West Coast Conference Catchup: Gonzaga has top 10 talent

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Half of the West Coast Conference qualified for a postseason play this past season with Gonzaga and BYU returning to the NCAA tournament field. Heading into next year, the focus will once again be on Gonzaga. The Bulldogs were one-victory shy of a 30-win season, though, a blowout loss in the Round of 32 and a lack of marquee wins gave critics more than enough ammunition to label the 2013-2014 season as a disappointment.

However, the Zags could find themselves in the top 10 when the preseason is poll is released. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. anchor a back court joined by USC graduate transfer Byron Wesley. Przemek Karnowski had a breakout sophomore season with newcomers such as Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer and Arvydas Sabonis’ son, Domantas, filling out the frontline.

RELATEDRead through all of our Conference Catchups here

Gonzaga has also beefed up its non-conference schedule with matchups on the road against Arizona and UCLA to go along with a highly-anticipated non-conference tilt with SMU, as part of the 24-hour marathon.

While Gonzaga is the clear-cut favorite, the rest of the conference is far less certain. BYU has questions to address, as the Cougars look to make a fourth tournament appearance in five seasons. San Francisco has plenty of returners, but will the loss of several top scorers keep the Dons from surpassing BYU in the standings? Saint Mary’s adds new pieces around its all-conference forward, Pepperdine has some talent and Portland could be the darkhorse with a long list of players coming back.

THREE UP

Gonzaga: The conference’s powerhouse is in for a big 2014-2015 season. Gonzaga has returning talent, adds two impact transfers and welcomes in a recruiting class that includes a pair of four-star commits. Even before Mark Few landed Wesley late last week, his team was projected as a top 20 team.

Portland: The Pilots lost five straight games to end this past season, but did pick up a huge conference win over Gonzaga a month prior to the losing skid. Portland is bringing back most of its rotation, including leading scorer Kevin Bailey and 6-foot-11 big man Thomas van der Mars.

San Francisco: Cole Dickerson, the team’s top scorer, exhausted his eligibility, and last month lost second leading scorer Avry Holmes to transfer. On paper that looks bad, but Rex Walters can combat those losses with core pieces left at his disposal. Kruize Pinkins, Mark Tollefson, Tim Derksen and Matt Glover all logged an average of more than 25 minutes per game last season. In the case of Derksen and Glover, they’ll have the opportunity to step up and fill a void as Holmes did when Cody Doolin left the program after four games.

THREE DOWN

BYU: Tyler Haws is back on campus, giving the Cougars one of the nation’s top scorers. However, guard Matt Carlino transferred to Marquette for his final season, center Eric Mika has left for his LDS mission and Kyle Collingsworth is recovering from an ACL tear he suffered in March. BYU brings in several transfers and adds Jordan Chatman, who has returned from his mission.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels could very well take a step back this upcoming season. Stephen Holt is gone, leaving the back court in the hands of Kerry Carter and two eligible transfers. Brad Waldow does return on the frontline for the Saint Mary’s.

Loyola Marymount: The Lions are coming off a last place finish, and despite the return of Evan Payne it likely won’t get much better in the first year under Mike Dunlap. Anthony Ireland has graduated, and Gabe Levin, who along with Payne made was named to All-WCC freshmen team, transferred out after the season. Also, four-star commit Elijah Stewart was released from his National Letter of Intent. Long-term, LMU is on the upswing, you just might not see it this season.

FIVE NEW FACES

Kyle Wiltjer and Byron Wesley, Gonzaga: The former Kentucky Wildcat joins Przemek Karnowski in the front court while the ex-USC Trojan gives the Zags a scoring option on the wing. Wiltjer is a former McDonald’s All American and a member of Kentucky’s National Title team. Wesley averaged 17.8 points per game as a junior.

Mike Dunlap, Loyola Marymount: Not a new face to LMU, as the alum is returning to the school he played at and served as assistant for five years. He last coached the Charlotte Bobcats during the 2012-2013 season, and was let go after one year . His previous stops as an assistant include Arizona, Oregon, Iowa and St. John’s.

Chase Fischer, BYU: During his sophomore season with Wake Forest in 2012-2013, he shot 42 percent from behind the arc. The transfer guard resumes his career this season in the back court with Tyler Haws. Jamal Aytes can be another impact transfer when he becomes eligible after the fall semester.

Aaron Bright, Saint Mary’s: The graduate transfer rule will allow the former Stanford guard to finish his career without interruption at Saint Mary’s. Bright was the 2012 postseason NIT MVP. He and former Golden Gopher Joe Coleman will be additions to the Gaels back court.

Domantas Sabonis and Josh Perkins, Gonzaga: The two four-star recruits headline a strong recruiting class to add to the returning talent Gonzaga has next season. Sabonis, son of the Hall of Famer Arvydas, is 6-foot-10 power forward who should make an impact on the offensive end. Perkins will add depth to a senior-laden perimeter.

Way-Too-Early Power Rankings

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

Calipari signs two-year extension with Kentucky

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Kentucky continues to take care of John Calipari.

The Wildcats coach has received a two-year extension, keeping him under contract in Lexington through the 2024 season, the school announced Wednesday.

The contract will pay Calipari $7.75 million next season and increase to $8 million per season thereafter.

“John has achieved consistent championship-level performance at Kentucky,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “No one in America is better suited for everything that comes with being the coach here. Not only has he attained incredible success on the court, he is also a leader in our community and in college basketball.

“We have been blessed to have him and Ellen here for the last eight years and we are blessed they will continue to call Kentucky home.”

Not only does the deal extend Calipari, but it continues to keep Kentucky competitive with the NBA, which would seem to be the only outlet that would even potentially tempt Calipari away from Kentucky. An NBA franchise would have to make him among the highest-paid coaches in the league to even match Kentucky financially.

Of course, given that Calipari has spurned interest from the league since returning to college in 2000, it seems unlikely that financial considerations would be the lone or heaviest variable in making a decision to move on.

Certainly, Calipari has an excellent thing going at Kentucky as the premier recruiting program in the country that has enjoyed serious success on the court, culminating in a 2012 national title and a 38-0 start to the 2015 season before a loss in the Final Four.

“The last eight years at the University of Kentucky have been a terrific ride,” Calipari said in a statement. “This extension shows our full commitment to each other. I believe this school is the gold standard and I’m so thankful and blessed that this university has given me this opportunity at this point in my career.”

The Wildcats face UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

Louisville’s Mitchell declaring for draft, won’t hire an agent

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Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell is the latest to decide to see what the NBA might offer.

“I have decided to test the waters and not hire an agent!” Mitchell wrote in an Instagram post Wednesday. “I am excited to work out this summer for teams and hopefully participate in the NBA combine! I want it to be clear I have not decided to leave Louisville!”

Mitchell, who is expected to be joined by dozens of players, is taking advantage of new NCAA rules that allow him to work out for teams and attend the NBA draft combine before making a decision on whether to remain in the draft and return to school.

Players have until May 24 to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

Mitchell averaged 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists as a sophomore, shooting 40.8 percent overall and 35.4 percent on 3-point attempts.

The 6-foot-3 guard is projected as a potential first-round pick, but should he return, the Cardinals would project as one of the top teams in the country with nearly the entire core returning from this year’s 25-9 squad.

Moe-mentum: Wagner stands tall for Sweet 16-bound Michigan

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Ask Moe Wagner who he looked up to when he was younger, and suddenly the Michigan big man’s fiery demeanor makes a little more sense.

“Kevin Garnett was always my biggest idol, even though our play isn’t really similar. Just the way he brings intensity and energy to his team,” Wagner said. “That always was something that really impressed me.”

Now Wagner is providing his own emotional leadership to a Michigan team that has become one of college basketball’s most remarkable stories this March.

The Wolverines have won six in a row since they were involved in a plane accident on the eve of their Big Ten Tournament opener.

After winning that conference tourney, they opened the NCAAs with victories against Oklahoma State and Louisville – with Wagner scoring 26 points in the win over Louisville that sent Michigan to the Sweet 16.

The 19-year-old Wagner is in his second season with the Wolverines. He showed some promise in 2015-16, but averaged only 8.6 minutes a game as a freshman. He’s been a starter the whole way this season, teaming up with D.J. Wilson to give Michigan some unexpected production in the frontcourt.

The Wolverines entered the season with high hopes thanks to the presence of seniors Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin.

The 6-foot-11 Wagner has made them even tougher to defend. The sophomore from Berlin is averaging 12.2 points a game, and unlike Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan – two of Michigan’s top big men of the recent past – Wagner is a threat from beyond the arc. He’s made 41 percent of his 3-point attempts in 2016-17, putting even more pressure on opposing teams.

An expressive player on the court, Wagner admits he’s still learning how to keep his emotions under control.

Coach John Beilein says Wagner can be hard on himself, but he has an upbeat attitude the Wolverines can appreciate.

“I don’t want to rob him of his energy and his passion,” Beilein said. “If you heard him in timeouts – I mean, he is really into it. And it’s encouraging things he’s saying.”

The key for Wagner is to stay on the court. He’s been whistled for 100 fouls this season – no other Michigan player has more than 80 – and he picked up two in the first 3:11 when the Wolverines faced Oklahoma State in their NCAA Tournament opener Friday. Wagner played only 14 minutes in that frenetic game, which Michigan won 92-91 .

Against Louisville in the round of 32 , Wagner went 11 of 14 from the field and kept his poise after being called for his second foul late in the first half.

“He’s always just been an excited guy – play hard and play with a lot of passion,” Walton said. “I don’t think anything has changed. I think he’s just channeling it a little better.”

The seventh-seeded Wolverines face third-seeded Oregon on Thursday night in a regional semifinal. Michigan has won seven in a row, a streak that began with the team’s last game of the regular season.

What happened next is well documented. The day before its opening game in the conference tournament, Michigan’s plane slid off the runway .

There were no serious injuries, and the Wolverines arrived in time to play. Then they won four games in four days to take the title.

Now, Michigan is two victories away from an improbable Final Four appearance. If the Wolverines actually make it that far, Wagner will be a big reason why – and he’ll probably be as excited as anyone.

“One of my youth coaches actually used to say that I was somebody who, like, sees the basketball court as a stage and really enjoys it,” Wagner said. “Last year, I started to understand what that actually means, and kind of embraced that this year. That’s just me. I really love it. I really enjoy it.”

 

California’s Ivan Rabb declares for the NBA Draft

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Ivan Rabb announced on Wednesday that he will be declaring for the NBA Draft and foregoing his final two seasons with California.

“I want to thank everybody for their support,” Rabb said in a statement. “Since the day I committed to Cal, the love from Bay Area fans was overwhelming. I could genuinely tell that people really appreciated seeing me come to Cal and succeed and do well. Haas Pavilion will always hold a special place in my heart, and I won’t forget how incredible it felt to be “Oakland’s Own” as I ran onto the court in front of my friends, family and team.”

As a sophomore, Rabb averaged 14.0 points and 10.5 boards. He’s projected as a mid-to-late first round pick in the draft a year after making the decision to return to school as a projected lottery pick last season.

Duke’s Jayson Tatum declares for the NBA Draft

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Duke’s Jayson Tatum will declare for the NBA Draft and hire an agent, the program announced on Wednesday.

Tatum is a projected top five pick in the NBA Draft. He averaged 16.8 points playing the role of small-ball four for the Blue Devils this season after missing the first month of the season with a foot injury.

“I have absolutely loved coaching Jayson Tatum,” Coach K said in a statement. “His skill set and work ethic will make him a star in the NBA. Whichever team selects him will be getting a humble, thoughtful and talented young man whom we are proud to call a member of the Duke basketball brotherhood.”

Tatum was the most talented player on the Blue Devils this season, but it was an up and down year for Duke as a whole. They were predicted by just about everyone to win the national title back in the preseason, but they eventually bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the second round.