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WCC WBB Preview: Portland

the Pilots serve as our first team for review heading into conference play

Gonzaga WBB sits at #20 heading into conference play with a 13-2 record. As the team has a break before starting conference play, I thought it would be good for us to review the other eight teams in the WCC.

Portland gets the first honor given that they’re our closest geographical opponent and first conference foe as the teams square up on January 4th. At time of writing this, all games are listed to be streamed on ESPN+ with the exception of the conference finale, coincidentally against Portland, which is currently listed to be aired on ESPNU.

Portland’s 22-23 season was quite successful given their victory over the Zags in the WCC Tournament that granted them entry into March Madness for the first time since 1997 with a #12 seed before falling to #5 seed Oklahoma. It also represented another stepping stone for Head Coach Michael Meeks as he has helped steer this team to a post-season appearance every year (saving Covid’s 19-20 cancellation) since taking over in 2019.

Despite losing two high profile seniors in Alex Fowler (17.8 ppg, 5.6 rbg, 3.3 apg) and Haylee Andrew (12.4 ppg, 3.3 rbg, 6.2 apg) from that team, Portland was selected to finish second the preseason WCC while also featuring two players, guard Maisie Burnham and guard Emme Shearer, in the All-WCC Preseason Team.

Heading into conference play, Portland currently possesses an 8-6 record against the 73rd ranked strength of schedule and a #100 ranking in the current NET rankings. While they have wins against San Diego State, Oregon, and Montana State, they have suffered some rough defeats including those against Cal Baptist, Northern Arizona, and Stephen F. Austin while also having two wins against non-D1 opponents.

As a team, the Pilots are third in the WCC with regards to pace (73.1 ) that they’re turning into about 70 points per game that’s fueled by a 49% eFG% while also holding their opponents to just over 62 points per game. While I highlighted their two victories over non-D1 opponents, that defense has only given up 70 or more points in just three games this season, all of which they lost, against Stanford (81), Stephen F. Austin (76), and Cal Baptist (71). This likely comes down to their propensity for blocks (6.6 per game; 5th nationally) and steals (10.9 per game; 35th nationally), averages that currently lead the WCC by a fairly large margin, as they’re not a particularly strong rebounding squad (36.4 rebounds per game; 219th nationally).

When comparing this team to the 22-23 squad, the scoring totals don’t look as impressive, but they do feature much more balance as 5 players are averaging 8.5 or more points per game and no player averages more than 30 minutes per game. Interestingly, though no player averages more than 4 assists per game, but interestingly, the majority of their points do come from assists (67.2%) despite only having three players with a positive A/T ratio.

Maisie Burnham leads the squad with 11.1 ppg and will look to primarily make her impact from outside the arc as she’s shooting 40% on nearly 4 attempts per game. compared to her 38% two-point shooting on 5.5 attempts per game.

Just behind her sits Emme Shearer with 10.4 ppg. In contrast to her Maisie, Emme makes her impact primarily inside the arc where she’s shooting 56.8% on her 6.3 two point attempts per game. That’s not to say she won’t hoist one from deep as she’s averaging just over 2 per game currently, but she’s only converting 25.8% of those attempts.

Freshman forward Dyani Ananiev is third in scoring and features as the team leader in three’s taken per game (4.1) and three point shooting efficiency (46.6%) and second in blocks per game (1.1).

Senior forward Lucy Cochrane rounds up the primary scoring threats with 8.7 per game, but her primary role on this team comes in the form of blocks (4 per game) and rebounding (7.6 per game). While height doesn’t mean everything in basketball, being 6’6” certainly helps.

How do you think Portland will do this season? Can they repeat an upset over Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament to make a return appearance in this year’s March Madness? Hit the comments below to let your opinion be known.