* * *
The WCC moves forward every season and now the depth in this league is at a new level as San Diego, Pepperdine, and San Francisco, which have been around the bottom in recent years, have been competitive every night. Pacific announced its entrance by jumping out to a 4-0 start before losing to No. 14 Oregon.
In addition, always tough St. Mary’s has gone overlooked at 6-0 while Anthony Ireland can shoot Loyola Marymount into position to beat literally anyone in the nation. The league itself is second in scoring average at 80.8% and the top five teams came into last week with a 23-3 record.
As the upgrades in talent across the league take place, the top of this league will not change. It has gotten better as Gonzaga and BYU are off to excellent starts despite losses to NCAA caliber foes a long the way.
Gonzaga was upset in the first round of the Maui Classic by Dayton and then came back and scored 113 points against Chaminade before dispatching Arkansas, 91-81. The Zags’ offense is a potent weapon with Kevin Pangos leading the way in the backcourt. Gonzaga averages 91.8 ppg. while shooting 56% from the floor. Gary Bell, Gerard Coleman, and Sam Dower are all shooting over 60% from the floor on the season.
Despite such an offensive output, coach Mark Few is concerned about the defensive end of the floor.
“We need to buckle down,” cautioned Few, “Our defense needs to be better and our rebounding needs to be better. Our offense is probably as good as anybody in the country right now the way that we are clicking. We’ve got to get back to being tough and nastier which is what we have been in the past.”
Dave Rose has a similar dilemma with his Cougars. They dropped a pair to 8-0 Wichita State and Iowa State while notching wins over Texas, Stanford, and Utah State. Tyler Haws (above) leads BYU with a 23.6 ppg. average is second on the team in rebounding. The Cougs give up 77.7 ppg. as the 90-88 loss to Iowa State and the 112-103 win at Stanford punctuated how BYU also could stand to tighten the screws on the defensive end just like the Bulldogs.
Rose saw what he needed in the second half of last Saturday night’s 85-74 win over Utah State as BYU held the Aggies to 35.3% shooting after USU shot 59.4% in the first half and led by five at the break.
“These guys are fighters, and that second half, it came down to what I feel are two really good basketball teams just trying to figure out how to get a win,” said Rose after Saturday night’s win, “We made a couple more plays.”
As the season unfolds these two teams will seems like mirror images with their offensive attacks. The following is a look at the similarities of each, “Wild West” style.
Kevin Pangos of the Zags and BYU’s Tyler Haws could most certainly be in the running for national player of the year consideration. Both have been nearly unstoppable so far on the offensive end. Haws has taken nearly 20% of BYU’s shots in averaging 23.6 ppg. He averages in the mid-30s in minutes per game and has made a living on the free throw line, shooting 86.4% so far. Pangos averaged 26 ppg. in the three-game set in Maui. He clearly is the spark plug that makes Few’s squad operate. He currently has a 2.56-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in averaging 31.8 mpg. Gary Bell has currently made 26 of 48 triples and is making the Zags’ backcourt an even tougher matchup.
Matt Carlino of BYU joins David Stockton and Pangos as possible defensive stoppers on both teams although neither has picked up a penchant for defense. Carlino, whose 2.1 steals per game is second in Cougars’ history, is also second on the squad in scoring. Stockton has struggled with his shot so far, but other Zags have stepped up, as four currently average double figures. Gerard Coleman also shows defensive promise. The key for these two teams will not be to define themselves on the defensive end, but to have players like Carlino and Stockton make the key defensive play or two in a close game.
Teams need multiple options in the middle to make the guards all the more effective. In this case, both teams are well stocked. BYU starts a 6-10 freshman in the middle in Eric Mika and also 6-11 Nate Austin. Both players are shooting in the high 50 percent range from the floor. In addition, Kyle Collinsworth in turning into a swingman who gives Rose options in the post as well as on the perimeter. Collinsworth averages 11.9 ppg. and 8.6 rpg, but his team leading 5.7 apg. might be his most impressive statistic. Meanwhile, Gonzaga can line up opposite the Cougars with Sam Dower and freshman Prezmek Karnowski inside. Dower is getting 7.5 boards per game while shooting 65%. At 6-9, 243, he causes match up problems because of his ability to use his body to create position.
* * *