They shouldn’t be one game away from the Final Four, but this is what Mack does. He’s been a head coach for eight seasons, all of which have come at Baylor. This was his fourth Sweet 16, and the only time he actually entered the tournameht seeded higher than a No. 6 was last year, when the Musketeers were beaten in the second round by a Bronson Koenig buzzer-beater.

One thing that I’ve never really understood about coaching searches is why Mack’s name never gets mentioned with the likes of Dayton’s Archie Miller and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall. Those are the two coaches outside the Power 5 leagues that get mentioned with every single quality opening. “Take a shot at Marshall and Miller, see if they’ll say yes, then move on.” Mack always ends up next on those lists, and I’ve never really understood why.

Part of it is probably because he’s already at a program that is in a high-major league. Part of it is because he’s a Xavier guy — he played there, spent eight seasons there during two stints as an assistant and is an Ohio native. Part of it is because Xavier is already a really good job.

But it does seem like Mack gets overlooked in all of these searches.

Take Indiana, for example.

Steve Alford is the first name everyone mentions with that job. Then it’s Miller and Marshall. If I’m Indiana’s AD, however, Mack is the guy that I go after, and not just because he’s proven that he can go into Indiana and recruit.

He’s just a flat-out terrific coach.

And if this run on top of his other three runs to the second weekend didn’t prove it to you, then the play that resulted in the eventual game-winning points should. It was simple, really, but it certainly was not something you see done in the college ranks all that often. With 50 seconds left and the game tied, Mack had his guys roll the ball up the floor and then used Bluiett, who is scorching the nets in this tournament, as a decoy, running him off of a screen to set up a duck-in for Sean O’Mara:

Not only was the play that Mack drew up beautiful, it took all of six seconds, which meant that Xavier had the lead and was guaranteed to have a shot to get the ball back to win the game regardless of what Arizona did at the other end of the floor.

That is great coaching.

And it’s past time for us to recognize that Mack belongs in the conversation among the best in the business.

No. 1 Kansas dominates No. 4 Purdue in style

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Kansas, the top-seeded team in Midwest region, didn’t just beat No. 4 Purdue, it did so in style. Fast break after fast break, 3-pointer after 3-pointer, dunk after dunk, the Jayhawks ran the Boilermakers off the floor, advancing to the Elite Eight with a 98-66 win on Thursday night in Kansas City.

It followed a familiar script as KU’s 90-70 win over No. 9 seed Michigan State in the second round. Only this time, the climax occurred sooner. Kansas was up 61-54 when Caleb Swaingan checked back into the game, playing alongside fellow Monstar Isaac Haas. Instead of Purdue’s size — the big advantage it had over Kansas — taking control, the only thing that grew was the deficit for the Boilermakers. Kansas went on an 11-0 run beginning at the 14:30 mark. By the time Haas was subbed out, the Jayhawks led 69-56. It never got closer.

Lagerald Vick threw down a 360 dunk … and the Jayhawks hadn’t even begun to pour it on yet. Now, that’s a team that’s playing with confidence.

Kansas shot 66 percent from the field in the second half and connected on 7-of-15 made 3-pointers on the evening. Purdue’s last lead was 35-33 with 4:54 remaining in the second half. That means the Jayhawks outscored the Boilermakers 65-31 for the remainder of the game.

For all that was made of Kansas matchup issues with Purdue, the Boilermakers never solved the matchup problems the Jayhawks presented. While Laden Lucas and the rest of the defense found ways to frustrate Caleb Swanigan (18 points, seven rebounds and five turnovers) and somehow, outrebounded the Boilermakers, Purdue never found a solution for penetration or 3-point shooting from KU’s stable of guards.

“Those guys, especially Caleb on the glass it’s hard to keep ’em off,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said. “If you look at Landen’s stats he only got four rebounds, but the story is Caleb only got seven. And if you had told this before the game that would be the give and take I would have sold out for that because he does a really good job of making sure neither one of them got it for the most part.”

Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham each had 26 points. Mason added seven rebounds and seven assists. Josh Jackson had a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds. Vick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk each recorded double figures too. Lucas’ play has improved as the season’s progressed. They aren’t just putting teams away in this tournament, they’re doing it in style. And it couldn’t be happening at the right time.

They know how win close games, but through three NCAA Tournament games so far, the Jayhawks aren’t willing to take any chances. They’ve elected to not just put teams away, they’ve decided to do so in style.

Kansas advances to play No. 3 seed Oregon on Saturday in the Elite Eight.

WATCH: LaGerald Vick’s 360 dunk

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It takes a lot of confidence to throw down a dunk better suited for pre-game lay-up lines than the middle of a NCAA Tournament game.

But Kansas sophomore guard LaGerald Vick thought this breakaway opportunity in the second half of a Sweet 16 matchup against No. 4 seed Purdue was the perfect time to throw down a 360 dunk.