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Crumpacker: What We Learned, Nov. 16

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By John Crumpacker
#WCChoops Columnist

WHAT WE LEARNED – 11/16/15

Aside from the startling sight of coaches Mark Few and Jamie Dixon wearing cargo pants and combat boots, the biggest take-away of Friday’s Armed Forces Classic between Few’s Gonzaga Bulldogs and Dixon’s Pitt Panthers in Okinawa, Japan, was the fact the game should not have been played at all. At least not in that cracker box gym under those conditions.

Having been to Japan twice, I can attest to the humidity one encounters there. It can be downright staggering. However, I’ve never seen a patch of hardwood sweat before, which appeared to be the case in the fieldhouse at Camp Foster, where the game was called off at halftime with Pitt leading 37-35. The sight of Pitt’s James Robinson losing his footing due to the slick conditions and slamming face-first onto the court should have been enough to call the game then and there.

It was all well and good that Gonzaga and Pitt traveled thousands of miles to Okinawa to pay tribute to the U.S. military on Veterans Day weekend, but someone with a lot of stripes and a chest full of medals on his uniform at the base should have been paying attention to conditions in the gym and on the court, where a few future NBA players would be playing.

In short order, the Armed Forces Classic became the Floor Mop Classic.

Down by two at half, it would have been nice to see how Gonzaga might have responded in the second half of a competitive game. Forward Kyle Wiltjer led all players in the first half with 15 points as he appeared headed toward a productive game for the Zags. ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, for one, said Wiltjer has the potential to lead the country in scoring this season.

“We’re sorry,’’ Few told the audience of 3,000 fans after the game had been called. “We wished we could have finished the game. That’s what we wanted to do.’’

After traveling nearly 6,000 miles to play half a game, Gonzaga will try to put in a full 40 minutes on Wednesday in its home opener against Northern Arizona. The humidity in Spokane is expected to be a little less than it was in Japan, where the court was sweating like a sumo wrestler in a sauna.

WHAT WE LEARNED

It’s a little early for definitive WWL’s, but here goes:

  1. Gonzaga guards Eric McClellan, Josh Perkins and Silas Melson need to show they are worthy successors to Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Byron Wesley. It was Pangos who made the Zags go these last few years and his absence was noticeable in the first (and only) half against Pitt.
  2. It could be a long year for Santa Clara based on the team’s 0-3 start. Worse yet, all three defeats came at home in the Cable Car Classic: 65-63 to Lipscomb, 55-33 to Denver and 71-65 to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Jared Brownridge can only do so much.
  3. Uh-oh, BYU has another Kyle for opponents to worry about besides Kyle Collinsworth. Newcomer Kyle Davis, a transfer from Utah State, was named WCC men’s player of the week for his debut performance vs. Utah Valley: 17 points, 20 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 1 steal. It’s the most rebounds ever by a BYU player in a season opener. 

Stat line of the week
See Davis, Kyle, above. 

Aiming for 20
Marty Wilson won’t come out and say it, but there’s no doubt he’d like to see his Waves record 20 wins (or more) this season. The Pepperdine coach, now in his fifth season in Malibu, has had seasons of 10, 12, 15 and 18 victories, indicating steady progress. His best player, All Conference forward Stacy Davis, said one of his goals for 2015-16 was to crack “the 20-win plateau.’’

Wilson, however, wouldn’t go that far, saying, “I never predict how many wins. I always go into the season thinking we’re going to win every game until we lose. I’m not going to put a number on it. We won 18 games last year. The potential is there. I tell the guys we still have to win the games.’’

The week ahead
In the first full week of non-conference play, five games stand out from this vantage point largely because four of the five are on the road:

BYU at Long Beach State on Monday late night, San Francisco at Fresno State and Pepperdine at UCLA on Thursday night and Stanford at Saint Mary’s on Sunday night in Moraga. I’m especially interested in seeing how Pepperdine does on the “road’’ at Pauley Pavilion and how well the Gaels defend their home court against Stanford.

Having been a Bay Area resident for more than 40 years until recently, I bemoaned the fact that the lordly Pac-12 teams, California and Stanford, avoided the four WCC teams in the area, mostly out of fear of losing, and losing face. Good on the Cardinal for having the gumption to go to Moraga and face Saint Mary’s at McKeon Pavilion, sure to be packed and noisy.

The name game
Perhaps because my last name is Crumpacker, I’m always on the hunt for interesting names, first or last. Years ago, I produced All-Name teams in college football and basketball by scouring good old Street & Smith annuals until my eyes were reduced to red slits. More than 30 years on, a few names still stand out, like Nick Nurse, Nacho Albergamo and Largest Agbejimison.

Try as I might, I only found a few interesting names among WCC men’s basketball teams for 2015-16: Hunter Summy of San Diego, Munis Tutu of Loyola Marymount, Jett Raines of Pepperdine and Jazz Johnson of Portland. However, the Waves will welcome Knox Hellums next season and at Saint Mary’s, Jock Perry will join fellow Aussie Jock Landale to give the Gaels a couple of Jocks to go along with all those other student-athletes.

Speaking of which...
Forward Dane Pineau is one of six Aussies on the Saint Mary’s roster this season, meaning the pipeline from Down Under to Moraga is “as strong as ever,’’ Pineau said.

“Most of us have come through the Center of Excellence, which is what they’re calling it now,’’ Pineau said of the former Australian Institute of Sport. “It’s where the best talent in Australia goes. It’s a great place to go – great coaches and facilities.’’

With the Gaels having lost such stalwarts as Brad Waldow, Kerry Carter, Aaron Bright and Garrett Jackson, much more will be expected of the 6-foot-9 Pineau, who averaged a modest 3.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in a reserve role last season.

“I do need to be more of a leader on the team,’’ Pineau said. “I’m definitely prepared for it. Our coaches have been good in getting me to do the right things. I think we’re going to surprise people. … I’d like to be more aggressive on offense than I have been. My role is also to be a good defender.’’

John Crumpacker spent more than three decades working at the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. During his career he has covered the full gamut of sports from prep to professionals. Most recently, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for Cal through the end of the 2013-14 season. In addition to covering 10 Olympic Games, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for the San Francisco 49ers. He is a two-time winner of the Track & Field Writers of America annual writing award and has several APSE Top 10 writing awards.