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Conference Catchups: WCC’s lack of marquee wins makes league play even more important

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College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Anthony Ireland, Loyola Marymount

Max Good’s Lions are of to a 9-4 start, and the play of his senior point guard is a bid reason why. Entering Monday, Ireland ranks second in the WCC in both scoring (18.8 ppg) and assists (5.5 apg) and is fourth in steals (1.7 spg). He’s only shooting 28.1% from three thus far, but his impact on a team that’s improved (and healthy) after going through a horrendous 2012-13 shouldn’t be ignored.

All-WCC First Team:

  • Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
  • Anthony Ireland, Loyola Marymount
  • Tyler Haws, BYU
  • Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s
  • Brendan Lane, Pepperdine

Midseason Coach of the Year: Mark Few, Gonzaga

Yes, Gonzaga’s pretty much doing what was expected of them from the start. But keep in mind that they’re adjusting to life without the productive front court duo of Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk. The backcourt has led the way, as expected, and Przemek Karnowski has made some strides in the middle. At 11-2, Few’s Bulldogs are off to a good start.

Favorite: Gonzaga Bulldogs

Sam Dower’s lower back issue is something to watch, with the senior missing the Bulldogs’ win over Santa Clara as a result. But given the amount of firepower in Mark Few’s backcourt, Gonzaga is still the favorite to win the WCC. Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. (Now out with a broken hand) and David Stockton are all experienced pieces, and the addition of Gerard Coleman gives the Bulldogs an athletic wing capable of getting to the rim. And this is a team that leads the WCC in both field goal percentage field goal percentage defense, so it isn’t as if they’re out there trading baskets either. And as center Przemek Karnowski gains even more experience, look for this group to get better.

And three more contenders:

  • The trip to Hawaii wasn’t a good one for Saint Mary’s, as they went 0-3 at the Diamond Head Classic. But with Stephen Holt and Brad Waldow leading a team that has five players averaging at least nine points per game, the Gaels will likely be Gonzaga’s biggest threat.
  • BYU has the scoring firepower to make a run at the WCC title, but do they have the efficiency needed to do so? Four players are scoring in double figures, including Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino, but the Cougars have to do a better job of finding quality looks if they’re to contend.
  • Loyola Marymount’s healthy, and as a result they’ve got a better shot than anticipated to crack the top three. Ireland’s a known commodity at this point and by the end of the season the same will be said of freshman guard Evan Payne, who’s currently averaging 15.1 points points per game.

Most Surprising Team: Pacific Tigers

In the first season of Ron Verlin’s tenure the Tigers have played a solid schedule (109th in strength of schedule), and they currently sit at 9-2 overall prior to their WCC opener against Saint Mary’s. Andrew Bock leads four players in double figures with an average of 11.6 ppg, and rebounding has been a key as well. Pacific currently ranks 4th in the WCC in offensive rebounding percentage and 2nd in defensive rebounding percentage. If they can keep that up, the Tigers are capable of finishing in the top half of the WCC.

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AP photo

Most Disappointing Team: BYU Cougars

Will their wins over Stanford and Texas carry enough weight come Selection Sunday? That’s one question that will linger as the season wears on for BYU, but it won’t matter much if Dave Rose’s team doesn’t snap out of its current three-game skid. BYU can certainly score points, but the way in which they do so (efficiency) will have a major impact on the course of their season in conference play. Which leads us to…

Most Important Player (in league play): Matt Carlino, BYU

Yes, Carlino is the pick and here’s why. BYU ranks fourth in the WCC in adjusted offensive efficiency per kenpom.com, and one of the reasons for that lower than expected ranking is Carlino’s efficiency. While he’s factored into 29.5% of BYU’s possessions the guard has an offensive rating of just 94.5. He’s going to take shots, that’s for sure, and BYU is at its best when both Carlino and Tyler Haws are scoring points. But the caliber of shot that Carlino attempts has to improve if the Cougars are to threaten (or even surpass) Gonzaga.

Who will slide?: Pacific

The Tigers are balanced and they’ve been good on the glass, but in a league with a number of talented scorers Pacific has to get better defensively. Pacific ranks seventh in the WCC in field goal percentage defense and dead last in free throw rate, with opponents boasting a rate of 47.5%. That’s too high, and it could get them in trouble in league play.

Who is the sleeper?: Loyola Marymount

Last season was horrific, with a rash of injuries doing major damage to Max Good’s rotation. Now the Lions have health and they have talent, with Ireland, Payne, Gabe Levin and Binghamton transfer Ben Dickinson all being capable scorers. If they can improve defensively (8th in field goal percentage defense), LMU has the ability to sneak into the conversation with the WCC’s “big three.”

New Power Rankings

1. Gonzaga
2. Saint Mary’s
3. Loyola Marymount
4. BYU
5. Pacific
6. San Francisco
7. Pepperdine
8. Portland
9. San Diego
10. Santa Clara

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
Jon Lopez/Nike
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.