Welcome Back – Portland Pilots Edition


We’re BACK! For month’s I’ve been telling myself winter is coming, and with winter comes college basketball, so it’s fitting that on this opening day of the early signing period, with the season just days away, I wake up to 4 inches of snow here in Denver. Thousands of miles away on a bluff overlooking the Willamette River, 4 inches of dust are being shoveled off the fax machine and game plans for the two games this weekend are being reviewed.

The way of the future:

Before we look ahead to this season, let’s take a moment to access the three athletes that have committed during this early signing period.

Jazz Johnson (Signing NLI according to his twitter account): You sometimes forget that Johnson hasn’t started at Portland yet because it seems like he’s been committed for a while now, and he has been committed for a while now. Verbally committing back in June of 2013, Johnson has an extreme knack for the game. ESPN calls Johnson’s quickness “deceptive” and claims that he excels with the ball in his hands, which is a big plus for a point guard. The Lake Oswego native is familiar with the program and it’s not unusual to see him at a Pilot game (I went to three last year, and he was at all three).

March. 2, 2013; Spokane, WA, USA; Portland Pilots head coach Eric Reveno looks on during a game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the first half at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Chiir Maker (Signed NLI according to Coach Reveno’s twitter account): Well we’ve been teased for a while about some mystery Australian who had verbally committed to the Pilots, and today we find out that mystery athlete is 6-7 Sudanese native Chiir Maker. Not much is known about Maker, the cousin of 2015 phenom Thon Maker, which is rare this day and age. There is a small article that mentions Maker after his team won the Australian Schools Basketball Championships. In the final he scored 29 and grabbed 17 rebounds en route to being named MVP of the tournament. There is also a short YouTube video of a game winning, buzzer beating, 3 point shot  but that’s all I can really find. I’m not sure if I’ve seen a player like this in Portland for a long time, so it will be fun to watch him develop over the next few years.

And now for something completely different:

Ok, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Let’s get back to 2014 before we focus on 2015. Portland starts their season this Friday when they host NAIA Concordia University. I’m told that Portland had originally scheduled an away DIV-1 opponent, but that opponent had a scheduling conflict and had to cancel, leaving the Pilots with little flexibility to schedule a D1 opponent and thus decided to open the season against the Cavaliers.

The teams last played 2 seasons ago in an exhibition game. Portland won the game easily 87-69 in a game where 11 of 12 players scored for the Pilots. This could be a tough game for Portland if they don’t focus and take it seriously. They should learn from Oregon State’s loss to DIV-II Western Oregon last week and realize that upsets can happen. A loss this early, to this level of competition could throw a giant wrench in the Pilot’s plans for success this season.

Portland follows up the Friday bout with a match-up with Mountain West member San Jose State. On first observation the Pilots need to be cognoscente of 3 point defense as the Spartans love the long ball. ESPN’s John Gasaway included San Jose State as part of his Nation’s Top 3 Point Shooting Teams (Insider) . Portland has struggled with this in the past, and it could lead to a frustrating night for the Pilots.

The Pilots and Spartans last met last season in Portland, with the home team taking the matchup 86-69 behind Kevin Bailey’s 22 points and Ryan Nicholas double-double. This season, the Pilots will be without Nicholas and they will look for Voldy Gerun to help fill the void. Expectations around the bluff are high for the senior to have a breakout season. Portland will need to limit turnovers, and prevent second chance scoring opportunities by rebounding effectively to come out ahead on Sunday. It should be a solid test for the Pilots early in the season.

The Bold and the Beautiful:

Last season I made 5 bold predictions and 2 of them came true. This season I’m hoping to go 5 for 5.

Portland will reach the 20 win mark this season for the first time since 2011. Portland is much improved even after losing Ryan Nicholas and the experienced squad is primed for a breakout year.

En route to their 20+ wins, the Pilots will finish 3rd in the WCC finishing above Saint Mary’s. Portland has been picked 5th or 6th in most preseason polls, but I feel like they can exceed those expectations, and in my opinion a 6th place finish would be disappointing for this group.

Portland will be in the top half of the WCC in total defense. This is a must for the first two predictions to be realized. Portland improved greatly in offensive efficiency last season, but struggled at times on the defensive end, specifically defending the 3. For Portland to reach their goals, they can’t be average on defense.

Herb Brown will be the newcomer with the biggest impact for the Pilots. Not much was made of the announcement in September that former NBA head and assistant coach Herb Brown would join the Pilot staff, but the addition could provide a huge lift for the Pilots. As much as Coach Reveno is liked in the Portland community, there have been some who are critical of his in-game coaching. Hopefully Brown (older brother to coaching great Larry Brown) will bring his 45-plus years of coaching experience on all levels to the bench this season. His impact will be hard to quantify, but that experience can’t be overlooked.

Finally, Portland will play in the WCC Championship Game in Vegas. This is my boldest prediction to date, and a dream I’ve had for years. Portland proved last season that they could beat anybody in the WCC. I feel like this season they will take it a step further when they prove they can beat anybody in the WCC when it really counts.