The West Coast Conference tournament in March will be a nine-team affair, as the University of the Pacific announced Thursday that it was self-imposing a postseason ban for this season. This is one of the penalties the school handed down to its men’s basketball program in response to an ongoing NCAA investigation into academic misconduct.
The Tigers are currently playing without head coach Ron Verlin and assistant Dwight Young, as both were suspended by the school December 11. The school did not announce the length of the suspensions, so it remains to be seen when the coaches will return to their respective positions.
Pacific also announced that the program will lose a total of six scholarships over the next three years, and there will be limitations on recruiting as well.
“This is a difficult decision to make, but it seems clear that Level I violations have occurred, and thus immediate actions by the university are warranted,” Pacific Athletic Director Ted Leland said in the release. “Taking these actions at this stage demonstrates our steadfast commitment to integrity and fair play, and serves as a crucial step for moving the program forward.”
The WCC has yet to put together a bracket for the 2016 conference tournament. Last season seeds seven through ten played in the first round of the tournament, with the winners advancing into the quarterfinals to take on the top two seeds (1 vs. 8/9 winner; 2 vs. 7/10 winner). With that being the case, it would be easiest for there to be just one first round game (8-seed vs. 9-seed) with the winner taking on the top seed in the quarters.
Alec Wintering ends Portland’s three-game losing streak with a three as time expires (VIDEO)
Heading into Thursday’s home game against Pacific, Portland had lost three straight WCC games and five of their last six. So it’s safe to say that the Pilots needed to turn things around against the visiting Tigers, and they were able to do so thanks to guard Alec Wintering (13.7 ppg, 5.6 apg), who’s the team’s leading scorer.
Wintering scored seven of his eight points in the second half of Thursday’s game, with the final three coming on a three-pointer as time expired. Kevin Bailey led the way offensively for the Pilots with a game-high 21 points, and forward Thomas van der Mars added 17 to go along with eight rebounds. Dulani Robinson scored 17 off the bench to pace the Tigers.
The win was a big one for Portland, not only because of the rough patch noted above but also because of who’s next on the schedule. Portland hosts Saint Mary’s, which should be motivated by the beating they took in Spokane against No. 3 Gonzaga, on Saturday and then they’ll visit the Bulldogs next Thursday.
WCC Midseason Catchup: No. 8 Gonzaga leads the way
College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.
Today we’ll be taking a look at the WCC, with conference play set to begin Saturday.
MIDSEASON WCC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Haws, BYU
The 10-3 Cougars have four players averaging double figures, with one of the nation’s best scorers in Haws leading the way. Averaging 22.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, Haws is shooting 48.6% from the field, 41 percent from three and 88.6% from the foul line.
THE ALL-WCC FIRST TEAM
Tyler Haws, BYU
Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga: Few transfers in America have been as productive as Wiltjer (16.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg) has been for the Bulldogs.
Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s: Waldow’s averaging 21.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, shooting 55.5% from the field.
Stacy Davis, Pepperdine: Davis (16.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.2 apg) is a big reason why the Waves are off to a 7-3 start.
Kyle Collinsworth, BYU: Averaging 14.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game, Collinsworth is the WCC’s most versatile player.
THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED
1. Gonzaga should be respected as a Final Four contender. Mark Few’s Bulldogs are ranked eighth nationally with an 11-1 record, with their lone defeat coming in overtime at No. 3 Arizona. Gonzaga’s front court, which features Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis, has been very good and the addition of Byron Wesley on the wing has helped as well. Add in senior Kevin Pangos, and the Bulldogs enter league play with five players averaging at least ten points per game.
2. Anson Winder’s been an impact reserve for BYU. To this point in the season Winder has been the most improved player in the WCC, as he’s gone from averaging 6.5 points and 1.8 rebounds per game in 2013-14 to 14.7 points and 4.2 rebounds per contest for the Cougars. And after reaching double figures in ten games last season, Winder’s already done so in 11 of BYU’s 12 games in 2014-15. Haws and Collinsworth are going to do the “heavy lifting” for BYU offensively, but the production of Winder and Chase Fischer (13.7 ppg) has been important for Dave Rose’s squad.
3. Offensive balance will continue to be key for Portland. Eric Reveno’s Pilots are off to a 9-3 start to the season, and one reason for the start has been their balance. Four starters, led by guards Alec Wintering (11.7 ppg) and Kevin Bailey (11.5), are averaging at least 10.2 points per game. However Bailey’s missed time with a left foot injury, and it remains to be seen just how long the Pilots will play without their sixth man. Until then, freshman D’Marques Tyson (8.3 ppg) will be asked to step forward in his reserve role.
THREE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW
1. Gonzaga’s point guard depth. With Josh Perkins (broken jaw) out since late November and possibly redshirting, Pangos has spent even more time on the ball. With his experience having Pangos run the show is no problem at all, but who steps forward to give him a rest or allow Pangos to look for his offense off the ball on occasion? One thing to keep in mind here is the addition of Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan, who becomes eligible in early January. In 12 games at Vanderbilt last season, McClellan averaged 14.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.
2. The development of BYU’s front court. This became even more important when Nate Austin went down with a torn hamstring, thus leaving the Cougars without much in the way of experience in the paint. Players such as Luke Worthington, Isaac Neilson and Corbin Kaufusi have been asked to step forward, and they’ve all had their moments in the games since Austin’s injury. Austin’s numbers (3.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg) don’t jump off the page but he is BYU’s best big man when it comes to rebounding (Kyle Collinsworth leads all Cougars with 8.1 rpg), so the sooner he returns the better.
3. How many NCAA tournament bids will the WCC receive? Gonzaga’s a lock barring an epic collapse, and BYU looks to be in solid shape as well with their home win over Stanford looking better thanks to the Cardinal winning at Texas. But can the WCC earn more bids? Saint Mary’s has a win at Creighton on its resume, and they’ve also defeated two teams in New Mexico State and UC Irvine that should contend for their respective league titles, but that loss to Northern Arizona doesn’t help matters.
1. Gonzaga loses no more than three conference games for the 17th consecutive season. The Bulldogs will be challenged in conference play, especially on the road with a game at BYU opening things up Saturday. But this is a rather safe prediction to make given their track record. And they’ll once again win the WCC regular season title in the process.
2. Pepperdine will finish in the top half of the WCC. The Waves haven’t shot the ball as well as they would like, ranking eighth in field goal percentage and ninth in three-point percentage. But they’ve been good defensively, which is an important development for a team looking to account for the graduation of WCC Defensive POY Brendan Lane. Look for Stacy Davis and company to finish higher than seventh, which is what the league coaches predicted in October.
3. The WCC gets two NCAA tournament bids. While the story line to follow leaves open the door for Saint Mary’s, two bids seems likely for the WCC with Gonzaga and BYU being the recipients. Will Gonzaga have a shot at earning a one-seed for the second time in program history? By the time we get to late February, that may be the biggest NCAA tournament-related question for the WCC.