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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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

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

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Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.