One of the fun aspects of this blog is the ability to make shocking and just flat out strange predictions. When I put together my WCC prediction piece a couple of weeks ago, I received a ton of flack for having LMU predicted to finish second in the conference. I liked the fact that the Lions were a very talented group due to their high number of transfers from BCS programs. I liked the idea that they were coming in to WCC play on a six-game winning streak, which happened to include wins over Notre Dame and Long Beach St. Finally, I just felt like there was a surprise team out there, who would break the monotony of seeing Gonzaga and St.Mary's finish at the top of the conference.
After two weeks of WCC play, it's pretty darn clear that I was way off on this one (Just so I can prove that I am not a complete idiot...has anyone noticed how Kansas St. is doing this season? I picked them to go to the Sweet 16 before the season began). With the Lions coming into the game fresh off of a 40 point dismantling against Portland, I really have no clue what to make of the direction that this team and program seems headed towards. One thing I do know; LMU won't be finishing second in the WCC.Even with their struggles over the course of the WCC season, I still am intrigued by the talent that LMU possesses. Drew Viney, who is a transfer from Oregon, has been exceptional in his first year in the WCC. Viney is averaging 16.6 points and 7.0 boards. He is a very difficult match up, because he has great perimeter skills for a guy his size, but also can take advantage of a smaller defender by scoring against him in the paint.
Thankfully, in Elias Harris, Gonzaga has the kryptonite for that exact type of player and skill set. With his ability to guard quicker guys on the perimeter, while also being able to match up with big guys on the post, Harris presents a type of defensive weapon that the Zags have never really had in their arsenal. Assuming that Harris matches up with Viney, he will need to make sure that he is active on the perimeter and doesn't allow open looks, as Viney is shooting nearly 45% from behind the arc.
The other match up that I fear could present some problems is how the Zags will defend Vernon Teel. Based on his production and skill set, I compare Teel to a poor man's Keion Bell. Teel is averaging 13.9 points, 6.3 assists, and 5.7 boards. He has the ability to shoot from the perimeter, as he is hitting 35% of his shots from behind the arc, and also can get to the rim and create in the paint. After the struggles that the Zags had in trying to slow down Bell, I wouldn't be surprised to see Steven Gray turn his focus to making sure that Teel doesn't have anywhere near the performance that Bell had on Thursday night.
Speaking of Steven Gray, I think it's time to give the guy praise for the way he has played over the past three games. Not only has he averaged 17 points and shot over 50% from the field, but it just seems like he is playing with a greater sense of joy and having more fun on the court. I can hardly ever remember seeing Steven smile so much and play with this amount of creativity and exuberance on the court. With his natural athleticism and skill set, Gray is the type of guy that can elevate this team from a Sweet 16 group to a Final 4 group. I think that Gray will continue his great run of play, and the Zags will emerge with the 80-62 victory.