WCC Tournament: Preview & Odds

    
March 7th, 2009

 

This is one in a series of conference tournament previews, in which I run down all the teams involved, give a brief statistical review and present the log5 projections, using in-conference offensive and defensive efficiency. The basic log5 methodology comes from Bill James, and this is an area Ken Pomeroy has looked at in the past as well. I claim nothing new in the application, but obviously with slightly different methodologies, these numbers may differ from others you find.  I don’t claim to be an expert on any particular conference, and I’m sure there are some mis-characterizations on some players I’ve seen sparingly at best, so please add your thoughts in the comments. Anyway, with no further ado, the preview follows below:

 

West Coast Conference

The WCC the tournament are playing at a neutral site in Las Vegas for the first time, but the format, with a double bye for the top 2 seeds and a bye for seeds 3 and 4, is the same as it has been.

 

#

Team

SF

F

W

1

Gonzaga

100.00%

95.87%

82.74%

2

St. Mary's

100.00%

68.55%

12.68%

3

Portland

85.03%

30.13%

3.57%

4

Santa Clara

64.98%

3.18%

0.82%

5

San Diego

35.02%

0.95%

0.15%

6

Pepperdine

14.97%

1.32%

0.04%

 

Gonzaga is of course the huge favorite, but Patty Mills’ return will give St. Mary’s a somewhat better shot than these odds indicate.

 

#1 – Gonzaga Bulldogs (24-5, 14-0) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.286

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (1st Round)

 

A perfect conference season earned the Bulldogs yet another conference title, and they richly deserve it, having dominated the league, outscoring opponents by an average of 20 points, and finishing atop the conference in all but a couple of offensive categories. The conference’s top offense is among the nation’s best in making shots, both from two and three, and in avoiding turnovers, and is very difficult to stop. The defense has also been excellent, but does have a weakness, as Gonzaga hasn’t been great at stopping three-pointers. It’s made up for it by being the country’s best defenders inside the arc, but teams that take a lot of outside shots can catch the Bulldogs by surprise.

 

Players to watch:

6-11 SR Josh Heytvelt, 15.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 58.4 eFG% - Heytvelt leads the team in scoring, and is the Bulldogs’ most efficient offensive player. He rarely turns the ball over, and shoots 55% from the field, with the ability to step out and hit the three point shot.

 

6-5 JR Matt Bouldin, 13.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 59.2 eFG% - Bouldin is another very efficient forward, about equal to Heytvelt in shooting percentages from the floor and at the stripe, and a good player at forcing steals and holding onto the ball.

 

 

#2 – St. Mary’s Gaels (23-5, 10-4) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.135

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (1st Round)

 

The Patty Mills injury seemed to have totally derailed the Gaels when they lost four of five games, though this stretch did include the toughest three road games in the league schedule. A recovery in the second half of February saw them secure second place, and put themselves back in the conversation for an NCAA at-large bid. While they finished just one game ahead of Portland, they are the clear #2 team in the league. It’s interesting that despite Mills being the headline player, St. Mary’s plays best inside, an excellent offensive rebounding team that hits more than 50% of shots inside the arc. St. Mary’s opponents tend to take most of their shots inside the arc, where the Gaels take advantage of good rebounding and strong defense.

 

Players to watch:

6-11 JR Omar Samhan, 13.9 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.1 BPG, 55.8 eFG% - Mills may get most of the credit, but Samhan is a real force for the Gaels inside, along with Diamon Simpson. Samhan shoots 56% from the field, and manages to nearly average a double-double without leading his team in points or rebounds. He’s also a very good free throw shooter, and his shot-blocking adds an important defensive element.

 

6-0 SO Patrick Mills, 18.8 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 3.9 APG, 2.4 SPG,  49.8 eFG% - Mills’ status will be a critical question for the Gaels in their quest for the conference title; he’s easily the most important player on offense, 2nd in the conference in scoring and 3rd in assists. He’s not a great percentage shooter, but does a good job on a high volume of attempts, and his quickness helps him to lead the league in steals.

 

 

#3 – Portland Pilots (18-11, 9-5) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.082

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1996 (1st Round)

 

The Pilots were right in the battle for the conference’s second spot, but lost twice on their season-ending road trip to lose their hold on the second round bye. Their offense is all about ball movement and getting opportunities from three; they’re well over 40% from behind the arc. Portland hasn’t been as good defensively, able to shut down opponents on the outside, but not very strong on the inside and quite foul-prone.

 

Players to watch:

5-9 JR T.J. Campbell, 11.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 5.0 APG, 65.4 eFG% - Campbell doesn’t take a lot of shots, but maybe he should take more, he’s a spectacular long-distance specialist, hitting 54% from behind the arc. Besides his shooting, he’s also a great distributor of the ball, a deadly combination of skills.

 

6-4 JR Nik Raivio, 15.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 48.9 eFG% - Raivio leads the Pilots in both scoring and rebounding, he’s an average shooter, but takes a lot of shots and helps to give the team’s better shooters chances.

 

 

#4 – Santa Clara Broncos (15-16, 7-7) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.021

Last NCAA Tournament bid: None

 

Santa Clara had an up and down season, starting poorly, then running off a six-game winning streak that including beating St. Mary’s pretty handily, but then losing a pair of road games against weak opposition to finish the season. It’s been just about average on both ends of the floor, so a .500 record is appropriate. The Broncos are good inside scorers, but have really struggled with turnovers, giving up the ball nearly once out of every four possessions. They’ve also forced very few turnovers, which has somewhat undermined a stalwart interior defense.

 

Players to watch:

6-10 SR John Bryant, 18.0 PPG, 13.9 RPG, 2.5 BPG, 60.7 eFG% - The WCC’s player of the year is a spectacular big man, a game-changing force who has been key to the Broncos’ inside success this season. He’s second nationally in rebounding, and has put up the nation’s best rate on the defensive glass. He’s also an excellent shot-blocker, and hits 61% from the floor and78% from the free-throw line. Few teams in the country have a single player as important to them as Bryant is to the Broncos.

 

6-2 FR Kevin Foster, 14.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 52.0 eFG% - The freshman guard has improved his play markedly over the second half of the season, and is averaging almost 20 points in his last four games. He’s an very good three-point shooter, and can rack up a lot of points from behind the arc, including 31 in a memorable duel with St. Mary’s Patty Mills.

 

 

#5 – San Diego Toreros (16-15, 6-8) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.030

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (2nd Round)

 

San Diego has been one of the biggest disappointments of the season, as a team that returned a lot from last year’s group that beat UConn in the NCAA tournament has floundered in the WCC. The Toreros opened the tournament with a solid win over Loyola, but face a much tougher challenge in Santa Clara. They’re the fifth of five teams that have held WCC opponents beneath a point-per-possession, thanks to getting opponents to give the ball up a lot, and defending shots effectively. San Diego’s problem has been on the offensive end, where its been one of the worst teams in the conference, terrible on the offensive glass and struggling to make free throws.

 

Players to watch:

6-8 SR Gyno Pomare, 14.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 53.5 eFG% - Pomare has regressed a little from his strong junior season, but still leads the Toreros in both points and rebounds, and is the team’s most efficient offensive option. He’s a good inside scorer who rarely turns the ball over and can chip in with some key blocks.

 

6-6 SO Rob Jones, 9.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 46.8 eFG% - Jones doesn’t really play all that well, but is the second most important player to the USD offense. His shooting has been below average, and he rarely gets to the free throw line, but he’s a good rebounder and inside defender.

 

 

#6 – Pepperdine Waves (9-22, 5-9) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.168

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2002 (1st Round)

 

Pepperdine actually pulled a bit of an upset in making the second round, despite finishing as the #6 seed, as it has been easily the second-worst team in the conference, and is extremely unlikely to advance past Portland. The Waves have been terrible offensively, making just 37% of shots, including barely 40% of twos and under 30% of threes. Their defense has been a little better, but has struggled to defend the inside, allowing a high percentage of two-point shots and poor on the glass.

 

Players to watch:

6-3 FR Keion Bell, 12.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.5 SPG, 49.7 eFG% - The freshman has improved over the course of the season, and has been very good of late, averaging nearly 20 over his last two games. He needs a lot of work in a couple of typical freshman weak areas, shot selection and turnovers, but he has shown the ability to score inside and a good ability for assists and steals.

 

6-7 FR Taylor Darby, 6.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 37.0 eFG% - An interesting freshman prospect, Darby has a long way to go with his offensive game, but is an excellent rebounder, and has improved his percentages over the last month.

 

 

My statistical all-West Coast team (a very inside-heavy one):

St. Mary’s SO G Patrick Mills, 18.8 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 3.9 APG, 2.4 SPG,  49.8 eFG%

San Francisco JR F Dior Lowhorn, 20.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 52.3 eFG%

Gonzaga SR F Josh Heytvelt, 15.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 58.4 eFG%

St. Mary’s JR C Omar Samhan, 13.9 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.1 BPG, 55.8 eFG%

Santa Clara SR C John Bryant, 18.0 PPG, 13.9 RPG, 2.5 BPG, 60.7 eFG%