While the college basketball offseason tends to feel like it will never end, it never ceases to amaze me how quickly the actual season flies by. It feels like it was just a couple of weeks ago that we were analyzing the matchup against EWU and trying to figure out the potential of this group. However, tonight marks the beginning of WCC play, and with only two non-conference games left (don't forget Longwood at the end of the season), this is still a team trying to find itself.
Although this non-conference schedule seemed like it was loaded with potentially great teams, the reality is that the schedule was loaded with great names, but not great teams. In fact, the two losses that Gonzaga has suffered this season came at the hands of the two best teams on the schedule. With a win over Michigan St. or Illinois, I would feel a lot better about this team and what it was capable of the rest of the season. The upcoming test at Xavier, which will have the duo of Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons back from suspension, will be a great litmus test for this team.After spending the first two paragraphs looking ahead, let's turn the focus to the Portland Pilots. Although the Pilots carry a 3-10 record heading into this game, a huge reason behind that is the difficult schedule they have faced. There is absolutely no shame in losing to teams like Washington, UCSB, Kentucky and St. Louis. This is a young team that plays primarily underclassmen and there is no doubt that Coach Reveno will have this team constantly improving throughout the year. Reveno has shown the ability to grow talent within his program and the Zags are lucky to be kicking off the WCC schedule with Portland, because the Pilots will be a difficult matchup in February and March.
The Pilots are led by Ryan Nicholas and Tim Douglas, who both average in double-figures. Nicholas is a Spokane native that plays hard and is an excellent rebounder. Although he is a little under-sized for the interior, he overcomes that with his physical nature on the court. Douglas has continued to develop after an outstanding freshman season, and this year is averaging a team-high 3.2 assists. Another player to keep an eye one is freshman guard Kevin Bailey, who was a Top-100 national recruit according to a couple of recruiting services. Bailey is averaging 7.3 ppg and will only continue to improve.
As I mentioned before, I think this Portland team has a high ceiling. They are well-coached and will only get better with each practice and each game. However, I don't think this team has the size and depth to compete with Gonzaga at this point in the season. The Zags have a chance to continue to build on the momentum generated from the wins over Arizona and Butler, and I expect the upperclassmen to make sure that the younger guys aren't looking ahead to Xavier. Gonzaga should come out strong and deliver an efficient performance in a 76-60 win.