Crumpacker: What We Learned - 12/4/17
Zags, Gaels & Cougars rising to the top
By John Crumpacker #WCChoops Columnist
In the category of dog-bites-man stories, those situations that were anticipated and darn if they didn't turn out that way, Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary's are at the top of the WCC men's standings as teams forge ahead through their non-conference schedules.
No. 12 Gonzaga is 7-1 after losing an epic double-overtime game to Florida in the PK80 tournament. No shame in that. The Zags followed up with a home win over No. 25 Creighton as coach Mark Few either took the wraps off freshman guard Zach Norvell Jr. (see below) or lit a fire under his behind. That's all Gonzaga needs, another scoring option on what is already a deep team.
BYU and Saint Mary's are both 6-2 and look well prepared to remain in the upper tier of the conference. The Gaels should be even more formidable once sharpshooter Calvin (Headband) Hermanson gets going. He's averaging 15.4 points per game but has yet to put the kind of scoring burst on perimeter shots as he's done in the past. It's early.
"One of our goals is to get to the NCAA Tournament,'' BYU forward Luke Worthington said. "It's an exciting atmosphere. It's the goal of most college athletes. It's one of our goals as a team to get back there. ... I see myself as a vocal leader and a leader by example. I want to make the right plays so we can put ourselves in positions to win.''
Perhaps the surprise of the early going is San Diego at 5-2, just behind the top three of those dog-bites-man teams. The Toreros are getting it done with a balanced scoring attack led by two guys named Isaiah - Pineiro and Wright - with help from steady guard Olin Carter III.
"Very promising,'' is how Torero Cameron Neubauer described his team. "The last couple of years have been building years for us. This year, I think all the pieces are in place.''
In all, six WCC teams have winning records to this point and San Francisco is sitting level at 3-3. Only Portland (3-5), Santa Clara (3-5) and Pepperdine (2-6) are below .500 at the moment.
"We have eight new guys and only two seniors,'' Portland coach Terry Porter said. "I challenged (the team) to come back in great shape. The first few weeks showed our team has made strides. Our roster of players is stronger than last year. Now it's about going out and playing on a high level.''
What We Learned
1) After the first month of the season, I'd have to say Gonzaga's Johnathan Williams is the early favorite for WCC Player of the Year. On another deep and talented team Williams is averaging 15.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, totals that would surely rise if Gonzaga did not have so many other options. I don't know how Williams is regarded by NBA scouts but it's hard to imagine a team on the Next Level not finding a place for a talented forward like this. But what do I know?
2) Come March, Saint Mary's will look back on its non-conference schedule as crucial to its overall success. In a 6-2 start, the Gaels lost to Washington State by five and to Georgia by two in overtime and most recently journeyed through the Caldecott Tunnel to defeat Cal 74-63 at Haas Pavilion. Hanging with a pair of Pac-12 teams and an SEC team will play well when the final RPI rankings are released and the NCAA Tournament field is chosen. The Gaels have the next six games at home, including the WCC opener against Loyola Marymount on Dec. 28 before playing at BYU on the 30 th.
3) Is there a more improved player in the conference than Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura? As a freshman a year ago, the Japanese-born Hachimura was adjusting to life in the U.S. and improving his English skills all the while trying to find his place on an elite Division I college basketball program. Now a sophomore, the 6-foot-8 Hachimura is a force to be reckoned with for the Zags. He averages 19 minutes a game off the bench and contributes 9.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game while shooting 94 percent from the free throw line (see below). Imagine the player he'll be for coach Mark Few in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
Big Man Back on Campus
Or BMBOC (bim-boc), if you will. Actually, USF legend Bill Cartwright was already on campus as the school's Director of University Initiatives, but on Friday coach Kyle Smith named him as a special assistant on his coaching staff. Cartwright will serve as a liason to Smith.
One of Smith's goals when he took the job prior to the `2016-17 season was to connect USF's storied past with his current players, all of whom were born decades after the Dons' last run of greatness. Having Cartwright to look up to, figuratively as well as literally, is a crossover step in the right direction.
Stat Line of the Week
We can't help it here at SLOTW Central. We like versatility on the basketball court the same way we like decathletes in track and field for their ability to handle a multitude of events. You'll remember that BYU's Kyle Collinsworth was a favorite in this corner in the past. In the same spirit, this week's SLOTW goes once again to Pacific sophomore Jahlil Tripp, who had 14 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals in the Tigers' 105-68 win over Arkansas-Fort Smith.
For more on Tripp, take a look at this profile: CLICK
Tweet of the Week
Germany supplants the US as the country with the best global reputation http://cnn.it/2zFR5Pb
This, from Portland center Philipp Hartwich, a native of Cologne, Germany, showing a little national pride.
Quote of the Week
"This is a very difficult game coming off the Portland tournament.''
That's Gonzaga assistant coach Donny Daniels, interviewed at halftime of the Zags' home game against Incarnate Word, a game the home team would go on to win 103-68, meaning we beg to differ with what the esteemed assistant coach had to say.
Follow the three dots...
How's this for balance? In Gonzaga's 91-74 win over No. 25 Creighton, forward Killian Tillie had 22 points while guards Silas Melson and Norvell each had 21, accounting for 64 of the Zags' total points. Furthermore, Norvell scored all 21 of his points vs. Creighton in the second half. For that, he was named WCC Player of the Week. ... BYU received a waiver from the NCAA allowing walk-on McKay Cannon to play this season. Cannon, a junior guard, spent two years at Weber State, where he played in 67 games and started 40. He made an immediate impact for the Cougars, scoring 17 points in a 75-66 victory over Utah State. ... Five WCC players are nailing at least 90 percent of their free throws, led by Gonzaga's Hachimura at .941. The others are Santa Clara's Henry Caruso (.912) and Pepperdine's Colbey Ross, Saint Mary's Hermanson and Santa Clara's K.J. Feagin all at .909. ... The block party is on - BYU's Yoeli Childs (2.8) and Portland's Hartwich (2.6) are 1-2 in the conference in blocked shots. ... Nine inches, .5 rebounds. That's the difference in height and rebounding average between the 7-foot-2 Hartwich (10.1) and the 6-5 Tripp (9.6). It will be interesting to see if these two maintain their averages throughout the season. ... Speaking of pace, Gonzaga is ripping off nearly 93 points per game in a 7-1 start to the season. Will the talented Zags be able to keep up a total like that the rest of the way? And will San Diego, holding opponents to a conference-best 60.9 points per game, manage to maintain that stinginess for the next three months?
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.