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.
2014-15 Season Preview: Who is Gonzaga’s biggest threat in the WCC?
After seeing their streak of 11 straight WCC regular season titles (shared or outright) come to an end in 2011-12, Mark Few’s Gonzaga Bulldogs have won the last two conference titles. And given the talent that’s in Spokane, the expectation in the WCC is that the Bulldogs will extend their new streak to three in 2014-15. But to think that Gonzaga won’t be challenged at all in the WCC would be a mistake, with there being multiple teams capable of running with Bulldogs, including BYU, San Francisco and Saint Mary’s. In recent years the WCC has developed into a conference that will receive multiple NCAA tournament bids, and that should once again be the case in 2014-15.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. Just one coaching change in the WCC: Only one program changed coaches at the end of last season, with alumnus and experienced coach Mike Dunlap replacing Max Good at Loyola Marymount. Dunlap has experience as a head coach at both the Division I, filling in for Steve Lavin at St. John’s, and NBA levels. But this job sets up to be a difficult one, with Anthony Ireland out of eligibility and WCC All-Freshman Team selection Gabe Levin deciding to transfer.
2. Kyle Collinsworth returns from a torn ACL: One of the biggest pre-NCAA tournament storylines in March was BYU’s loss of Collinsworth, who suffered a torn ACL in the WCC title game against Gonzaga. BYU was still in the field of 68 but they were without their best playmaker in the loss to Oregon. How close to 100 percent is Collinsworth? That’s the key question entering this season as BYU looks to dethrone Gonzaga, even with this potentially being Dave Rose’s deepest teams.
3. Gonzaga returns three starters, and they add some very good pieces as well: The Bulldogs’ most important personnel loss was center Sam Dower, but they’ve got more than enough talent to account for his graduation. Guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. return for their senior season, and they’ll be joined by newcomers such as USC transfer Byron Wesley, Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan (eligible in January) and freshmen Josh Perkins and Silas Melson. As for the front court, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis pair up with starting big man Przemek Karnowski. Depth, talent, experience…Gonzaga has it all.
4. Nine of the league’s top ten scorers return: The only loss in this area is Loyola Marymount PG Anthony Ireland, who finished the season second in the WCC in scoring. Tyler Haws leads the way amongst WCC returning scorers, as he averaged 23.2 ppg last season, and Santa Clara guards Jared Brownridge (17.2 ppg) and Brandon Clark (16.9) were the highest-scoring tandem in the conference.
5. Transfers will have an significant impact on the conference title race: Given Gonzaga’s stature this goes without saying, with Wesley and Wiltjer both factoring into the rotation for Mark Few. But they aren’t the only contender looking to transfers for production. BYU will have Chase Fischer (Wake Forest) competing for minutes in a deep backcourt, and Saint Mary’s will expect significant contributions from Joe Coleman (Minnesota), Aaron Bright (Stanford) and Desmond Simmons (Washington).
PRESEASON WCC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Haws, BYU
In the two seasons since he’s returned from his LDS mission, Haws has established himself as one of the nation’s best shooters (and scorers). Last season Haws accounted for 23.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, shooting 46.3% from the field, 40.4% from three and 88.1% from the foul line. Having won WCC Player of the Year honors last season, it would come as no surprise if Haws repeated that feat as a senior.
THE REST OF THE ALL-WCC FIRST TEAM:
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: One of the nation’s best shooters, Pangos averaged 14.4 points, 3.6 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game as a junior.
Stacy Davis, Pepperdine: Davis averaged 15.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in WCC play, earning first team All-WCC honors.
Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s: Waldow’s been a mainstay in Moraga the last couple of years, and as a junior he shot 56.5% from the field and posted eight double-doubles.
Jared Brownridge, Santa Clara: Brownridge was one of the most productive freshmen in the nation in 2013-14, averaging 17.2 points per game and winning WCC Newcomer of the Year honors.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Kyle Collinsworth, BYU
Kruize Pinkins, San Francisco
Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
Jeremy Major, Pepperdine
Johnny Dee, San Diego
BREAKOUT STAR: Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
The name is well-known based upon his time at Kentucky, but Wiltjer’s role will be far different in his first season as a Bulldog. Wiltjer will be a primary scoring option for Gonzaga, and that season spent on the sidelines should benefit him greatly. Wiltjer wasn’t placed on the WCC preseason all-conference team which is understandable given the fact that he didn’t play last year, but that won’t be the case in March.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Eric Reveno, Portland
After winning 19 games or more in three straight seasons (2008-11) the Pilots have finished below .500 in each of the last three campaigns. The good news for Portland is that their top two scorers, preseason All-WCC selection Thomas Van Der Mars and guard Kevin Bailey, return from last year’s group that finished 15-16 (7-11 WCC). Another piece of good news for the Pilots: they won’t play more than three straight road games in league play. Last season, Reveno’s Pilots played their last four regular season games on the road.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : Gonzaga looks poised to make a run deep into the NCAA tournament.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The depth at the guard positions in this league. There are a lot of talented perimeter players in the WCC this season, which will make for some fun nights in conference play.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
December 6, Gonzaga at Arizona
November 24, BYU vs. San Diego State (Maui Invitational)
1. Gonzaga: The Bulldogs are loaded with offensive weapons, but how far the go in March will depend upon the progress made defensively.
2. BYU: Tyler Haws is one of the best players in the country, and Dave Rose has what could be his deepest team at BYU.
3. Saint Mary’s: Graduate transfers Aaron Bright (Stanford) and Desmond Simmons (Washington) bring additional experience, as does former Minnesota guard Joe Coleman.
4. San Francisco: Rex Walters lost his two most productive players in Cole Dickerson and Avry Holmes, but the Dons won’t lack for talent.
5. Portland: The tandem of Van Der Mars and Bailey could potentially push Portland into the top half of the WCC.
6. San Diego: The Toreros have one of the better backcourt duos on the west coast in Christopher Anderson and Johnny Dee, but they need Jito Kok to bounce back from an underwhelming sophomore campaign.
7. Pepperdine: Stacy Davis receives a lot of the pub when it comes to the Waves, but guard Jeremy Major can play as well.
8. Santa Clara: Guards Jared Brownridge and Brandon Clark are the leaders for a young team that could still be one year away from a major jump in the standings.
9. Pacific: The Tigers were a senior-laden group in their WCC debut. That won’t be the case this season, with sophomore guard T.J. Wallace among those expected to step forward.
10. Loyola Marymount: Given the personnel losses and the transition to a new system, this could be a tough year for the Lions in Mike Dunlap’s first season at his alma mater.
After playing 17.5 minutes per contest in 33 games this past season, guard Aaron Short has left the program in what was termed by both Short and head coach Ron Verlin as a “mutual” parting of ways according to Jagdip Dhillon of the Stockton (Calif.) Record.
Short posted averages of 4.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game for the Tigers, who finished the 2013-14 season with an 18-16 overall record (6-12 WCC). Pacific reached the semifinals of the CollegeInsider.com tournament. And according to Verlin’s quotes in the story, there were apparently some issues off the floor that led to Short leaving the program.
Verlin said he had no issues with his on-court performance, but he wanted a greater commitment from Short regarding always being on time and not missing class as a senior and he didn’t get it.
“He’s a great kid and absolutely, he could have stayed here,” Verlin said. “But I can’t change my core values for one player and I’m going to hold you to a high standard because you’re supposed to be a leader as a senior. How can I count on you when the chips are down, when you can’t do the little things I ask of you?”
In the story Short noted that he feels he can give more to another program on the court, as he was a reserve for the Tigers last season. Short’s best offensive performance came in Pacific’s home win over BYU in mid-February, a game in which he scored 11 points in 22 minutes of action.
Short is expected to graduate by August, which would make him eligible to receive a graduate transfer waiver at another Division I school. Short’s departure means that the Tigers will be even younger than expected, with their eight-member recruiting class sure to have ample opportunities to earn immediate playing time.
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.
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.
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.
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
2. San Francisco
5. Saint Mary’s
7. Santa Clara
8. San Diego
9. Loyola Marymount