Portland finished the 2013-2014 season on a sour note, dropping four straight games, including two heartbreakers to San Diego and Pacific. If the Pilots could have pulled out a victory in any of those four games, they could have avoided playing a Thursday game in Las Vegas. Nonetheless Portland will have to deal with Anthony Ireland in the first round of the WCC Tournament. The Pilots could receive a boost if one or both Alec Wintering and Kevin Bailey are healthy enough to play.
This is what we’ve all been waiting for. The regular season is over, and now it gets serious. Portland finishes up the season winning just as much as they lost, and while some of those wins were fantastic (Gonzaga and BYU), some of the loses were equally as frustrating (North Texas, Montana State, San Francisco at home, San Diego both times, and finally Pacific). Now the Pilots find themselves in a situation where they need to take on Anthony Ireland and the LMU Lions on Thursday.
Portland took care of the Lions twice during the regular season winning 71-57 at home and then 74-62 in LA. The Pilots have finished the regular season without leading scorer Kevin Bailey and leading assist man Alec Wintering. Portland could really use one or both of the starters back for the tournament. The reserves have played well, and we’ve seen some creative lineups that actually have been decently effective, but Bailey and Wintering give Portland some added firepower.
Plus, both players arguably have a chip on their shoulders for being snubbed for WCC Honors. I understand the arguments against both, but being a homer I truly believe that Bailey should have received All-WCC Honorable Mention honors, and Wintering should have been named to the all-freshman team. Wintering has been extremely fantastic when it comes to distributing. He leads the team averaging 4.5 assists per game and has an assist to turnover ratio of 2.2 (Crazy for a freshman). But that’s all mute now.
The bottom line is that this team has the ability to beat any team in the conference. I say that with 100% confidence. If you look at their conference season, they beat the following teams: Gonzaga, BYU, Pepperdine, Pacific, Santa Clara, LMU. They got swept by San Francisco, Saint Mary’s, and San Diego but they played each of those teams close. All that being said, this Portland Pilots team also has the ability to lose to any team in the conference on any given night.
Players to Watch
This team is most successful when they get contributions from multiple positions. They’ve struggled when only part of the team shows up to play. With that in mind, and knowing that Bailey and Wintering are questionable, the three players that will decide how far Portland makes it in the tournament are Thomas van der Mars, Bryce Pressley, and Bobby Sharp.
I don’t understand why announcers have had such a problem with Thomas van der Mars’ name this season, but his name is about as straight forward as his game, which is predictable, somewhat mundane, and extremely effective. Van der Mars is at his best when he receives the ball in the low post. Usually the entry passer will do one of two things: if the passer is not a 3-point threat, they clear to the opposite side of the floor, if the passer can hit an open shot, they will relocate to the corner so that if a double comes, they will have an open look from the corner. Van der Mars is very patient, he feels out the defense, and is effective with the hook shot in both directions. Thomas has also improved on working harder to get better position so that he can drop step into an easy layup. Portland is very effective when the offense runs through Thomas in the post. They should make sure that when he is on the floor, he gets a touch every offensive possession.
I’ve been harping on this all year, but Bryce Pressley is vastly underrated and can be a huge factor for this team. He shoots the ball well, he can pass, he doesn’t turn the ball over, he rebounds well and he plays solid defense. Portland needs Pressley to be a little more assertive when the other team goes on runs. The Pilots are looking for the type of player who is willing to put the team on his back and carry them through stretches of poor play, and I think Bryce can be that player. He needs to figure that out on his own however.
Finally, for Portland to make a run, Bobby Sharp needs to be hitting the three. He has earned a reputation in the WCC as a sharp shooter who can go off at any moment. I’m pretty sure the BYU game solidified that. Since then, you can see the urgency opposing teams have when closing out on the junior. Against Pacific, he went cold, and it turned out to be a difference in the game. Portland will need Bobby to get open, and shoot with confidence if they have any hope in advancing.
I don’t really like giving my prediction, because I see that I am way to close to see the full picture. I’m an optimist, so when I think about this team’s chances I see the potential and go from there. Portland will be favored against LMU on Thursday, and while I do think that the Lions will put up a tough fight, I think Portland will get the win.
If that holds true, Portland will then face WCC Championship Belt Winners (it’s going to catch on people, I’m telling you) BYU, and the Cougars know exactly how dangerous offensively the Pilots can be. Portland will need to play some defense though in order to knock off BYU and that will determine that game.
In my bold predictions I predicted that Portland would be playing on Monday. For that happen they will need to beat LMU and BYU. Because I’m optimistic, I think that they will do just that. If they get that far and have either San Francisco or San Diego in Monday’s semi-final, all I have to say is third time is a charm.