2013-2014 WCC Preview: Can anyone challenge Gonzaga?

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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?

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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.

Bridges perfect from 3, No. 5 Villanova blows out Lafayette

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ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Mikal Bridges set a school record by hitting all six of his 3-point shots and scored a career-high 24 points in No. 5 Villanova’s 104-57 rout of Lafayette on Friday night.

Jalen Brunson added 22 points and hit 4 of 6 3s in another dominant performance by the Wildcats (3-0), who made 16 of 30 from long range.

Three nights after setting a school record with 13 blocked shots in a blowout of Nicholls, the versatile and deep Wildcats showed another strength and overwhelmed the Leopards (0-3).

Led by Bridges’ 4 of 4 long-distance shooting, Villanova hit 11 of its first 14 3s in racing to a 39-16 lead. The Wildcats had a stretch of nine straight baskets being 3s en route to a 56-23 halftime lead.

Matt Klinewski had 16 points and six rebounds for Lafayette, which was 7 of 29 from 3-point range.

Bridges finished 9 of 10 from the field before he sat out the final 10 minutes. The junior bested his previous career-high by one point set Tuesday.

While it was a Villanova home game, it was played about 50 miles from campus at the PPL Center, home of minor league hockey’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. It was a 20-mile drive for Lafayette, but the Wildcats sure seemed at home.

Villanova spent much of the second half going inside to score. Omari Spellman had 15 points and nine rebounds and Eric Paschall had 14 points and eight boards.

BIG PICTURE

Lafayette: Try as a Patriot League school squaring off against one of the best teams in the nation and watching the opponent shoot like that, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s alma mater never had a chance.

Villanova: The Wildcats have perimeter shooting, depth inside and play good defense. They’ve been dominant against inferior competition, and will finally get tested next week.

SO MANY 3-POINTERS

Bridges surpassed Doug West in 1988 and John Celestand in 1999, each of whom went 5 of 5 from long range. Villanova finished one shy of the school record of 17 3s set against Lehigh on Nov. 27, 2005.

NO LUCK

Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon fell to 0-6 against his alma mater. O’Hanlon still holds the Villanova record for assists in a game with 16 set against Toledo on Feb. 24, 1970.

Only six Division I coaches have been at their schools longer than O’Hanlon, in his 23rd season.

UP NEXT

Lafayette visits Princeton on Wednesday.

Villanova faces Western Kentucky on Wednesday in the first of three games at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. No. 19 Purdue and No. 3 Arizona are possible opponents the following two days.

Mykhailiuk helps No. 4 Kansas rout South Dakota State, 98-64

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Svi Mykhailiuk scored a career-high 27 points, Lagerald Vick finished with 22 and fourth-ranked Kansas routed Summit League favorite South Dakota State 98-64 on Friday night.

Udoka Azubuike added 17 points and Malik Newman had 13 for the Jayhawks (3-0), who shot 60 percent from the field and didn’t commit a turnover until midway through the second half.

By that point, the Jackrabbits (3-1) were staring at a 30-point deficit.

Mike Daum led South Dakota State with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Tevin King contributed 12 points and David Jenkins Jr. scored 10 off the bench.

Once again without heralded freshman Billy Preston, the Jayhawks were forced to use the same reduced rotation that managed to top seventh-ranked Kentucky on Tuesday night. But their perilous lack of depth became crippling in the first half when Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot picked up two fouls each.

That forced coach Bill Self to use walk-on Clay Young in the post.

The 6-foot-5 senior turned out to be a bright spot, too, keeping the ball moving on offense and handling the 6-9 Daum inside. The Jackrabbits’ leading scorer at more than 21 points per game had eight on 2-for-8 shooting in the first half, when Young spent a good chunk of time covering him.

Nobody could cover Mykhailiuk, though.

The senior from the Ukraine hit his first three shots — the Jayhawks made eight of their first nine — while getting into an easy rhythm. Even on the seemingly rare occasion that his jumper didn’t splash the net, it often rattled around the rim and dropped through to a thunderous ovation.

Several of his baskets came on feeds from Devonte Graham, who didn’t hit a field goal until deep in the second half. He finished with eight points but also had 11 assists and five boards.

PRESTON SITS

Preston went through early warmups but remained on the bench as Kansas investigates an on-campus incident that raised questions about the “financial picture” of the car he was driving. Self declined to discuss the situation other than to say “we’re definitely going to hold him out until we get to the bottom of this.” Self did say he expects a resolution soon.

BIG PICTURE

South Dakota State can recover from its thumping in paradise with a trip to the Cayman Islands Classic up next. But their next trip to the Sunflower State figures to be just as tough: They visit No. 6 Wichita State on Dec. 5.

Kansas cruised despite a shortened lineup again, and help is only a month away. Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe becomes eligible for a trip to Nebraska on Dec. 16, and there is a chance five-star prospect Silvio De Sousa from Florida’s IMG Academy enrolls at the semester break.

UP NEXT

South Dakota State plays Wyoming on Monday in George Town, Cayman Islands.

Kansas continues a four-game home stand against Texas Southern on Tuesday night.

No. 18 Louisville hangs on over Omaha 87-78

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Ray Spalding had a career-high 19 points and 11 rebounds, Deng Adel had a game-high 21 points and Anas Mahmoud had eight of his team’s 15 blocked shots as No. 18 Louisville outlasted Omaha 87-78 on Friday night.

Spalding scored 14 points after halftime, and Adel made 7 of 8 shots from both the field and the free-throw line to pace the offense for the Cardinals (2-0), who led by 20 early in the second half but didn’t make a field for the last 4:36 of the game.

Omaha (0-4) was competitive in facing its highest-ranked opponent since becoming an NCAA Division I program in the 2011-12 season. The Mavericks hung around with a 12-0 second-half run and got within 71-64 on KJ Robinson’s 3-pointer with 5:45 left, but Louisville answered with seven straight points to keep the lead large enough to stay unbeaten under interim coach David Padgett.

Louisville’s three primary big men — Spalding (6-foot-10), Mahmoud (7-0) and Malik Williams (6-11) — bothered Omaha with their length around the rim. Mahmoud flirted with a triple-double, posting 10 points and eight rebounds to go with his blocks. Williams, a former five-star recruit who made his first career start in place of Mahmoud, had eight points, four rebounds and three blocks. Spalding blocked three shots, too.

Daniel Norl led five Omaha scorers in double figures with 16 points and eight rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Omaha: The Mavericks averaged 83.9 points in their first three games but dug a hole in the first half when they shot only 24.4 percent to go down 40-25 at halftime. Louisville finished the first half on an 18-7 run, and Omaha made only one of its final nine shots before the break.

Louisville: Adel, who scored 20 points in the season-opening win over George Mason, continues to impress with his slicing drives and up-tempo play and shapes up as one of the top wings in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He made his first seven shots and added eight rebounds.

UP NEXT

Omaha plays at TCU on Monday as part of the Emerald Coast Classic, the fourth of seven straight games away from home to start the season while the Mavericks’ home arena hosts the U.S. Olympic Curling Trials.

Louisville has home games against Southern Illinois on Tuesday and Saint Francis next Friday before traveling to Purdue on Nov. 28 for the Big 10/ACC Challenge.

No. 7 Kentucky cruises past East Tennessee State, 78-61

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Quade Green scored a career-high 21 points, Kevin Knox had 17 points with 10 rebounds and No. 7 Kentucky overcame an early deficit to run away from East Tennessee State 78-61 on Friday night.

Bouncing back from Tuesday’s 65-61, Champions Classic loss to No. 4 Kansas required the Wildcats (3-1) overcoming an 18-8 first-half hole. Green took charge to score 10 of their next 12 points to cut the lead to 23-20, and Hamidou Diallo and Wenyen Gabriel combined for 11 of the next 16 as Kentucky outscored ETSU 28-12 over the final 10:05 for a 36-30 halftime lead.

The Wildcats kept rolling behind defense that held the Buccaneers (1-2) to 32 percent shooting, including just 10 of 36 (28 percent) in the second half. They also owned the paint (38-22), fast break points (14-2) and registered eight blocks to win their first game of the Adolph Rupp Classic.

Green made 9 of 13 from the field to top his previous high of 15 points on Sunday against Vermont.

Peter Jurkin had 17 points and David Burrell 11 for ETSU.

BIG PICTURE

ETSU: The Buccaneers started four seniors and initially flexed their experience on Kentucky’s young lineup. They shot well at first but went cold after starting 7 of 13 from the field. ETSU couldn’t match the Wildcats inside nor slow them on the break. They were outrebounded 40-37 but stayed close most of the night.

Kentucky: The learning curve continued as another veteran squad knocked the young Wildcats on their heels before they found their resolve and shooting touch. This hole occurred early enough for them to regroup from 4-of-14 shooting, and they didn’t look back in making 57 percent from the field. While Green provided the offensive spark, Sacha Killeya-Jones (eight rebounds) and Knox handled the boards. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander came off the bench to post 10 points and a career-high six assists.

UP NEXT

ETSU hosts Delaware State on Monday night.

Kentucky hosts Troy on Monday night.

Wendell Carter Jr. scores 20, No. 1 Duke beats Southern 78-61

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DURHAM, N.C. — No. 1 Duke proved this week it’s talented enough to beat the best team on its schedule — but not so dominant that it can take one of the worst for granted.

The Blue Devils beat Southern 78-61 on Friday night behind 20 points and 11 rebounds from Wendell Carter Jr.

“We just didn’t come ready to play,” Carter said. “I can’t really speak for everybody, I don’t know if everybody was energized or not or if people were hurt or not. Just as a team, we didn’t play as a unit. We starters had an opportunity just to be selfish, and that’s not the way to go. We’ve got to take every game seriously, and we did not do that tonight.”

Marvin Bagley III added 19 points and 11 rebounds and Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval finished with 10 points apiece for the Blue Devils (4-0).

Coming off a victory over No. 2 Michigan State three nights earlier, Duke showed several classic symptoms of a letdown — in part, coach Mike Krzyzewski explained, because the Blue Devils didn’t practice the previous two days due to NCAA time-management rules.

The Blue Devils finished with a season-high 15 turnovers, shot just 4 of 20 from 3-point range and for a while struggled to keep Southern off the offensive glass before regrouping to finish with a 51-34 rebounding advantage.

“There was something missing tonight,” Krzyzewski said.

Gary Trent Jr. had 10 rebounds but was 3-of-11 shooting for Duke, which never led by fewer than 10 points in the second half, but also had trouble putting Southern away, not pushing its lead into the 20s until the final 5 minutes.

Jamar Sandifer had 14 points and Torrey Mayo added 11 to lead the Jaguars (0-4) — whose resume included a 102-55 loss to Illinois, an 86-58 loss at Missouri State and the No. 319 spot in an unofficial replication of the RPI formula.

They gave the Blue Devils about 15 minutes’ worth of serious headaches before Trent hit two 3-pointers during a 15-3 run late in the first half that pushed Duke’s lead into double figures to stay.

BIG PICTURE

Southern: The Jaguars open the season with five road games in 10 days, and this should have been the most daunting. Instead, Southern made it competitive for far longer than expected by taking advantage of the Blue Devils’ numerous turnovers, repeatedly sending Bagley — who entered as a 22 percent free-throw shooter — to the line and holding their own on the glass.

“We talked about just trying to get better, each and every game, and tonight we fought as a unit and tried to instill in those guys that if we continue to do that, by the time we get to league play … we can compete” for the Southwestern Athletic Conference title, interim head coach Morris Scott said.

Duke: This should lead to quite the educational film review session for Krzyzewski, his assistants and players. For a team that has reasonable Final Four expectations, the tape will show plenty of teachable moments — starting with the turnovers, many of which were unforced. Because the Blue Devils took the previous two days off, Krzyzewski said they will practice Saturday and Sunday.

“They thought it would be a lot easier than it was, and that’s on us, too, to make sure,” Krzyzewski said. “We’re all responsible for it. The other thing is, we won. We won. So that’s a good thing.”

THE EYES HAVE IT

Allen was poked in the left eye when he was fouled by Southern’s Chris Thomas with 1:08 left in the half. Allen hit 1 of 2 free throws before heading to the bench for treatment with the eye swelling almost immediately. He was back to start the second half. Three nights earlier, Bagley didn’t return after he was poked in the eye during the Michigan State game.

HIGHLIGHT REEL

Southern was still in the game, trailing just 30-27 with about 5 minutes before the break when Sandifer put up a jumper in the lane. Bagley blocked it all the way to midcourt and Allen chased it down, whipped the ball behind his back and converted a left-handed layup that energized what had been a morose Cameron Indoor Stadium.

CAPEL’S RETURN

Associate head coach Jeff Capel was back on the Duke bench. He didn’t make the trip to Chicago for the Michigan State game after his father, former Old Dominion coach Jeff Capel Jr., died less than two years after he was diagnosed with ALS. He was honored with a moment of silence before tipoff.

UP NEXT

Southern: The Jaguars stick around Durham to face N.C. Central on Sunday.

Duke: The Blue Devils wrap up their quick home stand Monday night against Furman.