Thursday, September 27, 2012

WCC: Gonzaga Looks to Dethrone St. Mary's and Reclaim the Title

The long wait will soon be over when the first official NCAA basketball game of the 2012-13 season will tip-off on Nov. 15. Some of our favorite players have moved on the ranks of professional athletes, new recruits have been polishing their games in gyms with recognizable logos on the court, and schools have switched conference allegiances. Through a series of conference previews, the BDD crew will do its best to prepare you for the next 4.5 months of collegiate hoops.

Will Gonzaga or St. Mary's again claim a conference title, or will a darkhorse steal the show in 2012-13? (
Gonzaga had a stranglehold on the West Coast Conference, winning 11-straight conference titles until St. Mary’s knocked the Zags off the throne last season. What makes the storyline even better? The two are heated rivals; one has claimed dominance over the conference and the other is looking to make the same jump the Zags have made from March Madness Cinderella to a team expected to make a run every year.

Add BYU into the mix in its second year in the league and the WCC is not a mid-major conference to be reckoned with. The league is top-heavy, but Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and BYU all have the potential to be dangerous in March. Here’s how we think the WCC will shape up this season.

Conference Champion - Gonzaga
Sophomore Kevin Pangos will be a key member of the Zags 2012-13 campaign. (
Gonzaga lost a powerful inside presence in Robert Sacre, but the Zags have the talent and experience to reclaim the conference crown. If there’s one thing the WCC does well, it’s recruit international talent. Worldwide recruiting is what’s going to help replace the loss of Sacre, as the Bulldogs brought in 7-foot Polish star Przemek Karnowski. Gonzaga also has conference player of the year candidate, Elias Harris, and Sam Dower, who was sensational coming off the bench last season, in the post. The Bulldogs will also have strong guard play with sophomores Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, 13.6 and 10.4 ppg last season respectively, now having a full season of experience under their belts. The Zags play four Big 12 teams (West Virginia, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State) and Butler in the non-conference schedule, which will give the team valuable experience heading into conference play.

Darkhorse Team to Watch - Loyola Marymount
Don't sleep on Loyola Marymount to make a run at the WCC's top teams. (
Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and BYU take up most of the conversation at the top of the conference standings, but don’t be surprised if Loyola Marymount fights its way into one of the top three spots. The Lions finished fourth in the league last season, but just a game behind BYU for third with an 11-5 conference record. Head coach Max Good’s team was never an easy win for opponents, with only one of the five conference losses coming by more than 10 points (to Gonzaga in Spokane). The 21-13 Lions also defeated UCLA on the road and St. Louis at home in the non-con, showing the team can compete with NCAA Tournament teams. Loyola Marymount lost its second leading scorer in Drew Viney, but guard Anthony Ireland returns as the team’s leading scorer with 16.1 ppg last season. The Lions are a strong fundamental team, shown in the fact they were the No. 1 free-throw shooting team last year (73.8 percent), and third in field goal percentage defense, steals and turnover margin.

Player of the Year - Matthew Dellavedova (St. Mary’s)

Dellavedova is the ultimate playmaker for the Gaels. (
WCC opponents cringe when Dellavedova has the ball in his hands. The senior point guard from Australia is the face of the team, and will be even more valuable after the loss of senior Rob Jones, who averaged a double-double of 15 points and 10.8 rebounds per game last season. You can look at the stats; that Dellavedova averaged 15.5 ppg and 6.4 assists, and had 10 games of 20 more points (and a season high of 27), but more importantly, Dellavedova is clutch. The Aussie wants the ball in his hands when the games are tight, and he often delivers with big shots and plays to either keep St. Mary’s alive or put the game out of reach. Dellavedova is an excellent 3-point shooter who is also not afraid to drive to the basket and initiate contact. He spent his summer playing on the Australian National Team in the 2012 London Olympics, where he competed against some of the best players in the world. That’s pretty good experience before starting a senior season of college.

Newcomer of the Year - Przemek Karnowski (Gonzaga)

Prezemek Karnowski should make an immediate impact on Gonzaga's post game. (
The 7-foot Polish player has been compared to Memphis Grizzlies forward Marc Gasol and was labeled an “McDonald’s All-American-type recruit.” Duke, Kansas and Marquette were all interested in Karnowski, but Gonzaga won the sweepstakes, and Karnowski looks to make an instant impact. Karnowski has the skills necessary to play Division-I basketball, but part of the reason why he could be successful early is that he fits well with Gonzaga’s personnel and scheme. Center Robert Sacre is gone and now an LA Laker so Karnowski should be able to slide into that 5-man spot. He also has a similar game to Sacre, who had a successful collegiate career. Karnowski will post up on the block and use move and fakes to get to the bucket, and can also hit the turnaround shot. The Zags also have forwards Harris and Dower, who both have good mid-range jumpers and can drive to the basket. Gonzaga should be able to spread the floor and give Karnowski room to work in the lane. The big man is also a solid passer, which could prove costly to opponents who double team him in the paint.

Coach of the Year - Rex Walters (San Francisco)
Rex Walters has a difficult task replacing four starters from a last season. (
Mark Few (Gonzaga) and Randy Bennett (St. Mary’s) will always be in the conversation for WCC Coach of the Year with the success their teams have had. But the award is for best coaching job, which usually means finding success after overcoming obstacles. Walters' team posted a respectable 20-14 season (8-8 in the WCC) a season ago, which included a one-point win over Gonzaga. The obstacle in building on last season came when Walters lost six players to transfers and two to graduation. The transfers included Perris Blackwell, the second leading scorer on the team a season ago and an Honorable Mention All-WCC selection. The Dons are returning only one starter (point guard Cody Doolin) and six players total. Walters’ top recruits (small forward Tim Derksen and center Matt Christiansen) will have to learn quickly and contribute immediately. If Walters can get his essentially new team to buy in quickly and match or exceed last year’s record, he will have to be considered for the conference’s coach of the year.

Follow @BeatsDimesDrive on Twitter

No comments:

Post a Comment