2011-2012 WCC Preview: Strongest mid-major conference this year?

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AWARDS

Player of the Year: Elias Harris, Jr., Gonzaga

Picking the WCC Preseason Player of the Year was not a simple task, as the conference brings back a ton of talent, including seven of the ten players named to the all-conference team. Harris wasn’t one of those seven, as the 6’8″ combo-forward struggled through his sophomore campaign, seeing his numbers dip across the board. There were a number of reasons for this — Harris was battling a shoulder injury during the offseason and an achilles injury all year, Gonzaga struggled to find consistent ball-handling and play-making, and Robert Sacre continued to develop as a front court presence. I picked Harris simply because there isn’t a more talented player in the league. He has the potential to be a first round pick whenever he decides to go pro. He’s too strong and explosive in the post to be defended by WCC small forwards, but he’s a bad matchup for power forwards because of his perimeter ability and the fact that he is a dangerous three-point shooter. If he is healthy, he should regain the explosiveness and conditioning that made him such a matchup problem as a freshman. Harris is the most talented player in the conference, and I’m not sure its even close. The question is whether or not he returns to and improves on his freshman year form.

And a close second goes to…: Matthew Dellavedova, Jr., St. Mary’s

Like picking the Player of the Year, this was not an easy decision based on the amount of talent in this conference. I went with Dellavedova here because A) I think that if St. Mary’s is going to compete for the WCC title, Dellavedova is going to have absorb the play-making and leadership roles left open by Mickey McConnell’s graduation and B) I think that St. Mary’s is, in fact, going to compete for the WCC title. I love Dellavedova’s game. He’s a relatively unathletic, play-making combo-guard with an awkward looking jump shot and an even more awkward haircut, but he still manages to post impressive numbers. He was second in the conference in assists last season despite playing on the same team as the conference’s leader in assists. And while its tough to give him the edge over teammate Rob Jones, who will be the heart and soul of this season’s Gael team, I think Dellavedova will be the more important piece.

Breakout Star: Anthony Ireland, So., Loyola Marymount

I really wanted to go with Gonzaga’s Sam Dower or Stephen Holt of St. Mary’s here, but in an effort to try and spread around some of the love, I’ll take LMU’s Anthony Ireland as the breakout star of the WCC. Ireland had a terrific and promising freshman campaign, playing his way into the starting lineup and averaging an impressive 10.6 ppg and 3.0 apg. He really came on at the end of the season as well, hitting for more than 20 points in two of the Lion’s last four games. As a sophomore, this is going to be Ireland’s team to take control of. Drew Viney will be the star, but with Vernon Teel out of the picture, Ireland will take the reins in the back court. And while that record is ghastly — 11 wins, 2-12 in the WCC — LMU was not nearly that bad. They lost seven of the nine games that were one possession differences or went to overtime. They still have the majority of the talent that made them a trendy pick for second in the league. I fully expect them to be better next season, and Ireland will be a major reason why.

All-Conference First-Team:

POY: Elias Harris, Jr., Gonzaga
G: Matthew Dellavedova, Jr., St. Mary’s
G: Kevin Foster, Jr., Santa Clara
F: Rob Jones, Sr., St. Mary’s
F: Drew Viney, Sr., Loyola Marymount
C: Robert Sacre, Sr., Gonzaga

All-Conference Second-Team:

G: Mike Williams, Jr., San Francisco
G: Nemanja Mitrovic, Sr., Portland
G: Rashad Green, Sr., San Francisco
G: Evan Roquemore, So. Santa Clara
C: Brandon Davies, Sr., BYU

Four summer storylines

– Marc Trasolini tears his acl: This was less of a story line as it was an isolated event, but regardless, Santa Clara losing Trasolini for the season is a big deal. The Broncos lost a number of important pieces this offseason — to transfer, graduation, and Europe — but with their big three of Kevin Foster, Evan Roquemore and Trasolini returning, this was a team that many had pegged as a sleeper to make a run at a top three finish in the league. Without Trasolini — who injured his knee playing an exhibition on a team trip to his hometown of Vancouver — SCU will head into the season without a proven front court player.

– Why does Gonzaga have so much roster turnover?: Anyone that has been paying attention to the Gonzaga hoops program will have noticed that over the past two years, there have been a multitude of players leaving the program. In fact, thanks Bud Withers of the Seattle Times, we know the precise numbers — of the 13 players that Mark Few has signed in the three classes that are currently sophomores, juniors, and seniors, seven have left the program. That includes this offseason, as Demetri Goodson transferred to Baylor to play football, Manny Arop transferred to Indiana State and Keegan Hyland left and eventually ended up at Fairfield.

The question this left folks asking is why? Why does Gonzaga have such turnover? Why is this happening at a program whose head coach is as firmly entrenched as any in the country? Is this a sign that there is something wrong with the program, or that it has fully reached the status of high-major, with kids opting to transfer out instead of waiting their turn to play and/or being recruited over? The one thing that is certain is that this hasn’t exactly had a negative effect on the program. Last year was a “down year” for Gonzaga, and they still managed to win a share of the WCC regular season title (something they have done every season since 2000), with the WCC Tournament title, and win a game in the NCAA Tournament.

– San Diego’s point-shaving scandal: Back in April, the college basketball world was rocked when news leaked that two former Toreros — including Brandon Johnson, the program’s all-time leader in points and assists — and a former assistant coach were arrested for their alleged involvement in a scheme to fix the outcome of games. Apparently, Johnson influenced the outcome of a game in February of 2010 and conspired to get another player to influence a game in January of this past season. Johnson plead not guilty to the charges

– Brandon Davies gets reinstated: Back in late August, BYU finally ended almost six months of speculation by announcing that Brandon Davies would be allowed back into school and onto the basketball team. If you’ve forgotten, Davies was suspended last March for violation BYU’s honor code by, reportedly, having premarital sex with his girlfriend. The importance of Davies to the Cougars cannot be understated. With so much leaving in the form of the graduation of Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery, losing Davies may have left the Cougars in the bottom half of the WCC this season.

Four storylines to follow this season

– How long is BYU going to be in the WCC?: Conference expansion in college sports is all about football, but its effect on hoops is far from negligible. The WCC is a perfect example of that. Due to BYU’s interest in becoming an independent on the gridiron, the WCC was able to add a program that is probably one of the nation’s 50 best over the last decade. That’s never a bad thing, especially for a school like St. Mary’s. Sure, it may be more difficult to finally win a conference regular season title, but that poor strength of schedule that cost the Gael’s two NCAA Tournament trips in the past three seasons is going to be helped immensely.

But conference expansion is far from over, and one of the rumors that has persisted throughout the past couple of months is that the Big 12 has a heavy interest in adding BYU. If BYU does, in fact, head to the Big 12, it means that their stopover in the WCC may end up being as short as a single season. Whether or not that actually happens is far from clear — does anyone actually have any rock-solid info when it comes to realignment? — but it will be a story to keep an eye on.

– Which Elias Harris will we get?: After his freshman season, Harris shocked folks when he announced that he would be returning to Gonzaga. He had a legitimate shot at being picked in the lottery. But as a sophomore, Harris was no where near the same player. Between an offseason shoulder injury and an early-season achilles injury, Harris was put on some weight, got himself out of condition, and lost some of his explosiveness — three things that made him highly-regarded by NBA folks. So which Harris shows up this year? Will he be back in shape, dominating the paint and creating mismatches with front lines around the country? If he is, than Gonzaga has to be considered the favorite to win the conference.

– Will there be more tournament teams this season than in 2008?: Back in 2008, the WCC peaked. Not only did they send three teams to the NCAA Tournament, thanks to San Diego’s epic run through St. Mary’s and Gonzaga to the WCC Tournament title, but that same Torero team knocked off UConn in the first round of the tournament. At the time, the league wasn’t a stranger to getting at-large bids — the was well into Gonzaga’s reign atop the conference — but for the team that came in second to also earn an at-large bid made a statement. Now, with the addition of BYU, the WCC has three programs — Gonzaga and St. Mary’s the other — that head into the season with the expectation, not the hope, of making the NCAA Tournament. But could there be more?

Its a possibility, but it would require a couple of things to happen. For starters, the WCC will have to clean up in non-conference play. Raising the league’s RPI makes everyone look better. The other thing that will likely have to happen is that someone from outside of the big three will need to earn the league’s automatic bid. There are some quality teams in this conference – San Francisco, Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount — but the likelihood of those schools earning an at-large bid is quite small. The odds of them getting hot for three games and making a run through the conference tournament is much higher.

– So is Loyola Marymount for real?: This team is tough to peg. There’s no question that they have talent on the roster, but talent isn’t going to guarantee wins when your team lacks chemistry, is ravaged by injuries and cannot win a close game. At least one of those issues will be solved heading into this season. Vernon Teel, who was diametrically opposed to getting along with the coaching staff, is gone. His talent will be missed, but sophomore Anthony Ireland should be enough to fill the void. Better chemistry and a better leader at the point should solve some of the problems in close games, as well. If this team stays healthy, the pieces are there for a run to the top half of the conference.

Power Rankings

1. Gonzaga: The Bulldogs had a weird year in 2010-2011. It began about as poorly as one can imagine. After being ranked in the top 15 in the preseason, they got off to a 4-5 start before finding themselves at 13-8 and 3-3 in the WCC, three games out of first place with just eight to play. Included in those losses? A 22 point whooping at the hands of Washington State and a 14 point loss at Santa Clara followed by an overtime loss at the hands of San Francisco. But once Mark Few solidified Marquise Carter as the fifth starter and David Stockton and Sam Dower as his first two players off the bench, Gonzaga took off, winning 10 in a row to take home a share of the regular season title and win the WCC tournament championship. But then after beating St. John’s, the Zags were stomped by a Brandon Davies-less BYU team in the second round of the Big Dance.

Gonzaga will, once again, have the look of a top 25 team in 2011-2012 despite some significant roster turnover. Steven Gray graduated while both Demetri Goodson and Manny Arop transferred out of the program. The good news, however, is that Mark Few does return a loaded front line, led by Elias Harris and Robert Sacre. Harris struggled as a sophomore after a promising freshman campaign that had his name being mentioned as a potential lottery pick. Some of that was an achilles injury that limited his explosiveness. If he can return to freshman year form — or improve on it — he’s a potential Player of the Year in the WCC. Sacre has slowly developed into one of the best big men on the west coast. He does a little bit of everything — scoring in the paint, rebounding, blocking shots — and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him continue to develop as a senior. The Zags are deep up front as well. Sam Dower is a potential game-changer off the bench, an active and athletic power forward that really came on strong late in the year. Kelly Olynyk can stretch the floor with his ability to shoot and can hold his own on the glass. The perimeter is more of a question mark. Sophomore point guard David Stockton — yes, that’s John’s son — was a steadying force late in the season, and while he plays smart basketball and can run the team, he’s not an overwhelming playmaker. Senior Marquise Carter, however, has the potential to be. Gonzaga’s late-season surge came when he was moved into the starting lineup, and he had a couple big games down the stretch. Carter can do a lot of things — shoot, drive, find assists — but he will need to become more consistent in his production. The third perimeter spot will be up for grabs. Sharpshooting Mathis Monninghoff started eight games but couldn’t get off the bench at the end of the season. Mathis Keita earned some starts as well, but he, too, couldn’t keep his minutes. Will freshman Gary Bell, the jewel of a six-man recruiting class, start immediately? There’s a chance. Also, keep an eye on freshman Kevin Pangos, who should push David Stockton for minutes at the point.

2. St. Mary’s: It may be hard to believe, but for St. Mary’s, a season in which they won their first share of the WCC conference title in 14 years was a major disappointment. The magnitude their collapse down the stretch — an unacceptable loss to San Diego, losses to Gonzaga and Utah State that would have sealed an tournament trip, and another loss to Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament finals — should tell you how good of a season the Gaels had for three months just to manage a share of the WCC title. In mid-February, they were 22-4 and 10-1 in the WCC, holding a two game lead with three games left while playing sensational basketball. Their season ended fittingly, with WCC Player of the Year Mickey McConnell missing a game-winning layup at the buzzer in the first-round of the NIT against Kent State.

While McConnell has moved on to the professional level, Randy Bennett’s club returns the rest of their roster from 2010-2011. Matthew Dellavedova will take the reins of this team as a junior and he should be primed for a big season as the feature guard in Randy Bennett’s offense. He will likely be joined in the back court by sophomore Stephen Holt, a highly-regarded recruit when he entered the program that had a couple of impressive performances late in the season. Jorden Page missed most of last season with a knee injury. He had a couple of big games in the WCC Tournament two seasons ago and should provide a spark off the bench. Same with Paul McCoy, a transfer that averaged 13.4 ppg as a freshman in 2008-2009. In the front court, Clint Steindl and Rob Jones will start at the forward spots. Steindl is a lanky, 6’7″ sharpshooter at the small forward spot while Jones, despite standing just 6’6″, is the team’s second-leading scorer and best rebounder. He’s more of a combo-forward than a pure power forward, but Jones plays with a mean streak. Kenton Walker got 26 starts last season, but only played 15 mpg. Mitchell Young actually played more minutes that Walker and averaged double figures off the bench. Tim Williams and Northwestern transfer Kyle Rowley will also be in the front court rotation. If Dellavedova and Jones embrace the role of the leader, youngsters like Page and Holt develop into big-time players and the Gael’s front court plays well, this is a team that has the potential to make a lot of noise; not just in the WCC, but on a national level.

3. BYU: While BYU’s storybook season was dulled by the suspension of starting center Brandon Davies in March, it shouldn’t put a damper on what was one of the most memorable years in college basketball in the last decade. Much of that credit is due to the play of Jimmer Fredette, the superstar with unlimited range, a vicious crossover, and a goodie-two-shoes image that made Tim Tebow look like Marlo Stanfield. But with the graduation of Fredette and a couple of other very important pieces and BYU’s move to the WCC for hoops, Dave Rose will, essentially, have a brand new program to work with in 2011-2012.

Not only does BYU lose The Jimmer next season, they well also be playing with out Jackson Emery and Kyle Collinsworth, who will be on his Mormon mission. What that means is that Rose is going to have to build his club around Davies, who recently was officially reinstated to the BYU program. Davies is a quality post presence, able to score on the block with a variety of effective-but-awkward post moves. Davies will be joined on the front line by Noah Hartsock, a senior with the ability to stretch the floor thanks to his jumper, and Chris Collinsworth, who will hopefully be back to 100% after battling through a knee injury and eventually having surgery in January. Throw in Stephen Rogers, a junior reserve, and the crop of freshmen bigs Rose signed, and BYU will have a solid front line, although it would be nice to see that group develop a bit of a mean streak. The perimeter is where the question marks lie. Jimmer and Emery rarely left the court, and when either one did, Kyle Collinsworth was usually the player that slid down to the two. Senior Charles Abouo is back, but he is a small forward that isn’t known for his ability to handle the ball. That leaves a trio of freshmen. Anson Winder, who redshirted last season, and Damarcus Harrison, a true freshman, will initially be relied upon to handle back court duties until UCLA transfer Matt Carlino is able to get himself eligible. How good Carlino ends up being will likely be the determining factor in whether or not BYU wins the WCC.

4. San Francisco: The Dons are in a very good position heading into the 2011-2012 season. Not only is this a team that finished 10-4 in the league last season — just a game behind both Gonzaga and St. Mary’s — they also bring back essentially their entire team, losing only Moustapha Diarra and Marko Petrovic. It didn’t take long for Rex Walters to turn around this program, as he now has USF in a position to legitimately be considered a threat to win the conference title.

The Don’s strength will be in their back court this season. It starts with Mike Williams and Rashad Green, their two leading scorers from a season ago and all-WCC members. Green has about four inches on Williams (who is listed at 6’0″), but is the better playmaker. Williams is a better scorer and more of a consistent three point threat. The back court will be held together by Cody Doolin, a freshman point guard who was forced into a starting role due to another season-ending knee injury to Dominique O’Conner in the second game of the season. Doolin proved to be a very capable WCC point guard with the potential to develop into an all-league caliber playmaker. With a healthy O’Conner and sophomores Charles Standifer and Avery Johnson joining that group, the Dons may have the second best perimeter attack in the league. Inside, losing Moustapha Diarra will hurt their depth. He was big and he produced — 7.8 ppg in just over 17 mpg. But with Perris Blackwell and Angelo Caloiaro back, the Dons will have a solid inside-outside duo. Blackwell is better around the rim while Caloiaro is more of a face-up four, although he does get to the glass at a solid rate. It will be nice if he shoots better than 32.7% from three or takes fewer than five per game, however. 6’9″ German sophomore Justin Raffington will be one of the guys counted on to provide depth in the front court. The WCC will be tough up top, and its always interesting to see how a team handles expectations (see Loyola Marymount last season), but San Francisco should be in the mix atop the WCC all year long.

5. Santa Clara: The Broncos had a terrific year in 2010-2011. They won 23 games, they finished fourth in the WCC and they were able to win a postseason title, beating Iona on the road for the CIT championship. And while Kerry Keating’s club lost two starters and a couple of bench players, the fact that they were returning their big three of Kevin Foster, Marc Trasolini and Evan Roquemore had them being picked as a potential sleeper in the WCC. That was until Trasolini blew out his knee in August.

We already talked about the loss of Trasolini above, so let’s focus on what Santa Clara does have. It starts with their back court, as Foster, a senior, and Roquemore, a sophomore, form a terrific tandem. Foster is one of the most potent scorers in the country, averaging over 20 ppg as a sophomore. Foster can be streaky. He shoots a ton of threes — exactly 10 per game last year — and when he gets hot, watch out. He went for 25 or more points 12 times, including a 36 point outburst in a win against Gonzaga in January. Roquemore is more of an all-around player and a much better creator, but he has the ability to explode as well, going for 30 points in SCU’s win over USF in the CIT. Robert Cowels looks to be in line to start the the three, but the Bronco’s back court depth will more than likely be entirely freshmen. The front court is going to have a ton of question marks without Trasolini. Junior Niyi Harrison and sophomore Jon McArthur are really the only returners, but redshirt freshman Yannick Atanga and true freshman Robert Garrett, a seven-footer, were both highly-rated recruits in high school. At least two players out of that group are going to have to develop into solid contributors this season for the Broncos to have a real shot at finishing in the top four of the league.

6. Loyola Marymount: Last season was disastrous for the Lions. They had a roster stocked with talent and a buzz heading into the season, which is why they were picked by quite a few people to contend with St. Mary’s for the second spot in the conference. But the year ended up being a disaster. The Lions were plagued by injuries, their star guard Vernon Teel couldn’t find a way to get along with the coaching staff, and LMU ended the season with just 11 wins, finishing in last place in the conference at 2-12. One thing that I am positive of is that Loyola was not as bad as their record indicated last season. As a team, its hard to argue with the results, but there was — and still is — plenty of individual talent on that roster.

The issue this season is going to be A) keeping that talent on the court and out of the training room; B) developing team chemistry, which is just as important as talent; and C) winning close games — they were just 2-7 in one possession and overtime games last year. Nine of the 11 players Max Good started in more than one game last season return, including the five guys that were starting by the end of the season. The centerpiece of this team will be forward and 17.2 ppg scorer Drew Viney. (Ed. Note: Of course, the day after we originally posted this preview, Viney had to go and get surgery on his foot.) He’ll be joined up front by sophomore Godwin Okojoni, who was starting by the end of the year in place of Edgar Garibay, another sophomore. Garibay is a big-bodied, 6’10” center that will hopefully be healthy this season. The athletic Ashley Hamilton will also play a big role, while LaRon Armstead and Tom Diedrichs should see minutes up front as well. Anthony Ireland really came on down the stretch of his freshman campaign and should develop into a quality starting point guard. He’ll be joined in the back court by sophomore Ayodeji Egbeyemi, who was able to start by the end of his freshman season because Jarrod DuBois had his year cut short by injuries. With both Teel and Larry Davis gone this year, LMU’s back court may have some depth issues. The Lions have the talent to make a push for a top four finish in the conference, but will all the pieces come together?

7. Portland: The success that Eric Reveno has had in Portland is a perfect example of why the WCC looks primed to be one of the best mid-major conferences in the country for a long time coming. Despite playing in a league that includes three perennial tournament teams in Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and now BYU, Portland has steadily been competitive, not only in the league but nationally as well, despite losing important pieces that past two offseasons. This year will be the test. After losing four starters from the 2009-2010 season, Portland appeared to be a challenger for the league title early in the season before road struggles during conference play derailed that bid. They finished .500 in league play, ending up fifth, right where everyone expected them to be. But their 20 wins and invitation to the CIT should tell you that their season was more successful than it appears on paper.

This season, Portland will once again be forced to deal with the graduation of quite a bit of talent. Leading scorer Jared Stohl graduates, as does the league’s leading rebounder in Luke Sikma and a four-year starter for the Pilots in center Kramer Knutson. The Pilots should be able to handle the loss of Stohl in stride as they have plenty of perimeter talent. Nemanja Mitrovic proved to be just as dangerous of a three-point marksmen, hitting 46.3% of his triples while shooting more than Stohl on the season. Senior Eric Waterford started 23 games at the point, while junior Derrick Rodgers, sophomore Tanner Riley and freshman Kevin Bailey — who was a highly regarded recruit — should all contribute this year. But the x-factor may end up being sophomore Tim Douglas, who earned a spot in the starting lineup late in his freshman campaign. He played well in the nine games he started, leading Portland to a 6-3 record which includes a 26 point, five rebound, four assist performance in a 15 point win over St. Mary’s. Portland lost both games prior to his insertion in the lineup as well as the last three games of the season, which Douglas missed with a foot injury. The front court is a much, much bigger question mark. Only two players that saw any action return — sophomores Ryan Nicholas and Riley Barker, who played a combined 17.1 mpg last year. A couple of freshman will be thrown in the mix as well — John Bailey, Thomas van der Mars, and Dorian Cason. Will any of those five players be able to step up and replace the production and leadership lost with Sikma and Knutson?

8. Pepperdine: Tom Asbury’s second tenure didn’t go quite as well as his first, when he built the Waves into the premiere program in the WCC in the early 90’s. To get a feel for how poorly Pepperdine performed, think about this — the Waves were 12-21 overall and 5-9 in league play while have two of their players, including star Keion Bell, suspended midway through the season, and this was the most successful year in Asbury’s three year reign. Asbury is now gone — along with Bell and second leading scorer Mychel Thompson — but all hope is not lost for Pepperdine.

Clearly, losing a player of Bell’s caliber is less than ideal, but having a player of Bell’s caliber that does not buy into to the concept is just as bad. Case in point — Pepperdine was 6-14 with Bell on the roster last season; they were 6-7 without him. The bigger loss may actually be Mychel Thompson, Klay’s younger brother, who was the team’s leading scorer after Bell left. This season, new head coach Marty Wilson will center his offensive attack around Lorne Jackson, a senior guard that turned into a legitimate go-to scoring threat late in the year, averaging 20.8 ppg in the last five games. Junior Joshua Lowery looks like he might be the answer at the point after solidifying the position as a sophomore. Throw in senior Dane Suttle, junior Caleb Willis, and a couple of newcomers, including touted freshman Jordan Baker and Norweigan JuCo transfer Nikolas Skouen, and Pepperdine has a decent blend of talent and experience on their perimeter. The starters in the front court will most likely be the senior duo of Taylor Darby and Corbin Moore, who both have some size and plenty of experience but lack upside in terms of potential. Those two will combine with sophomore Jan Maehlen and freshman Ramon Eaton, who are going to have to provide minutes even if they aren’t quite ready. The front court will be an issue, but if Pepperdine can get some solid perimeter play out of Jackson and Lowery, than I don’t think a .500 WCC season is out of the realm of possibility.

9. San Diego: Bill Grier had such an incredible start to his tenure at San Diego. He went 11-3 in the league, he knocked off both St. Mary’s and Gonzaga en route to the WCC Tournament title and then he went on to beat UConn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t get much better than that. And it also doesn’t get much worse than where the program has ended up since then. They won 16 games — and just six in the conference — the following season, seeing those numbers drop all the way to six wins and just two leagues wins last year.

San Diego’s prospects don’t look all that much better for this season. They have a young roster — eight freshmen and two sophomores — and lost two of their top four scorers from last season. There are a couple of bright spots, however. Darian Norris, a JuCo transfer playing his first season as a Division I point guard, proved that he is capable of playing at this level of basketball. He’ll be the only senior of the USD roster next year. The Toreros also have a solid front line. Chris Manresa, a junior, averaged a respectable 7.3 ppg and 5.4 rpg while Chris Gabriel went for 7.5 ppg and 3.4 rpg. Gabriel has the potential to be a real force in the WCC, but he needs to get control of his weight. He’s currently listed at 285 — which is down from the 310 he was listed at as a sophomore — but weight isn’t the only factor when it comes to conditioning. Gabriel only managed to stay on the court for 15 mpg last year. There are some decent freshmen coming in — including redshirt frosh Ben Vozzolla and point guard Chris Anderson — but they will take some time to develop. Expect another year at the bottom of the league.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Three Things To Know: Shaka’s seat heats up, Baylor survives, Virginia doesn’t

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It was a slow night for college hoops on Monday, but there is still plenty to talk about after some weird results.

Here are the three things you need to know:

1. SHAKA’S SEAT IS HEATING UP

The Shaka Smart era at Texas feels like it has hit an inflection point.

On Monday night, the Longhorns went into Morgantown, W.V., and found themselves wishing Country Roads would take them home before the first half came to a close. No. 14 West Virginia, coming off of blowout loss at Kansas State on Saturday, used a 28-2 run over a 10 minute stretch in the first half to turn a 15-13 lead into a 43-15 blowout. They would go on to win 97-59.

The loss dropped Texas to 12-6 on the season and 2-4 in the Big 12. The Longhorns certainly are not out of it just yet — three of their four Big 12 losses came against teams that currently rank in the top six at KenPom — but it’s getting harder and harder to defend the situation that’s brewing in Austin. Texas has now lost four of their last six and five of their last eight. They are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the second straight season and for the third time in four years.

But perhaps the biggest concern is that the Longhorns just don’t seem to be growing as a program. Last year, while Texas ended up missing the tournament, they finished as a top 25 team on KenPom and made a run all the way to the NIT title. It’s worth noting that before the tournament started, they were already a top 30 team on KenPom; their ranking wasn’t skewed by getting hot for three weeks in a tournament no one cares about.

The problem this season is that there has been no progression. Texas has been a program under Shaka that has hung their hat on defense, but this is the worst defensive team he has had in his tenure. That becomes even more of an issue when you factor in that they cannot score. They’re 111th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, which is what happens when your offense is, essentially, a spread ball-screen into a contested three.

KenPom has Texas favored to win just three more games the rest of the season. They’re projected to finish 17-14 overall and 7-11 in the Big 12.

That’s not good.

2. NO. 1 BAYLOR SURVIVES

It looked like Baylor was going to cruise to a pretty easy win at home against Oklahoma, but the Sooners had other ideas. They hung around long enough in the second half to make things interesting late. Oklahoma hit back-to-back threes in a 40 second span to cut a 59-51 lead to 59-57 with 41 seconds left, and after Baylor couldn’t find a way to score on their next possession, Austin Reaves cut off a 3-on-1 break to flare to the corner and fire up a wide-open, go-ahead three with less than five seconds left.

He missed.

Baylor won.

And No. 1 lived to fight another day.

3. VIRGINIA LOSES AGAIN

The reigning national champions lost for the fourth time in their last five games on Monday night, this time falling at home against N.C. State, 53-51.

Like Oklahoma, Virginia had a shot to win the game at the buzzer, as N.C. State fouled up three and then missed free throws of their own at the other end. But Virginia is the 346th-best three-point shooting team in the country for a reason, and Casey Morsell missed the game-winner as time expired.

At this point, it’s getting harder to see how Virginia is going to find a way to play their way into the NCAA tournament.

Chris Mack: David Johnson’s shoulder ‘is fine’

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The biggest concern coming out of Louisville’s win at Duke on Saturday evening was the status of David Johnson’s shoulder.

Johnson was the best player on the floor for Louisville, finishing with 19 points, seven assists, four boards, three steals and two blocks as the Cardinals landed a much-needed win in Cameron. But with three minutes left in the game, he landed on his surgically-repaired left shoulder and had to leave the game. He returned to the bench, but he did not return to the game.

Head coach Chris Mack did not seem overly concerned about the injury after the game, and he confirmed as much in a conference call on Monday.

“The shoulder is fine,” Mack said. “He’s just a little sore, but he’ll practice the next couple of days and we fully expect him to play on Wednesday.”

Bracketology: Welcome to the top line, San Diego State

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Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

Welcome to the top line, San Diego State.  The Aztecs join Baylor, Gonzaga, and Kansas as No. 1 seeds in our latest bracket update.  SDSU remains the only unbeaten team in college hoops, buoyed by wins over tournament teams Iowa, Creighton and BYU.

The West-leaning geographical slate of top seeds means someone has to go East.  As SDSU is the fourth overall seed, that adventure belongs to them.  Several additional power conference teams are pushing for the top line, too – including Florida State, Michigan State and surging Seton Hall.  And let’s not forget about Louisville, a preseason top seed.  The Cardinals put together an impressive road win at Duke on Saturday.

The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: January 20, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Virginia Tech vs. Georgetown
WEST REGION NC State vs. VCU
SOUTH REGION  PR VIEW-AM vs. NORFOLK ST
WEST REGION MONMOUTH vs. ST. FRANCIS (PA)

SOUTH Houston                           WEST – Los Angeles
Omaha Spokane
1) BAYLOR 1) GONZAGA
16) PV-AM / NORFOLK ST 16) MONMOUTH / ST. FRANCIS (PA)
8) Arkansas 8) Illinois
9) Memphis 9) HOUSTON
Tampa Sacramento
5) Colorado 5) Arizona
12) EAST TENNESSEE ST 12) NC State / VCU
4) Maryland 4) Iowa
13) S.F. AUSTIN 13) NEW MEXICO ST
St. Louis Greensboro
6) Marquette 6) Michigan
11) NORTHERN IOWA 11) Saint Mary’s
3) LOUISVILLE 3) Duke
14) NORTH TEXAS 14) LITTLE ROCK
Albany Spokane
7) Wisconsin 7) LSU
10) USC 10) Oklahoma
2) SETON HALL 2) Oregon
15) WILLIAM-MARY 15) UC-IRVINE
EAST – New York MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Sacramento Omaha
1) SAN DIEGO STATE 1) Kansas
16) RADFORD 16) MONTANA
8) Rutgers 8) Indiana
9) STANFORD 9) Florida
Albany Cleveland
5) Kentucky 5) Creighton
12) LIBERTY 12) YALE
4) Villanova 4) DAYTON
13) AKRON 13) VERMONT
Greensboro St. Louis
6) Penn State 6) Auburn
11) Virginia Tech / Georgetown 11) BYU
3) West Virginia 3) Butler
14) COLGATE 14) WRIGHT STATE
Tampa Cleveland
7) Ohio State 7) Wichita State
10) DePaul 10) Texas Tech
2) Florida State 2) MICHIGAN STATE
15) AUSTIN PEAY 15) NORTH DAKOTA ST

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
USC Virginia Tech Purdue Washington
DePaul NC State Minnesota Saint Louis
Saint Mary’s Georgetown Arizona State St. John’s
BYU VCU Xavier Richmond

Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …
Big Ten (10)
Big East (7)
ACC (5)
SEC (5)

Big 12 (5)
Pac 12 (5)
American (3)

West Coast (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (1)

AP Poll: Baylor leapfrogs Gonzaga, seventh No. 1 team this season

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Here is the latest college basketball AP Poll.

For those interested, here is the NBC Sports Top 25.

Baylor and Gonzaga were the only two teams in the top five that took care of business last week.

That doesn’t mean they didn’t move around, too.

The Bears (15-1) leaped over the Bulldogs and into the No. 1 spot in college basketball AP poll on Monday, using wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma State to give the Top 25 its seventh team on top this season. That matches the record set in 1983 for the most No. 1s in the history of the poll, which dates to the 1948-49 season.

Gonzaga (20-1) was merely a victim of its conference schedule. The Bulldogs blew out Santa Clara and BYU, but just enough voters considered those wins to be less impressive than the Bears’ perfect Big 12 start. Baylor received 33 first-place votes and had 1,591 points from the 65-member media panel while Gonzaga received 31 first-place votes for 1,588 points.

“It takes a team to win,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team also reached the top of the poll two years ago. “As a coach, you’re just really proud when different people step up, especially guys that have been working hard.”

The rest of the top five looks a whole lot different after Duke, Auburn and Butler all lost both of their games last week.

Kansas (14-3) rose three spots to No. 3 in the college basketball AP poll after victories over Oklahoma and Texas, the latter requiring a big comeback in Austin. San Diego State (19-0) remained perfect with wins over Fresno State and Nevada, and Florida State (16-2) barged into the fifth spot after it beat reigning national champion Virginia and survived overtime to best Miami.

The Seminoles haven’t lost since playing Indiana in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge the first week of December.

Louisville, which tasted the top spot earlier this season, jumped five spots to sixth after beating Pittsburgh in overtime and handling the Blue Devils. Dayton was next, followed by Duke, Villanova and Seton Hall to round out the top 10.

Duke also lost to Clemson earlier in the week, sending coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team tumbling five spots.

“We just have to get older,” he said after the Blue Devils’ 79-73 loss to the Cardinals on Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. “I’m really up on my team. It’s a long journey. I’ve never told you that we’re great. It’s a process for us, playing these two teams. Getting beat, we have to learn from it and move on. It’s a long journey.”

Krzyzewski’s team wasn’t alone in getting a tough lesson last week. Fourth-ranked Auburn fell all the way to No. 16 after losing a pair of blowouts to Alabama and Florida, and fifth-ranked Butler was bounced all the way to 13th after the Bulldogs followed up a loss to Seton Hall by getting soundly beaten by DePaul.

“It’s the time of the year when we should be trying to elevate our play, and we’re not,” said Tigers coach Bruce Pearl, whose team had won its first 15 games. “Obviously, there’s a pretty big price on our head being ranked fourth in the country. And so I think we have to respond to the step-up that we saw this week from both Alabama and Florida.”

Here is the full college basketball AP poll:

1. Baylor (33 first-place votes)
2. Gonzaga (31)
3. Kansas (1)
4. San Diego State
5. Florida State
6. Louisville
7. Dayton
8. Duke
9. Villanova
10. Seton Hall
11. Michigan State
12. Oregon
13. Butler
14. West Virginia
15. Kentucky
16. Auburn
17. Maryland
18. Texas Tech
19. Iowa
20. Memphis
21. Illinois
22. Arizona
23. Colorado
24. Rutgers
25. Houston

Others receiving votes: Wichita St. 94, LSU 83, Michigan 73, N Iowa 42, Ohio St. 36, Stanford 28, Wisconsin 28, Penn St. 24, Liberty 21, Florida 21, Arkansas 19, Virginia 13, Creighton 13, Duquesne 13, Purdue 9, ETSU 6, Indiana 6, Southern Cal 4, Marquette 2, BYU 2, Harvard 1.

Here’s a closer look at the other big news in another fresh Top 25:

RUTGERS ON THE RISE

The Scarlet Knights bounced back from a loss to Illinois by beating Indiana and Minnesota at home, running their record at the RAC to 13-0 this season — the best start in school history. That was enough to get Rutgers (14-4) into the poll at No. 24 for the first time since the final poll of the 1978-79 season. And with Seton Hall at No. 10, the state of New Jersey has two teams ranked for the first time since the Pirates were joined by Princeton in the last poll of the 1990-91 season.

OTHER NEWCOMERS

Iowa, which has been in and out of the poll all season, made the biggest jump back in at No. 19 after its win over then-No. 19 Michigan. The Hawkeyes were joined by No. 22 Arizona — which beat a ranked team in Colorado — and No. 25 Houston, which romped through SMU and then-No. 16 Wichita State last week.

ON THE WAY OUT

The Shockers dropped all the way out after losing to Houston and Temple. The Wolverines also fell out, along with Big Ten rival Ohio State and Creighton, whose one-week stay ended with a loss early last week to Georgetown.

BUCKEYES BUMMER

No team has been falling as steadily as Ohio State, which was 9-0, was ranked in the top five and received first-place votes just six weeks ago. The Buckeyes have lost six of their last nine games, and five of their last six, to complete their tumble from the poll. Their lone victory in the last few weeks was against lowly Nebraska.

___

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25

Monday’s Overreaction: Myles Powell, Payton Pritchard, David Johnson and the two worst chokes of the year

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Myles Powell, Seton Hall

Seton Hall improved to 6-0 in Big East play this season with wins over Butler and St. John’s, but that doesn’t come anywhere close to telling the whose story here.

The Pirates trailed by double-figures at halftime of both of those games. Both of those games were on the road. They were down 40-30 at the break at No. 5 Butler, but Myles Powell came to the rescue, scoring 19 of his 29 points after the break to lead the Pirates to a 78-70 win.

Then on Saturday, Seton Hall trailed St. John’s 43-30 at the Garden at halftime, but Powell — again — took over, scoring 23 of his 29 points in the second half as Seton Hall remained perfect in the Big East.

It took him a while to get fully healthy, but now that he is, Powell is showing everyone why he is a favorite to win National Player of the Year.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

What Steve Pikiell has done with this Rutgers program should never, ever be overlooked.

After a week in which the Scarlet Knights beat both Indiana and Minnesota at the RAC, They are now sitting at 14-4 over and 5-2 in the Big Ten, good for second in the toughest conference in college basketball. They are 24th in KenPom, which is the highest that this program has ever ranked in the metric we all use the most when evaluating teams. They are 18th in the NET with a 2-3 mark against Quad 1 opponents and five Quad 1 and Quad 2 wins combined.

Put another way, Rutgers is very much in a position where missing the NCAA tournament this season would be something of a disappointment.

Now, it should be noted that this is when their schedule gets tough. They play at Iowa on Wednesday and still face off with Michigan twice, Maryland twice, Purdue twice and play at Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State. A home game against No. 24 Illinois is about their sixth-toughest game left on the schedule.

It won’t be easy.

But getting to 14-4 wasn’t easy in the first place.

MONDAY’S OVERREACTIONS

1. DAVID JOHNSON MAKES LOUISVILLE GREAT AGAIN

Louisville may have finally found an answer to their point guard problems.

David Johnson, a freshman from Louisville that has spent the season to date trying to get back up to speed after offseason shoulder surgery, had his coming out party in a big way on Saturday, going for 19 points and seven assists as Louisville went into Cameron and knocked off Duke.

That is incredibly important news for a Louisville team that has desperately been searching for a guy to do all of the things that Johnson did on Saturday night.

The way he scored those points is the most significant part of the equation. He broke down defenses. He dribbled right past Jordan Goldwire and drove the lane for a dunk. He created out of ball-screens. He handled Duke’s ball-pressure like he was playing against high school opponents.

And then there was the passing (see below):

 

This is what the Cardinals have been waiting for. It’s been a talking point all season long, and every time I have mentioned it, I have also mentioned that Louisville was just waiting to see if Johnson would ever get healthy. That staff believed he was a pro after getting him on campus, and anyone that watched him play on Saturday night would be inclined to agree.

If he can remain healthy and play somewhere close to this level for the rest of the season, then this Louisville team is much, much more dangerous.

2. PAYTON PRITCHARD IS A KILLER

The reason Payton Pritchard is one of the frontrunners for National Player of the Year is the fact that he is putting up terrific numbers this season for a top ten team and doing so while putting together some incredibly impressive performances in crunchtime.

Saturday might have been his statement game.

Oregon erased a 13-point second half deficit thanks in large part to Pritchard, who hit a huge three with a minute left to tie the game. In overtime, he hit a floater to give the Ducks the lead before burying this insane three to win the game with 3.2 seconds left:

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Payton Pritchard called game!!!!!!

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No. 8 Oregon avoided going 0-2 on the Washington road trip with a 64-61 win. Pritchard finished with 22 points. The Ducks are now 3-0 in overtime games this season largely due to the fact that Pritchard is arguably the most clutch player in college basketball.

Is there anyone that you would want taking a big shot in a big game more than him?

3. BAYLOR IS A KILLER, TOO

I talked about this in depth at the 19:00 mark of the podcast, but with the exception of an early season loss against Washington — I’ll get to that — the Bears have been arguably the best team in college basketball down the stretch of close games.

Whether it’s wins at Texas Tech, or Kansas, or Oklahoma State, Baylor has consistently been able to execute in situations where teams like Duke have not been able to execute. That is why they are sitting at No. 1 in the country right now and Duke has three losses to their name.

And as far as the Washington game is concerned, the Huskies play zone. Baylor was totally lost against that zone down the stretch. Oklahoma State played zone as well, and Baylor discovered the answer in the second half: Matthew Mayer. They plugged him in at the high post, and it launched a comeback.

So now they have an answer for that, too.

4. WE ALL SHOULD HAVE SEEN THIS WEEK COMING FOR AUBURN

Auburn entered this seek as one of just two undefeated teams left in college basketball, but there were question marks.

The Tigers don’t have a single win over a team ranked in the top 40 on KenPom. They have only played three Quad 1 games this season. Their only Quad 1 win is barely a Quad 1 win: It came at Mississippi State, who currently ranks 70th in the NET; the cutoff for Quad 1 road wins is top 75.

The other two Quad 1 games that Auburn has played this season?

They were both this week.

And they were both ugly losses.

On Tuesday, it was Alabama that ran over Auburn in the basketball version of the Iron Bowl, 83-64. On Saturday, it was Florida doing the damage, as they held Auburn to 25.5 percent shooting from the field, 4-for-23 shooting from three (17.4%) and to just a single point during an eight-minute stretch late in the second half that saw the Gators push their lead from 47-43 to 69-44. They won 69-47.

Suddenly, those concerns look prescient.

The truth is this: Auburn is dangerous. They are a team that can make a lot of threes, that can force turnovers and play in transition and has the ability to play big (with Austin Wiley) or small (without Austin Wiley). They have a lottery pick in Isaac Okoro and they have a couple of guards on their roster capable of taking games over in J’Von McCormick and Samir Doughty.

But they haven’t consistently played up to the level of a top five team, and their 15-0 record was inflated by feasting on teams that are just good enough to make us believe.

Auburn is still good.

They’re just not a top five team.

5. STANFORD AND UTAH STATE, WHO CHOKED WORSE?

Stanford was up 46-25 in the second half of their loss at USC on Saturday evening. They led by 15 points with less than 10 minutes left. They were up by five points with 15 seconds left and the ball out of bounds underneath USC’s basket, and not only did they find a way to lose that game in overtime, but they got lucky to actually get to OT. USC missed a free throw that could have won the game in regulation.

According to KenPom, USC had a 3.8% chance to win this game at the half, a 3.6% chance to win the game with 10 minutes left and just a 0.7% chance to win with 15 seconds left.

But that’s not as bad as what happened to Utah State.

The Aggies led 66-48 with less than 4:10 remaining. Boise State had a 0.3% chance of winning this game with five minutes left. Turnovers, fouls, missed threes. Utah State did it all, but they still led 73-67 with 15 seconds left, 75-70 with eight seconds left and 75-73 with three seconds left and the ball.

And they lost.

That just does not seem possible.