Crumpacker: What We Think - 2/7/18
Big & Bigger games highlight seventh week of #WCChoops
By John Crumpacker, #WCChoops Columnist
OK, Gonzaga, let’s see what you’ve got. (As if the Zags have anything to prove with their long, sustained run of success.)
In truth, they do have something to prove. This week. Now.
Coach Mark Few’s team, ranked 12th nationally at 21-4, has the most difficult assignment in the WCC this week with a Thursday night game at improving Pacific and a much-anticipated rematch with No. 11 Saint Mary’s on Saturday night in the little toaster oven that is McKeon Pavilion. It’s the highest national ranking ever for the Gaels.
Pacific, under second-year coach and NBA veteran Damon Stoudamire, is no gimme. The Tigers are tied for third in the conference with BYU at 7-5 and are much improved over last season with transfers Jahlil Tripp and Roberto Gallinat. Moreover, for Pacific fans, Gonzaga represents the biggest home game of the season at the Spanos Center.
It would be a mistake for Gonzaga to look past Pacific to Saturday night’s biggie in Moraga.
This week represents a special challenge for Few to impart to his players the importance of preparing well for, and playing well at, Pacific, given how the Tigers have progressed from Year One to Year Two under Stoudamire.
But in the back of his players’ minds, there’s Saint Mary’s on Saturday night, the featured game of the year in the WCC. The Gaels dealt the Zags a rare home defeat last month and are 23-2 overall, 12-0 in conference and riding an 18-game winning streak, longest in program history. Gonzaga is hoping to defeat Saint Mary’s and move into a tie for first place in the conference.
However, that presupposes a win over Pacific in Stockton two nights earlier. Saint Mary’s, meanwhile, is at 2-10 Loyola Marymount on Thursday night and figures to beat the Lions, handily or otherwise.
In any event, Saturday night’s game in Moraga will mark the first game in WCC history between teams ranked in the top 15 nationally, making the 7 p.m. encounter on ESPN2 must-see TV for anyone keen on college basketball.
Saint Mary’s, that paragon of efficiency, has a lot going for itself. Center Jock Landale, the probable WCC Player of the Year, has seven 30-point games this season and has been named Player of the Week in the conference five times, one shy of the conference record of six held by Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison and LMU’s Bo Kimble.
Landale is so darn good, his best games are received with a ho-hum acceptance. Landale is a big reason Saint Mary’s leads Division I in field goal percentage, .524. Dealing him all those assists he needs is fellow senior Emmett Naar, second in the country in assists per game at 9.0 and first in total assists at 225, a Saint Mary’s single-season record.
Gonzaga counters with a ridiculously balanced lineup in which all five starters, and a key reserve, average in double figures. The Gaels cannot match the athleticism of Rui Hachimura and Johnathan Williams, but will their numbing efficiency prove superior in the end?
While San Francisco at BYU on Saturday afternoon is the designated Game of the Week in the WCC, everyone knows what the real game of the week, if not the game of the season, is.
What We Think
- The season cannot end soon enough for Pepperdine, which has spent 2017-18 as a metaphorical side of beef being pounded by Rocky Balboa. That’s another way of saying the Waves have been hit hard, and repeatedly, by injuries for the second season in a row. All told, 10 of coach Marty Wilson’s 13 scholarship players have missed at least one game to injury with a total of 59 player-games lost. Forward Nolan Taylor was lost earlier in the season to shoulder surgery while forward Kameron Edwards missed more than a month with a concussion.
- Nevertheless, there’s a ray of sunshine slicing through the dark clouds over Firestone Fieldhouse. Freshman guard Colbey Ross is the only Wave to have played in all 24 games to date. He’s the top freshman in the WCC in scoring (14.1 per game) and assists (5.5). If Pepperdine is going to rebound in 2018-19, Ross will be leading the way.
- San Francisco has a chance to shake things up in the top half of the WCC standings if it has a stellar week. The Dons are 13-12 overall and 5-7 in conference. If they handle 4-8 Portland at home on Thursday and spring an upset at BYU (18-7/7-5) on Saturday afternoon in the WCC’s Game of the Week, they would be 7-7 in conference play with two weeks remaining in the regular season. USF is a quirky team with a lineup of versatile players capable of making some noise. BYU, meanwhile, has proven to be vulnerable, as its five WCC defeats shows, despite big contributions from Yoeli Childs and Elijah Bryant.
Follow the three dots…
BYU’s Luke Worthington scored a career-high 16 points last week vs. Gonzaga and his 32 minutes of court time are also a career-best. … Worthington’s stellar teammate, Childs, has 12 double-double games this season, surely with more to come. Childs has a streak of scoring in double figures in 23 straight games. Yeah, the guy’s pretty good. … After leading Division I for the first half of the season, San Diego “slipped” to No. 2 in 3-point field goal percentage defense at .286. Parsimonious nevertheless. … Pacific recorded its first back-to-back WCC road victories (at Santa Clara, at Pepperdine) since rejoining the conference in 2013-14.
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. Crumpacker has been covering #WCChoops since the 2014-15 season.