2014-15 Season Preview: Who is Gonzaga’s biggest threat in the WCC?

1 Comment
source:
Gonzaga’s looking to win yet another WCC title (Getty Images)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the West Coast Conference.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

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.

source:
BYU’s Tyler Haws (AP Photo)

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)
  • November 23, UC Irvine at Saint Mary’s
  • November 17, SMU at Gonzaga
  • December 3, San Francisco at Colorado

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @WestCoastConvo

PREDICTED FINISH

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.

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

Saul Young/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK
2 Comments

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

tennessee basketball
Saul Young/USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

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

michigan state basketball
Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports
3 Comments

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

virginia tech basketball
Erica Denhoff/Getty Images
2 Comments

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
0 Comments

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.