Like many other West Coast Conference teams that finished in the bottom half of the conference last season, Portland is coming into the 2012 season expecting to show some improvement. A season ago, the Pilots finished an abysmal 7-24, including a 3-13 mark in the conference. Last season was a combination of an incredibly inexperienced and raw team and a very strenuous schedule. Head Coach Eric Reveno threw his team into the fire in nonconference play as the Pilots took on Washington, Washington State, Kentucky, Saint Louis, Ohio, and Montana. Each of those programs wound up in some type of postseason tournament and, surprise, each team had a win over Portland on their record. Prior to last season, Portland looked to be the next excellent program in the West Coast Conference. Reveno had locked in back to back 20-win seasons and all signs were pointing up. Heading into 2012-13, the Pilots are looking to regain form and once again get back into the discussion as a top half team in the conference.
The excitement in Portland is valid but it is important to note that this team will likely continue to struggle in 2012. The major reason for this is because there is still quite a bit of uncertainty with the Pilots' backcourt, particularly at the point guard position. Several options will be available for Reveno at the point and he will likely shuffle them throughout the year. The likely day one starter will be Derrick Rodgers. The senior from California played 18 minutes per game as a junior and averaged 4 points, 2 assists, and 2 boards per game. He's not going to give the conference nightmares like T.J. Campbell did but he is a solid option. The two guys that are generating most of the excitement in the backcourt are sophomore Kevin Bailey who started as a freshman and scored nearly 10 points per game and true freshman Oskars Reinfelds, a true freshman from Latvia. Reinfelds is likely a guy that Gonzaga fans are going to get very familiar with as he has all the tools to be the next 'thorn in our side'. At a lean and lanky 6'4'', Reinfelds oozes versatility and judging from what folks have been saying, he might wind up starting down the line especially if the Pilots are slow out of the gates this season.
The frontcourt for the Pilots is where Reveno can put his mind more at ease. Led by junior Ryan Nicholas, who attended Gonzaga Prep, Coach Reveno has some great stability and consistency from last year. Nicholas is the focal point of this team. He played nearly 30 minutes a game as a sophomore and averaged about 11 points and 8 rebounds per game. Albeit undersized, Nicholas makes up for his stature with his incredible work ethic and natural feel for the game. He looks poised to average a double double this season for the Pilots. Aiding him along the front line will be another Euro transplant in Thomas van der Mars along with Dorian Cason and Riley Barker. Cason will likely spell Nicholas at the power forward spot while van der Mars and Barker will do their work as the team's primary center options. Like so many other Pilots, Barker and van der Mars are both entering their second season and are expected to make a big jump.
With a very young core of players making up a majority of the Pilots roster, the key for Eric Reveno will be to weather the storm, pick up some wins, and develop his talent. No one is looking at this year's Portland team to make a serious run at the conference crown but if all their youngsters live up to the hype and continue working, this seems like a team that could return to the top half as early as 2013-14. The best news for Portland is that they do have Reveno who has been praised as one of the top young coaches in the game. He'll now get his chance to develop his guys and mold this into his program. Unfortunately, the schedule does not set up much better than it did last season. Portland will face Kentucky (in Lexington), UNLV, Ohio, New Mexico, Washington State, and Colorado State.
Even though the schedule looks tough, many, including myself, think that Portland will easily eclipse their win total from last season and absolutely put up a better fight in the conference. Look for this team to show flashes of excellence and become a program to watch come 2013.