In case you couldn't tell from my WCC projections a couple weeks ago, I'm more than a little surprised by the success that the Pepperdine Waves have had so far this season. If you had told me that in the third week of WCC play, this match up would be between the last two undefeated teams in the conference, I probably would have laughed in your face. I expected Gonzaga to be in this spot, not only because I believe this is clearly the most talented team in the conference, but also because I see this team improve nearly every time they take the court.
As I have discussed before on this site, the game-by-game improvement is what makes this group so unique and special from the teams of previous years. Whether it is Steven starting to find some consistency in his game, or Meech playing his best game at Gonzaga in the win over USD, this team has not yet peaked and I don't think it will until the NCAA Tournament. With this being the first game in front of the Spokane crowd since the end of December, I expect an inspired and complete effort tomorrow, with the Zags looking to lock up the top spot in the conference.While this may sound overly simplistic, the key to shutting down and beating the Waves is to limit Keion Bell. While he does not get much national attention due to the struggles of Pepperdine, Bell is the most explosive guard on the West Coast. If Pepperdine didn't have such a disastrous non-conference performance, Bell would be right up there with Matt Bouldin, Elias Harris, and Omar Samhan in the discussion for WCC POY. Bell is averaging 19.2 points, 5.1 boards, and 4.0 assists, while being one of the most exciting guys this conference has.
Where it all falls apart for Pepperdine is in the supporting cast. This is one of the more inconsistent groups in the league, with only Mychal Thompson averaging in double-figure at 12.2 points. One of the reasons behind the recent success in the WCC is the fact that some of these supporting guys are stepping up their game. However, part of me must question whether that has more to do with the fact they have faced Santa Clara and USF in their last two games. If guys like Lorne Jackson and Taylor Darby can continue to contribute at a high level and spread the floor out for Bell, it could be a very competitive game on Thursday,
I know it is repetitive to read, but it's imperative that Gonzaga plays from the inside to the outside. This means that the focal point of the offense must continue to be Rob Sacre and Elias Harris. Pepperdine has athletic enough guards to compete on the perimeter with the Zags. However, like most teams in the country, they do not have an answer for the size and skill that Sacre and Harris will present. While he hasn't been exceptional all season, Rob has been steady and improving. Behind the best performance from Sacre of the season, the Zags will improve to 4-0 with the 88-65 victory.