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Crumpacker: What We Think - 12/30/15

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By John Crumpacker
#WCChoops Columnist 

COMPLETE CRUMPACKER ARCHIVES

For those with football overload on New Year’s Eve, we present the basketball contest between BYU and SAINT MARY’S as an attractive way to ring in 2016. With an 8 p.m. start at McKeon Pavilion, it’s also one of the last games to be played in calendar year 2015.

With BYU supporters throughout the WCC, McKeon should be a jam-packed, festive place to be with the Cougars playing their first conference game and the Gaels looking to build on their 2-0 start.

Saint Mary’s is one of the best long-range shooting teams in the nation, with three players sinking three-pointers at better than a .450 clip. Emmett Naar has been on a torrid pace behind the arc and is at .604. Two freshmen are joining the fun in guard Stefan Gonzalez (.511) and center Evan Fitzner (.452). Having a 6-foot-10 player like Fitzner so adept at treys leaves opponents in a quandary as to who should guard him, a backcourt player or someone on the frontline?

BYU, meanwhile, has plenty of skilled players, too, including the conference’s most versatile, some would say most valuable, player in 6-6 guard Kyle Collinsworth (see below for his impressive statistical output). He’s joined by rugged rebounder Kyle Davis (again, see below) and a pair of robust scorers in Chase Fischer and freshman Nick Emery. Fischer erupted for 41 points in a win over New Mexico on Dec. 23 at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, a game that was followed by a victory over giant-killer Northern Iowa.

Does that mean the Cougars are ready for WCC play?

“I feel really good. I feel we’re hitting our stride,’’ Fischer said. “It takes some time to get adjusted. Guys are fitting in with their roles. We feel really confident where we’re heading. Everyone is feeling well.’’

Fischer said BYU’s depth will allow the team to play a variety of tempos depending on the opponent, remarking, “This year is different because we have Kyle Davis. We’re more diverse. It’s spread out more. We can play the slow-down game and we can play fast-paced. We can attack in various styles. We have so many different lineups we can put in there.’’

The Cougars will have to put their best lineup out there on New Year’s Eve against a Saint Mary’s team that is 11-1 overall and looking to keep its conference record spotless. Sounds like a fine way to ring in the New Year, whether in person at the sauna that McKeon will surely be or watching on ESPNU in one of the last college basketball games of 2015.

Happy New Year!

After the first week of conference games for everyone but BYU and San Diego, which get started on Thursday, This is What We Think:

  1. Among the more than 300 Division I schools dribbling basketballs around the country, is there one coach who would not want to have BYU’s Collinsworth on his roster? I’m thinking no, unless there’s some coach out there that wouldn’t welcome a player who can literally do everything. This is not new, of course, but Collinsworth’s ability to fill out a stat sheet continues to be remarkable. In the WCC, he’s eighth in scoring (14.6), fifth in rebounding (8.4), first in assists (7.4) and first in steals (2.2).
  2. Portland is perhaps a surprising 2-0 in conference play behind the stellar play of guard Alec Wintering, the current Player of the Week averaging 16.2 points per game. Let’s see how the Pilots, 8-7 overall, handle their first conference road swing of the season as they visit San Francisco on Thursday and Santa Clara on Saturday. This is a good chance for Portland to show it deserves to be taken seriously in the top half of the WCC.
  3. The battle for scoring leader in the WCC is off to a lively start and should continue throughout the season. Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer leads at the moment at 20.2 per game, followed closely by Santa Clara’s Jared Brownridge at 19.9 and USF’s Devin Watson at 19.1. Of the three, Wiltjer is the steadiest and Brownridge is the most capable of pouring in 30-40 points on a given night.
  4. In the rebounding department, Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis and BYU’s Davis are waging a competitive duel for the conference lead in this most important category. Sabonis is pulling ‘em down at a 10.8 rate while Davis is a few boards behind at 10.6. 

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As a conference, the WCC was tied for fourth nationally in three-point field goal percentage, .3608, based on non-conference games. … With all of its sharpshooters, it’s no surprise that Saint Mary’s is first nationally in field goal percentage at .538 and first nationally in three-point shots for game at 10.6, again for non-conference games.

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.