2013-2014 WCC Preview: Can anyone challenge Gonzaga?

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The 2012-13 season had the makings of a special one for the WCC entering the NCAA tournament, with Gonzaga sitting atop the national polls and the top seed in the West Region. But things didn’t work out as many hoped, with Wichita State knocking off the Bulldogs on their way to the Final Four. But that loss shouldn’t erase the fact that Mark Few’s program won 32 games, and overall the 2012-13 season was a good one for the WCC. Santa Clara won the CBI, and both BYU (NIT semifinals) and Saint Mary’s (NCAA Round of 32) played in the postseason as well.

In 2013-14 the conference looks for more postseason success, and with the number of quality guards in the WCC there’s a good chance of that happening. Gonzaga’s still the favorite thanks to their prolific backcourt, but the amount of talent in the conference makes another undefeated run through league play unlikely.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Pacific (Big West)
Out: None

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. The newest member is also the lone school with a new head coach: Pacific makes the move from the Big West to the WCC, and they’ll be doing so without longtime coach Bob Thomason. Thomason announced his retirement before last season, and that combined with it being their final season in the Big West made the Tigers’ run to the NCAA tournament all the more special. Now the job belongs to Ron Verlin, who has to replace three starters from last season’s team including point guard Lorenzo McCloud.

2. Gonzaga loses key contributors inside, but the Bulldogs are loaded on the perimeter: With Elias Harris out of eligibility and Kelly Olynyk now with the Boston Celtics head coach Mark Few has two large holes to fill in the front court. But he isn’t without experience thanks to the return of Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski. Add in one of the nation’s best backcourts led by Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. (they also add Providence transfer Gerard Coleman) and the Bulldogs should once again be the favorite to win the WCC.

3. If healthy Loyola Marymount can be dangerous: Last season was absolutely brutal for the Lions, as Max Good’s squad managed to win just one WCC game during the regular season. But Anthony Ireland is back, and a talented recruiting class that includes high-scoring guard Nino Jackson has the potential to make the Lions a factor after struggling so mightily last season. Here’s the problem: health is already an issue this year. Ayodeji Egbeyemi (10.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Godwin Okonji are out indefinitely following a car accident.

4. Year two (for him, at least) in the WCC has the potential to be very good for BYU’s Tyler Haws: After returning from his two-year LDS mission Haws didn’t miss a beat, averaging 21.7 points per contest and becoming the second player in school history to score 1,000 points or more in his first two seasons. The other: Jimmer Fredette. With Haws and Matt Carlino on the perimeter and a front court that includes veteran Nate Austin and freshmen Eric Mika and Luke Worthington, Dave Rose’s Cougars may be the biggest threat to Gonzaga.

(MORE: Read Raphielle Johnson’s story on Tyler Haws’ return to BYU)

5. Saint Mary’s won’t have a bare cupboard, but it’ll be tough to account for the intangibles provided by Matthew Dellavedova: The fact that the Gaels can lose a player of Dellavedova’s caliber and still be considered a contender in the WCC speaks to the program head coach Randy Bennett has built. With Stephen Holt and Brad Waldow back Saint Mary’s will once again be a factor, but who provides the boost supplied by Dellavedova for the last four years?

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PRESEASON WCC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Haws (BYU)

In 2012-2013, Haws didn’t look like a player that had just returned from a two-year LDS mission in the Philippines, leading BYU with an average of 21.7 points per game while also accounting for more than four rebounds per contest. With Brandon Davies (17.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg) out of eligibility there will likely be even more opportunities for Haws in 2013-14.

THE REST OF THE WCC FIRST TEAM:

  • G Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga): One of the best shooters in the country, Pangos will lead the way for the WCC favorite.
  • G Anthony Ireland (Loyola Marymount): LMU should rebound from a disappointing 2012-13 with Ireland (20.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.6 apg) leading the way.
  • F Ryan Nicholas (Portland): An honorable mention All-WCC selection, Nicholas (13.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg) will be asked to lead the way for the Pilots.
  • F Cole Dickerson (San Francisco): Dickerson (15.2, 9.8) led the WCC in rebounding in 2012-13, posting 13 double-doubles for the Dons.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • C Przemek Karnowski (Gonzaga)
  • G Johnny Dee (San Diego)
  • G Evan Rocquemore (Santa Clara)
  • G Cody Doolin (San Francisco)
  • G Stephen Holt (Saint Mary’s)

BREAKOUT STAR: F Stacy Davis (Pepperdine)

Davis proved to be the best freshman in the WCC last season, posting averages of 11.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. And with leading scorers Lorne Jackson (13.6 ppg) and Jordan Baker (11.4) gone, Davis will be needed to do even more as a sophomore. Look for Davis to be one of the WCC’s best front court players.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Eric Reveno (Portland)

After three straight seasons of 19 or more wins the Pilots have hit a rough patch, winning a total of 18 games over the last two seasons. But now the Pilots have some experience, with Ryan Nicholas and Kevin Bailey leading the way. And with underclassmen Alec Wintering and Bryce Pressley doing a solid job of running the show during their summer trip to Europe, Portland may be better equipped to deal with some of the better backcourts in the WCC. If this proves to be the case, Portland will be fine.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …: Once again multiple teams reach the NCAA tournament, but can any get to the second weekend?

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: The number of high-level guards in the WCC.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • February 8, Gonzaga at Memphis
  • November 11, BYU at Stanford
  • November 30, San Diego at New Mexico
  • December 7, BYU vs. UMass (in Springfield, Mass.)
  • December 21, Gonzaga vs. Kansas State (in Wichita, Kan.)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Gonzaga: Losing Harris and Olynyk hurts, but the Zags have an outstanding backcourt. If Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower hold their own inside, the Bulldogs will repeat as WCC champs.
2. BYU: In Haws the Cougars have not only the best scorer in the WCC but one of the best scorers in the country. But the wild card is Matt Carlino. If he’s consistent BYU will be Gonzaga’s biggest threat.
3. Saint Mary’s: With Stephen Holt and Brad Waldow back the Gaels should’t slip much despite the graduation of Matthew Dellavedova. The question with Dellavedova gone is who supplies the intangibles he provided.
4. Loyola Marymount: Last season was a brutal one for the Lions, with injuries being a major factor. If fully healthy LMU can surprise some people, but that’s proven to be a big “if”; two key pieces are alread recovering from injuries in a car accident.
5. San Diego: The backcourt tandem of Christopher Anderson and Johnny Dee deserves more national attention. The question: how big of a leap can WCC All-Freshman Team selection Jito Kok make inside?
6. San Francisco: Rex Walters’ squad should be a factor in the midsection of the WCC thanks to the presence of seniors Cody Doolin and Cole Dickerson. And WCC All-Freshman Team selection Tim Derksen will be a solid contributor as well.
7. Portland: The Pilots have one of the better front court players in the WCC in senior Ryan Nicholas. If guard Kevin Bailey can continue to make progress (11.4 ppg last season) Portland is capable of finishing higher.
8. Santa Clara: This prediction may turn out to be low, because even with the graduation of Kevin Foster and Marc Trasolini the Broncos still have Evan Rocquemore. But those are two big losses the Broncos will have to address.
9. Pacific: New head coach Ron Verlin wasn’t left with a bare cupboard, but this may be the wrong year to enter the WCC for the Tigers. They’ll be formidable however, with seniors Tony Gill and Sama Taku leading the way.
10. Pepperdine: Forward Stacy Davis has the potential to be a first team All-WCC player this season, but the Waves lost a lot of experience on the perimeter. And given the caliber of guards in the WCC, this may be the wrong year to be young in the backcourt.

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

Saul Young/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.