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Crumpacker - What We Think - 2/10/16

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By John Crumpacker
#WCChoops Columnist 


If there’s one game to watch this week in the WCC, it has to be PEPPERDINE at SAINT MARY’S on Thursday night at 8. This one could help determine the top two seeds going into the conference tournament next month in Las Vegas.

Or not.

At 10-2 in conference, the Gaels are a half-game behind 11-2 GONZAGA while BYU is third at 8-4. Pepperdine, meanwhile, is coming off two home losses as it saw its undefeated mark at Firestone Fieldhouse come to an abrupt end and is now in fourth place at 7-6.

At stake for Saint Mary’s, beside its firm hold on second place, is its 15-0 home record at McKeon Pavilion this season. Coach Randy Bennett believes in playing most of his non-conference games at home in order to build momentum for the WCC season. It’s been a sound strategy.

However, Pepperdine has a little 2-0 streak going against Bennett. The Waves beat the Gaels 67-62 a year ago, in Moraga, of all places, and again on Jan. 9 in Malibu, 67-64. Let me go out on a big, fat sturdy limb and say the first team to 67 points wins.

In analyzing this key game, Pepperdine brings consistency while Saint Mary’s counters with a remarkable degree of efficiency.

Coach Marty Wilson has started the same lineup for 21 consecutive games, featuring old hands Stacy Davis and Jett Raines and the greatly improved Lamond Murray Jr. (see below). Davis needs just 32 points to pass Dane Suttle as the career scoring leader in Pepperdine history.

In a season unlike any other, the Gaels lead all Division I teams in field goal accuracy (.514) and assists-to-turnovers ratio (1.87), are second in scoring defense (59.3) and are third in three-point shooting (.424) and scoring margin (+17.1).

Given all that, with the Gaels playing in the cozy confines of McKeon, it will take quite an effort for Pep to win this game and deal Bennett’s team its first home loss of the season. But that’s why they play the games, and why we watch them.

Heading into mid-February with the regular season conference race still undecided, here’s What We Think:

  1. If the WCC had an All-Improved team, it would consist of these players: Murray Jr., Pepperdine; Emmett Naar, Saint Mary’s; Nate Kratch, Santa Clara; Devin Watson, San Francisco; and Alec Wintering, Portland. These are all returning players who are significantly better in 2015-16 than they were in 2014-15. Murray leads the Waves in scoring (15.6) and is also good for 5.1 rebounds per game. Naar is a deadeye shooting .517 from the field and .538 from three-point range while averaging 13.5 points, 6.2 assists and 1.4 steals. Kratch averages 10.0 points and 8.7 rebounds and is shooting .552. Watson leads the Dons in scoring (19.8) and assists (5.1). Wintering’s all-around game includes 19.0 scoring, 5.5 assists, 1.7 steals and .438 shooting on three-point shots.
  2. The soothsayer in me predicts, not exactly boldly, that three teams will finish with 20+ wins (Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, BYU), two will land at +.500 (Pepperdine, USF) and five will end up below .500 (Pacific, Portland, Santa Clara, San Diego, LMU).
  3. In the You-don’t-know-what-you’re-going-to-get Dept., we present BYU, Pepperdine and Pacific. These teams have been all over the map this season, from Sedro Wooley (that’s a town in Washington, not a person) to Mexican Hat (in Utah, so named because locals way back when could not spell ‘Sombrero’) and points in between. The Cougars and Waves have lost games they should have won while at 5-7, Pacific has been something of a sniper, picking off teams now and then. What wacky results do these three have in store the rest of the way?
  4. Speaking of which, BYU is at Santa Clara on Saturday afternoon in the WCC Game of the Week. Simply put, the Cougars need to pile up as many victories as they can if they hope to get a sniff come NCAA Tournament time. At this point, BYU would probably need to get to the WCC championship game on March 8 to have a shot at an invite. It’s not totally out of the question.

Follow the three dots...
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s as No. 8 seeds in his latest NCAA Tournament projection. Sounds about right. … Pep’s Davis is one of two players in program history to record 400 free throws in their careers. … Thanks to Pepperdine SID Roger Horne, we know that the Waves are averaging fewer turnovers per game (11.3) than at any point in the program’s history, or at least since 1972-73, when the stat was first kept. … Not that anyone is counting, of course, but Thursday’s Pepperdine-Saint Mary’s game will be the 933rd consecutive call of duty for radio/Internet play-by-play man Al Epstein, now in his 32nd season in Malibu.

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.