Pepperdine Experiencing Sudden Wave of Success

It has been a while since the Pepperdine Waves have achieved success in basketball, as the program has had quite a history in terms of producing some successful coaches who earned their stripes in Malibu. Jim Harrick led his team to multiple NCAA Tournament berths before he took over at UCLA and won a national title (and committed multiple violations there as well as other stops at Rhode Island and Georgia). Lorenzo Romar built a key foundation for the Waves before he took the St. Louis position (and then eventually Washington’s, his current spot). Jan Van Breda Kolff led the Waves to a surprise Sweet 16 appearance before leaving for St. Bonaventure in 2001, and Paul Westphal led his team to a 21-win season and NCAA Tournament berth in his first year. The bottom line? The Waves have had talent and success in the past with their teams.

Recently though, time have been pretty rough for the Waves. After a successful first season with Van Breda Kolff’s players (including Brandon Armstrong), Westphal failed to reach success, as he hovered at or around .500 for three seasons before going 7-20 in his last year. Dribble-Drive Motion Offense guru Vance Walberg took over for Westphal in 2006, promising that his high octane offense (which John Calipari adopted at Memphis and was successful for Walberg at Fresno City College) would help the Waves make an impact in the WCC. Defensively though, the Waves struggled in his first year (they rated 308th in the nation in defensive efficiency in 2007-2008) and after a 6-12 start in his second year, Walberg stepped down. Former Waves coach Tom Asbury stepped up to take over the program that season and stayed on as head coach for three more seasons, but Asbury was unable to rekindle the success of his first tenure (1988-1994), and he too stepped down early on in the 2011 season.

Now, the man in charge is Marty Wilson. Wilson has achieved mixed success so far as the Waves’ head man. Wilson went 3-10 as interim filling in for Asbury, and in his first two seasons, he went 22-31. Though he brought in some talent like Stacy Davis, who earned WCC Newcomer of the Year last season, many figured the Waves to hover near the bottom of the WCC.

So far, the Waves have been the biggest surprise in the WCC this year. They are 10-5 to start the season and 3-0 in conference play with big wins over BYU at home and Santa Clara on the road. On the offensive end, the Waves have excelled in conference play so far, as their 114.8 offensive rating and 46.6 3 point percentage are the best marks in WCC play, and their 52.9 eFG percentage is rated 2nd. For the season, Pepperdine hasn’t been a WCC fluke either, as their offensive rating for the year is 108.5, 77th best in the nation, a vast improvement on their 96.4 mark a season ago.

How has Wilson and his Waves experienced so much success? We all know about Davis, sure, but the production of center Brendan Lane and guards Jeremy Major and Malcolm Brooks has been a key reason why the Waves are sitting at the top of the WCC standings along with Gonzaga. Lane, a senior transfer who languished on the bench at UCLA, has been a revelation in the post this year, as evidenced by his numbers: 124.1 offensive rating, 63 percent effective field goal percentage, 10.4 offensive rebounding percentage, 8.2 block percentage. So far, Lane’s production has been up there with higher profile players in the conference like St. Mary’s Brad Waldow and Gonzaga’s Sam Dower. That being said, unlike Waldow or Dower, Lane hasn’t been affected by injuries or ineffective nights, which has happened to both players as of late.

Major and Brooks’ production has also been a God send for Wilson’s team. Brooks, though he is not a “primary” ball handler (16.5 usage rate), has been effective when he does have the ball in his hands, as evidenced by his 125.3 offensive rating and 58 effective field goal percentage. The best aspect of Brooks’ game though has been his ability to take care of the ball, as he only has a turnover percentage of 8.4 for the year (in comparison to an assist rate of 13.6, a +5.2 percent difference). As for Major, the Freshman guard has been an extraordinary playmaker for the Waves as he is sporting a 29.9 assist rate along with a usage rate of 22.3. Major still has the same freshman problems in terms of taking care of the ball (19.9 turnover rate), but he has showed the ability and aggressiveness to keep the Waves productive on the offensive end of things. Add these three with Davis, who is posting a better season than his lauded freshman year (which I noted in this post), and the Waves have a starting lineup that can compete with any squad in the WCC.

A lot of props though has to be given to Wilson, who has eased off the reigns a bit in his third year as head man in Malibu. He has let his newcomers play and experience the early mistakes and successes that come with being young players. Furthermore, he has let them play a more wide open game, as evidenced by their 66.7 Adjusted Tempo, which is 2.9 points higher than a year ago and 4.8 points higher than his first full year as head coach. The initial preference for a slower, more half-court oriented game is not surprising considering his tenure as an assistant under Asbury and at Utah under Ray Giacoletti and Jim Boylean (both slower-tempo coaches). However, by trusting his players more and letting them play a more full-court style, the Waves have been much better offensively, as their 108.5 offensive rating is 12.1 points higher than a year ago and 15.2 points higher than his first full year. Give Wilson credit when credit is due: he adjusted to the talent he had on his roster, and it has paid dividends in his third year.

Now, can Wilson lead the Waves to a WCC crown (either regular season or tournament)? It is tough to say after three games, but to be frank, they have as good a shot as anyone. While Gonzaga’s defense probably will carry them to another WCC championship of some sort (ether regular season, tournament or both), the Waves are not much different than other competing squads in the WCC (which at this point, looks like everyone). They are good offensively, and inconsistent defensively (they rank 241st in the nation in AdjD). That kind of profile will probably keep them in every game in the WCC this year, but it could also lead to letdowns as well (as evidenced by LMU and Santa Clara last night). I think the post presence of Lane and Davis, and the development of Brooks and Major on the perimeter will be key factors to watch this year. If Brooks and Major especially can continue the progress they have made this season, then it’s definitely in the realm of possibility to think that Pepperdine could sneakily be the second best team in the WCC. They may not be better than Gonzaga, but they certainly could give anyone else fits (not to mention a loss or two).

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Three Under-the-Radar Players WCC Fans Should Know About

As teams finish up their Non-Conference slate and get ready for WCC conference play, there have been many players that have jumped out on the national and even local radar to begin the year. Brad Waldow has been having a tremendous impact on the offensive end of the court for St. Mary’s (though defensively he still raises a few questions), and Kevin Pangos has emerged as the Zags’ “Go-to-guy” following the departure of Kelly Olynyk.

However, who are some players that may have gone under the radar this year in the WCC? Who are some playmakers that could have an impact on the wide-open WCC? (And yes, it’s more wide open than in years past, but remember…the WCC has been traditionally a top-heavy league since the emergence of Gonzaga). Let’s take a look at three guys WCC Fans Should Know About as conference play begins this Saturday.

Kruize Pinkins, junior, USF, six-feet, seven inches, 230 pounds

Pinkins, a JuCo transfer from Chipola College in Florida, has immediately made an impact in his first year on the “Hilltop”. An athletic power forward, Pinkins has made his name as a bit of a highlight show, known for some sensational dunks that made appearances on some national hoops Mix Tapes. But, Pinkins is more than just an Ira Brown-esque player (guy who is known for sensational dunks and little else), as he has made a tremendous impact on the offensive end for the Dons off the bench.

According to KenPom.com, Pinkins is tops in efficiency for players who have at least 28 percent of possessions used at 110.3. Though he has primarily served as a role player, Pinkins has seen an uptick in minutes over the course of the year, as he has only had one game where he played under 20 minutes since the Idaho State game (the fourth game of the year). The increase in minutes has served the Dons well, as they have gone 5-3 over that stretch.

In the Dons’ offense, the ball stays in Pinkins’ hands when he is in, as evidenced by his 28.7 possession percentage and 26.1 shot percentage, both nationally ranked numbers according to Ken Pom. That being said with an effective Field Goal Percentage of 54.2 and true shooting of 56.1, Pinkins is not a black hole of shooting by any means, and really scoring is not the sole reason he makes this list. With his athleticism and size, Pinkins brings a lot of energy and productive play off the bench beyond points, and that shows in his rebounding numbers, blocks and ability to draw fouls. The area where Pinkins’ is most successful is on the offensive glass, as his 16.7 offensive rebounding percentage is 26th best in the nation. His ability to crash the boards, and create extra opportunities for the Dons not only has helped the team’s offensive effectiveness, but has gotten him to the line as well, as Pinkins is drawing 8.5 fouls per 40 minutes, seventh highest in the nation. Pinkins still has some work to do at the line (58.2 FT precentage), but his aggressiveness will serve him and the Dons well against many WCC teams who have rebounding and size issues.

Yes, Pinkins came to USF known as a “MixTape Player” (i.e. one who showcases highlight dunks or plays but no consistency), but he has developed into the kind of all-around player that could contend for WCC Newcomer of the Year honors by year’s end.

Brandon Clark, junior, Santa Clara, six-feet, 170 pounds

If the Broncos want to make any kind of run to earn a postseason berth of any kind this year, they are going to have to rely on junior guard Clark to do so. However, Clark has been one of the most efficient players int he WCC this season, as the East Chicago, Indiana product has made tremendous progress as a players since arriving to Santa Clara a few seasons ago.

While senior guard Evan Roquemore has gotten more of the hype, Clark has been the one that has taken over as the “Go-to” guy for the Broncos. For the season, Clark has an adjusted offensive rating of 119.5, with an effective field goal percentage of 50.3 and a true shooting of 56.8. What has made Clark so effective, even with the high number of possessions used through him (25.9 percent), is his ability to not only create for others, but limit mistakes as well. This season, Clark has an assist percentage of 26.6 percent, 181st in the nation. Even more impressive though is his 11.9 percent turnover rate, which is not only 281st best in the nation, but almost a 10 percent improvement from his sophomore season. The fact that Santa Clara not only has their point guard creating plays at an incredible rate but keeping care of the ball as well should bode for some surprising success in WCC play, even if SCU is down from a year ago.

Clark also remains a decent 3-point shooter (38 percent), good considering he has a shot percentage of 27.2 percent. Though another strong aspect of his game that stands out even more is his ability to be aggressive and get to the hoop and draw fouls. Clark average 5.1 fouls per 40 minutes, and unlike Pinkins, he is able to make teams pay for it, as he is shooting 84.4 percent from the charity stripe this season. With his strong ability to hurt teams from beyond the arc or at the line, and his ability to be efficient in playmaking, Clark could be a dark horse for WCC Player of the Year Honors, and at the very least should be in the mix for All-WCC 1st team honors.

Stacy Davis, sophomore, Pepperdine, six-feet, six-inches, 245 pounds

Davis was almost not included because he did earn Newcomer of the Year Honors last season, and was expected to compete for All-WCC first team honors after a successful freshman campaign. But, Davis has made such a leap in his sophomore season, that I do not think some WCC fans know how good Davis is. Considering this program has produced a lot of players who were big on name (Keion Bell and Mychel Thompson), but hollow on effectiveness, Davis bucks the trend for the Waves as somebody whose accolades and reputation match his efficiency on the court.

This year, Davis has improved all over the board as a player. His effective field goal percentage (58.5) is almost 14 points better than from a year ago, and his true shooting percentage (62.3) is almost thirteen points better as well. Furthermore, he has cut down on his turnovers (15.9 percent turnover rate, 5.1 percent less than a year ago), and he has gotten to the free throw line more as well, as he is drawing 6.4 fouls per game, a free throw rate of 68.6 (which is 121st best in the nation). And, with the more chances at the line, Davis has also been relatively effective, as his 70.4 free throw percentage, while not great for a guard, is serviceable for a bigger forward. With all these factors in the play, Davis sports a 114.2 adjusted offensive rating for the year, which would be a 20.3 point improvement from his Newcomer-of-the year campaign.

Of course, I don’t know if Davis will have a major impact on this team, since the Waves have so many issues  (mostly defense) that I think will get exposed when WCC play begins. Furthermore, Davis’ rebounding numbers have gone down (his offensive rebounding dropped 1.5 percent and his defensive rebounding dropped to 19.4 percent this year from 19.9 a year ago), so I wonder if Davis is focusing a bit more on his scoring than his overall game this season. Nonetheless, those are ticky-tack issues, and only a sophomore, Davis has sparked a lot of hope for long-suffering Waves fans. Additionally, he went from a dark horse All-WCC candidate to a strong contender as long as he continues this new Wave of efficiency on the offensive end in conference play.