After winning 11 of their first 12 games of the season No. 8 Gonzaga opened West Coast Conference play Saturday with arguably its biggest test of the conference season: at BYU. With the perimeter tandem of Tyler Haws and Kyle Collinsworth leading the nation’s highest-scoring offense, the Cougars were expected to at the very least challenge Mark Few’s team in Provo.
And with the exception of a slow start in which Gonzaga scored 18 of the game’s first 24 points BYU did just that, going small after beginning the game with two big men in an attempt to slow down the Gonzaga front court and using a zone defense to slow down the visitors offensively. The other key for BYU was working to turn Gonzaga misses into transition opportunities on all misses. BYU was eventually able to pull even at the break on a Collinsworth three-pointer, and the game remained tight throughout the second half.
However, Kyle Wiltjer and Kevin Pangos proved to be too much for BYU, as those two combined to score 45 points in Gonzaga’s 87-80 win.
Wiltjer, who’s been one of the best transfers in the country, was a matchup problem for BYU throughout due to his ability to score both inside and on the perimeter. The former Kentucky forward scored 11 points in the first half and 13 in the second, with USC transfer Byron Wesley (15 points, ten rebounds) adding ten of his fifteen points in the game’s first 20 minutes. The difference maker was Pangos, whose role has undergone the greatest amount of change throughout the 2014-15 season to date.
After scoring just three points in the first half Pangos racked up 18 in the second, as he was more aggressive in looking for openings to score himself against the BYU defense. Pangos made five of his seven second-half field goal attempts (4-for-5 3PT), and he finished the game with 21 points, seven assists and just one turnover. With Gonzaga’s lack of depth at the point guard position, Pangos has sacrificed some scoring opportunities to get his teammates quality looks. But while Pangos’ scoring average may have dipped from last season to this, the shooting percentages have improved and he’s also taken good care of the basketball.
The addition of Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan in early January will help the Bulldogs when it comes to having options to can initiate things offensively, and that will give Pangos more chances to play off the basketball moving forward. But he’s been very good as the lead guard for Gonzaga this season, getting even better at balancing when to look for his own shot and when to sacrifice that in order to get his teammates quality looks.
In the second half Saturday the senior guard was took advantage of the BYU defense and put 18 points on the board, leading the way for Gonzaga as they picked up a road win in their WCC opener.
One week after suffering their lone defeat of the 2014-15 season, No. 9 Gonzaga was once again on the road facing a Pac-12 opponent. However unlike No. 3 Arizona, which defeated the Bulldogs in overtime last Saturday, Mark Few’s team took on a UCLA squad that lacked the depth needed to win a game of this caliber. And that’s how things played out at Pauley Pavilion, as Gonzaga won 87-74 with two newcomers leading the way.
Kyle Wiltjer scored a game-high 24 points and Byron Wesley added 20 on the night, and Gonzaga’s first 15 points were scored by players who didn’t see any game action last season. While Wiltjer was sitting out per NCAA transfer rules Wesley was toiling in relative obscurity at USC, where a lack of wins led to many overlooking his individual achievements, and Domantas Sabonis (ten points, six rebounds) was playing in Europe.
Those three combined to score 29 of Gonzaga’s 38 first half points, and just as important was the Bulldogs’ play on the defensive end of the floor. UCLA shot just 32.3% from the field in the first half, and Steve Alford’s Bruins nearly had as many turnovers (nine) as made field goals (ten).
Unlike Gonzaga, which has the pieces needed to account for a quiet half or game from a key contributor, UCLA needs all of its best weapons to perform well if they’re to beat high-level opposition.
Gonzaga kept Bryce Alford (23 points) under wraps in the first half, limiting him to five points on 2-for-7 shooting, and in the second half Norman Powell managed to score just four points. Add in a quiet night from Tony Parker (five points, nine rebounds) and UCLA found itself fighting an uphill battle.
Gonzaga’s depth gives them a margin for error that some teams just don’t have, and that was the case for UCLA. And while the Bulldogs may not have landed the knockout blow that could have turned this game into a blowout in the second half, they had more than enough production to maintain a comfortable margin. Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos scored nine points apiece, and that level of production wasn’t an issue for Gonzaga because others were ready to step forward.
The wing position in college basketball this season will be fun to keep track of. It can be argued that from a depth standpoint this is the strongest position for incoming freshmen, with two players expected to be NBA Draft lottery selections in the near future and others expected to have a significant impact on their team’s fortunes. But there are also skilled veterans among the ranks, including one who reached the Final Four last season and another whose team fell one win short of that goal. What’s the common bond amongst many of these players? Versatility, which allows them to impact games in multiple facets.
Below are some of the best wings in college basketball this season, beginning with a gifted freshman from the Pac-12.
1. Stanley Johnson, Arizona: Johnson has the build of a pro and the skill set to match, as he’s capable of scoring at all three levels with great consistency. He’s no slouch on the defensive end either, which is key when fitting into what was one of the nation’s best defensive teams a season ago. In a season without a clear-cut choice for national Player of the Year, Arizona’s freshman wing could be right in the mix come March.
2. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin: Dekker went from reserve to starter in 2013-14 and his productivity was one reason for the Badgers’ trek to the Final Four. Dekker averaged 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, shooting nearly 47 percent from the field. If he can raise his three-point shooting back to freshman year levels (39.1%), and he looked better shooting the ball at the LeBron James Skills Academy in July, Dekker becomes an even tougher assignment for opposing teams.
3. Delon Wright, Utah: The late Bum Phillips’ words regarding Earl Campbell may apply to Wright when it comes to discussing the most versatile players in college basketball: “he may not be in a class by himself, but it don’t take long to call roll.” Wright (15.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 5.3 apg) was a pivotal figure for the Utes in 2013-14, leading the team in scoring and assists. It could be argued that Wright should be on the lead guards list given how often he’s allowed to initiate the offense for Larry Krystkowiak’s team, but he fits in at any of the three perimeter positions.
4. Kelly Oubre, Kansas: One of three freshmen to make the top ten in our list, Oubre has the skill set needed to be one of the most gifted scorers in the country immediately. The 6-foot-8 lefty has a slight build, but he can finish through contact and is a good perimeter shooter as well. Oubre also uses ball screens well, an attribute that was on display at the adidas Nations camp in August. Given the production Kansas lost on the wing in the form of Andrew Wiggins, Oubre will have plenty of chances to put points on the board.
5. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona: Hollis-Jefferson is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, and he was very good around the basket as a freshman. The question for Hollis-Jefferson (9.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg in 2013-14) is a simple one: how much has he improved his perimeter shooting over the summer? Hollis-Jefferson showed progress in July at the Lebron camp, and a consistent perimeter shot would make him an even tougher player for opponents to defend.
6. Treveon Graham, VCU: The 6-foot-6 senior has been a consistently productive player for Shaka Smart throughout his career, averaging 15.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game last season. Graham can certainly shoot the ball from the perimeter, but he’s good in the mid-range game and can put the ball on the deck as well. He’ll be one of the leaders for a team expected by many to win the Atlantic 10.
7. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: The third freshman in the top ten, the 6-foot-8 Jackson can score both inside and out for the Tar Heels in 2014-15. As a high school senior Jackson averaged 31.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, and his length makes him a nuisance on the defensive end of the floor.
8. Aaron White, Iowa: With Roy Devyn Marble having moved on, the 6-foot-8 White will be an even more important player for the Hawkeyes in 2014-15. As a junior White averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, shooting 58.6% from the field. The loss of Marble should open up more opportunities for White, especially when it comes to the mid-range game where he was so successful a season ago.
9. Branden Dawson, Michigan State: Dawson’s had to navigate injuries for most of his career in East Lansing, but there should be little doubt regarding his skill level. Last season Dawson averaged 11.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest, and given the amount of production the Spartans lost (Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne) the senior will need to be even more influential on the offensive end.
10. Wesley Saunders, Harvard: Saunders is one of the leaders for the Crimson, having averaged 14.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game as a junior. Saunders’ versatility is one of his greatest attributes, and he’s also done a good job of getting to the foul line in each of the last two seasons.
THE NEXT TEN
11. Anthony Brown, Stanford
12. Justise Winslow, Duke
13. Winston Shepard III, San Diego State
14. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
15. Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State
16. Sam Thompson, Ohio State
17. Dustin Hogue, Iowa State
18. Theo Pinson, North Carolina
19. Kyle Collinsworth, BYU
20. Anthony Drmic, Boise State
ALSO CONSIDERED: Justin Anderson (Virginia), Patricio Garino (George Washington), Vince Hunter (UTEP), Nick King (Memphis), Justin Martin (SMU), Sheldon McClellan (Miami), Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming), Le’Bryan Nash (Oklahoma State), Marcus Thornton (Georgia), Tyrone Wallace (California), Byron Wesley (Gonzaga).
Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 9 Gonzaga.
– G: Kevin Pangos, Sr.
– G: Gary Bell Jr., Sr.
– G: Byron Wesley, Sr.
– F: Kyle Wiltjer, Jr.
– C: Przemek Karnowski, Jr.
– Bench: Domantas Sabonis, Fr.; Josh Perkins, Fr.; Kyle Draginis, Jr.; Silas Melson, Fr.; Angel Nunez, Jr.
They’ll be good because … : This group is going to be a nightmare to try and stop this season. Let’s start with Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga’s star point guard that has seemingly been on campus since Adam Morrison was still playing. As a junior, Pangos averaged 14.5 points and 3.6 assists while shooting 41.2% from three despite the fact that he was, quite frankly, not healthy all year long. He battled turf toe and ankle issues. Now that he’s healthy, expect the borderline All-American to show back up this season, which is terrific news for Zags fans given the amount of talent that surrounds him.
Let’s start with the front court. Kyle Wiltjer, the former McDonalds All-American that spent two seasons at Kentucky, is eligible this season. He spent the last year developing his body — strength, athleticism, mobility, fluidity, everything — and can still shoot the lights out, meaning that he should be a perfect front court compliment to Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis. Karnowski is a massive, 7-foot-1 low post scorer while Sabonis, the son of the legendary Arvydas Sabonis, is a talented freshman that comes from Lithuania via the Spanish pro league.
Gary Bell Jr. and USC transfer Byron Wesley will provide scoring pop on the wings as well, giving Few one of the most balanced and dangerous lineups in the country. Gonzaga will be a lot of fun to watch this season.
But they might disappoint because … : As many answers as there are for Gonzaga on the offensive end of the floor, there are that many questions for them defensively. Pangos has never been known as a great on-ball defender. Wiltjer should be stronger and quicker this season, but that doesn’t mean that he is going to be able to hold his on in the paint against, say, Montrezl Harrell or be able to hedge hard on ball-screens. Karnowski is big and takes up space in the lane, but he’s not ever going to move quickly in any direction.
Against good teams, and against teams that prioritize ball-screens, the Zags are going to struggle to get stops if they play predominantly man-to-man. Will they play zone or use matchup zones heavily? Gonzaga improved quite a bit on the defensive end of the floor as last season wore on, so it will be interesting to see what Few cooks up in Spokane this season.
Outlook: This might be the most talented Gonzaga team that Mark Few has ever had. I know, I know, we say that seemingly every season and Gonzaga has yet to return to the Elite 8 after their run under Dan Monson in 1999. This season is different, however. The Zags are healthy, they are loaded with talented veterans, they have a front line that can match up, size-wise, with anyone in the country, and their perimeter is one of the best in the country.
Can the Zags make a Final Four this season? Absolutely, but, like anyone else, it is going to depend on a couple of key factors: Their defense, Kyle Wiltjer’s offseason development and the health of Kevin Pangos. If all three of those things go according to plan, don’t be surprised to see Gonzaga roll through the WCC and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
1. Kyle Wiltjer (via Kentucky) and Byron Wesley (via USC), Gonzaga: Mark Few’s team still has questions to answer, mainly on the defensive end, but there’s no doubting that he’s added several transfers that make the Zags a top-10 caliber team. Wiltjer, the 2013 SEC Sixth Man of the Year, has had over a year to reshape his body. By the looks of last week’s viral video, his 3-point shot is still intact. Wesley, a graduate transfer who averaged 17.8 points, 6.4 rebounds per game in 2013-2014, gives the Bulldogs another weapon on the perimeter.
2. Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State (via UNLV): The Mayor’s success with transfers in Ames is well-documented. Next in line could be fifth-year senior Bryce Dejean-Jones. Iowa State graduated a lot of its scoring pop, and Dejean-Jones can help in that department, although he doesn’t need to be the top scorer like he was last season at UNLV. Hoiberg will look for the 6-foot-6 newcomer to be a wing who creates his shot, not one who will force it, as Dejean-Jones shot selection has been a problem in the past.
3. Rodney Purvis, UConn (via N.C. State): The reigning national champions add a former McDonald’s All-American to its back court alongside Ryan Boatright. At 6-foot-4, Purvis will give the Huskies size on the perimeter; someone who is not only capable of getting to the rim, but also a reliable 3-point shooting, knocking down 38.5 percent of his threes at N.C. State.
4. Anthony Lee, Ohio State (via Temple): The graduate transfer was highly-sought after, but picked the Buckeyes, adding size, scoring and rebounding to their frontline. At Temple, he recorded 11 double-doubles en route to 13.6 points and and American Athletic Conference leading 8.6 boards per game.
5. Kedren Johnson, Memphis (via Vanderbilt): Memphis went from a back court of four seniors in 2013-2014 to a set of guards with zero Division I experience. That was until Johnson, the Vandy transfer, got a waiver to play immediately. In 2012-2013, the 6-foot-4 Johnson averaged 13.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. His experience on-the-ball should help the younger guards get adjust to the level of play.
6. Angel Rodriguez, Miami (via Kansas State): The Hurricanes new point guard took a year off to recover from a wrist injury and now is the key piece to a revamped perimeter for Miami, which includes fellow transfer Sheldon McClellan, four-star freshman JaQuan Newton and returners Deandre Burnett and Davon Reed. The former K-State floor general was second-team all-Big 12 in 2012-2013, averaging 11.4 points and 5.2 assists per game.
7. Trevor Lacey, N.C. State (via Alabama): T.J. Warren took his ACC Player of the Year honors and his 24.9 points per game to the NBA, leaving plenty of shots available for the the newcomer. The 6-foot-3 Lacey averaged 11.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game as a sophomore.
8. Katin Reinhardt, USC (via UNLV): After taking the second-most shots on UNLV as a freshman in 2012-2013, Reinhardt headed back to the state of California in hopes of being more than just a shooter. Despite his desires to have the ball in his hands, his biggest asset to Andy Enfield is his ability to hit from the outside. The Trojans were a Pac-12 worst 29 percent from beyond the arc last season.
9. Justin Martin, SMU (via Xavier): The 6-foot-6 wing is eligible immediately after graduating from Xavier. He posted 11.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, knocking down 50 3-pointers. He has also played in two NCAA tournaments, a place the Mustangs are looking to get back to for the first time since 1993.
10. Matt Carlino, Marquette (viaBYU): Steve Wojciechowski adds the former BYU guard to a back court that includes senior Derrick Wilson, potential breakout star Deonte Burton and redshirt freshman Duane Wilson. Carlino will see time on and off the ball, and will provide Marquette with a knockdown shooter.
13 MORE IMPACT TRANSFERS
Angelo Chol, San Diego State (via Arizona): Steve Fisher has had success with transfers in the past, and this season it could be Chol, the former Arizona Wildcat, who could never crack the loaded frontline.
*Cody Doolin, UNLV (via San Francisco): Dave Rice added a steady point guard (averaged 5.6 assists per game in 2012-2013) to a team that lost its starting five. Has been granted a fifth year of eligibility, but still waiting on a waiver to be allowed to play this season, although he is expected to receive it.
Justin Edwards, Kansas State (via Maine): Top scorer in the American East at 16.7 points per game in 2012-2013 could end up being a double-digit scorer for the Wildcats.
Byrn Forbes, Michigan State (via Cleveland State): Forbes will help combat the lose of Keith Appling and Gary Harris, averaging 15.6 points per game (42 percent from three) last season in the Horizon League.
Anthony Hickey, Oklahoma State (via LSU): Hickey hopes the change of scenery can help return to sophomore averages of 11.2 points, 3.4 assists and 2.9 steals per game.
Jabarie Hinds, UMass (via West Virginia): With Chaz Williams graduating, the West Virginia transfer will be inserted into a back court with returning starter Derrick Gordon and key reserve Trey Davis in what could end up being a three-guard set for the Minutemen.
Keith Hornsby, LSU (via UNC Asheville): Matched up with JuCo transfer Josh Gray in the back court, Hornsby gives the Tigers size at 6-foot-4 and a 3-point threat.
Stanton Kidd (via North Carolina Central) and Antawn Scott (via Grambling) Colorado State : Outside of San Diego State, the rest of the Mountain West is wide-open. The addition of Kidd and Scott can help the Rams separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Jermaine Lawrence, Manhattan (via Cincinnati): The former five-star recruit is a big addition to a Manhattan team looking to return to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season.
Antoine Mason, Auburn (via Niagara): Only national player of the year Doug McDermott scored more points than Mason (25.6 ppg) last season, as the former Niagara standout joins fellow transfers K.C. Ross-Miller and Cinmeon Bowers this season for the Tigers.
Ahmad Starks, Illinois (via Oregon State): Senior guard Tracy Abrams tearing his ACL made the addition of Starks and Seton Hall shooter Aaron Cosby all the more important. Starks will be asked to run the offense this season in his first and only year with the Illini.
*TaShawn Thomas, Oklahoma (via Houston): The 6-foot-8 forward is still waiting on a waiver to play this season. Would make the Sooners a real threat in the Big 12.
Gonzaga landed a huge transfer on Sunday afternoon as USC leading scorer and wing Byron Wesley committed to head coach Mark Few and the Zags, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The news was first reported by ESPN‘s Jeff Goodman.
The 6-foot-5 Wesley averaged 17.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game for the Trojans last season and will be immediately eligible to play for the Zags in the 2014-15 season. Wesley shot 46 percent from the field and 33 percent from the three-point line while also knocking in 71 percent from the charity stripe last season. Wesley amassed 1,167 career points in three seasons at USC.
With the addition of Wesley, it gives Gonzaga a wing scorer that they desperately needed to pair with the backcourt tandem of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr.. Center Przemek Karnowski also returns for the Zags, and with that trio and the addition of Wesley, it gives Few four players that averaged double-figures in scoring last season.
Gonzaga also adds Kentucky transfer and former McDonald’s All-American Kyle Wiltjer at forward and a talented incoming class that includes point guard Josh Perkins, guard Silas Melson and power forward Domantas Sabonis.