It was an early Christmas present that many in the West Coast Conference wish they could have returned immediately.
For the first time in WCC history, conference games were played before Christmas. In the foreseeable future, it won’t happen again. Conference openers will come after Christmas for at least the next three seasons, beginning Dec. 29 next season and Dec. 28 the following season.
“We’ll play a nine-week schedule instead of 10 next season,” associate commissioner Jeff Tourial said. “Eighteen dates and 18 games with no byes in conference.”
The switch requires some compromise. Teams could face some split weeks with one home game and one on the road. The change could impact travel partners.
“We’ll still have travel partners, but we’ll have to relax them to make it fit,” Tourial said.
It’s a necessary trade-off.
“Not only were the athletic directors not overly thrilled but the most vocal was the coaches,” Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth said of pre-Christmas games. “It’s a trade-off everybody is willing to make.
“Teams have been going hard for months and you give them a couple more days off during Christmas. We took that away from them this year and we should be paying attention to that.”
The way the calendar falls in the 2018-19 season allows for a regular 10-week conference schedule.
The next two conference seasons teams will play Thursday and Saturday with no one-game weeks, even when facing their travel partner. That means Gonzaga’s annual out-of-conference matchup in January or February (Memphis in 2015, 2014 and 2011 and Butler in 2013) could be gone the next two seasons.
The addition of BYU five years ago and Pacific three years ago bumped the conference slate to 18 games. That makes it tougher to squeeze the regular season in before the WCC tournament in Las Vegas. ESPN sets the date for the title game, which falls on a Tuesday in early March.
The 10-member Big 12 also plays a round-robin, 18-game conference slate. The difference is the Big 12 gets an extra weekend because its title game is held Saturday, four days after the WCC’s and one day before Selection Sunday.
Travel partners BYU, which played in a tournament in Hawaii, and San Diego were the only teams that didn’t play pre-Christmas conference matchups. Gonzaga faced a crowded week leading up to the holiday with Tennessee in KeyArena on Dec. 19, followed by home dates against Pepperdine on Dec. 21 and Loyola Marymount on Dec. 23.
GU coach Mark Few has pushed for a 16-game conference schedule to open up more non-conference scheduling dates but the idea hasn’t gained much traction.
Chairman of boards
Sophomore forward Domantas Sabonis is putting up big numbers this season, including his 20-rebound effort against Pacific on Saturday.
That bumped his season average to 11.5, 12.3 in conference – figures that stack up with the best in Gonzaga and WCC history. The last Zag to average double-digit rebounds was Paul Cathey with 11.5 in 1978. Ronny Turiaf’s 9.5 in 2005 is the next highest.
In conference-only play going back to the late 1970s, Sabonis trails Santa Clara’s John Bryant (15.1 in 2009) and San Francisco’s Bill Cartwright (16.1 in 1979). USF’s Darryl Johnson averaged 12.3 boards in 1992.
Asked if he’s ever had a rebounder like Sabonis in his 27 seasons at Gonzaga, Few mentioned Cory Violette, who averaged at least 8 rebounds per game each season from 2002-04.
“Just a guy that was physical with how he played and capable physically to go get them outside his area and just have a one-track mind set to go get hotly contested rebounds,” Few said. “That’s what was going on at Pacific.
“Twenty rebounds in that kind of game is really impressive. Domas is 2 to 3 inches taller and moves better (than Violette).”
Karnowski visits practice
Przemek Karnowski has visited several practices, including Tuesday’s. The 7-foot-1 center from Poland had season-ending back surgery Dec. 31.
“Every day he’s better,” Few said. “The physical part, the emotional part, the mental part is much, much better.”
Karnowski has dropped quite a bit of weight, but he was smiling and walking without crutches.
“We always try to time his therapies at the end or before practice so there’s interaction because it can be a lonely process when you’re not able to practice and not on the same schedule with the guys,” Few said. “He’s really heading in a good direction.”
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