Dave’s Free Play, Thursday 10/23/14

  • October 23, 2014

Another college hoop conference preview on tap today, with the West Coast Conference in the spotlight this time. It’s a conference with what amounts to one cinch NCAA team and a couple others who figure as bubble candidates. Not many surprises in this outfit the way I see it.

1. Gonzaga… About the only issue for this team as far as conference play is concerned is complacency. Gonzaga is loaded. Pangos and Bell comprise a terrific backcourt, the bigs are good, and the recruiting class could be tremendous. I can’t wait to see freshman Domantas Sabonis in action.  You might remember his dad?

2. BYU… As Tyler Haws goes, so go the Cougars. Veteran team, ample depth, solid coach. The big question is where the points come from in the paint. If BYU solves that issue, they’re Big Dance bound.

3. Saint Mary’s… Randy Bennett scored with the graduate transfer rule when he latched onto ex-Stanford star Aaron Bright. Of course, that’a assuming Bright relocates his 2012 form. The Gaels had some intensity issues at times last year. A repair of that tendency has this team back in the tournament convo come February.

4. Portland… This should be the best Pilots entry in some time. Kevin Bailey is terrific and Eric Reveno appears to have some good newcomers to supplement a very veteran cast of starters. Portland looks to be a solid fourth place entry.

5. San Francisco… I see quite a bit of separation from the top four to the rest of this league. The Dons are probably the best of the rest thanks to their ability to get some points inside but the backcourt is shaky.

6. San Diego… The Dee/Anderson backcourt is very good. But there’s little to be excited about among the bigs and I can’t see the Toreros being any better than .500.

7. Loyola Marymount… Mike Dunlap takes over the reigns from Max Good. The Lions were a very lazy team at times last season. So in spite of losing some good players, particularly Anthony Ireland, I think you’ll see this team improve this year.

8. Pepperdine… Losing Malcolm Banks was a big blow. Stacy Davis will be outstanding, and I’ve been impressed with the improvement the program has shown under Marty Wilson. But there’s just not enough talent on hand for more than mediocrity.

9. Santa Clara… Another good guard tandem with Brownridge and Clark. That’s pretty much it. Kerry Keating’s team had little inside power last year, and that problem still appears to be unresolved.

10. Pacific… A rough go of it in store for the Tigers this season. TJ Wallace and David Taylor are the only returnees with any real experience. The most interesting newcomer is mini-guard Dulani Robinson. Ron Verlin did a nice job with Pacific last season, but prospects for this year are bleak.

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I finally had a clunker last night, missing with the Giants as well as a rare NBAx play. First losing night in some time, but I expect to bounce right back tonight. Even with the 0-2, it’s still a 25-8 run the last nine days. Sign up for my weekly or guaranteed monthly package by utilizing the “buy now” feature on this page, or contact me via email at cokin@cox.net. That’s also the best way to get info on my net winners program.

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Today’s free play is on a Saturday college game. This one is not yet on my personal card, but I’ll say it’s at least a favorite to eventually make the cut. In any event, it’s a game I’m eager to watch and hopefully I’ve got the right side.

10/25 04:00 PM   CF   (175) USC  at  (176) UTAH

Take: (175) USC -1

I see USC/Utah as one of the most intriguing matchups on the Saturday college slate. I don’t think either team is a true Top 20 entry, but each side is knocking on that door and this game is huge as far as the PAC-12 South race is concerned.

The Trojans have the athletes to give Utah fits in this game, and I think that’s one of the two big keys to this game. USC needs to do whatever it takes to speed things upland get Utah out of its comfort zone. The more wide open, the better from USC’s vantage point.

Utah, on the other hand, would prefer trench warfare. The Utes are in good shape if they can get first down stops. That would likely enable their outstanding pass rush to at least contain Trojans QB Cody Kessler.

Kessler is having a great year for USC. He’s accurate with his throws and I’ve been really impressed with his willingness to not force bad throws that lead to turnovers. But that could change if Utah is able to exert its usual pressure. To accomplish that, the Utes must find a way to limit Javorius Allen, who’s rumbling for more than six yards per pop.

Utah needs to establish its running game to sustain some productive drives against USC. I think that’s something they can do, as Devontae Booker is running ball very well. QB Travis Wilson can manage the offense effectively in reasonable yardage situations.

So it’s a guessing game of sorts as to how this plays out in terms of each team accomplishing its main objectives. My take is that in the end, the athletic superiority of the Trojans will be the difference. My greatest concern is Kyle Whittingham. The Utah coach is a terrific game planner and he successfully overcame the speed disadvantage in an impressive win at UCLA. But the Bruins were undisciplined with their assignments throughout that game, and I thought they lost the game more than Utah won it.

With the game being lined where it is, it’s probably a good assumption that this one could go right to the wire. But I’m siding with the view that Allen can produce enough on the ground to enable the very talented Kessler to carve up the Utah secondary and lessen the impact of that Utah pass rush. I’ll opt to side with USC as the winner in what should be one of the day’s best games.