A GRIP ON SPORTS • It’s November and an old man’s thoughts turn to college basketball. A story as old as peach baskets and charge calls. The leaves fall and we fall in love once more with a sport that changes every year but always seems to be the same in March.
• Why are we waxing semi-poetic on this first day of the year’s penultimate month? Does there have to be a reason? Sure there does.
It’s simple. The S-R included its college basketball section today in the newspapers it delivered around Spokane. It’s also on the paper’s website, with all the stories collected here. What a glorious day.
Stories about one of the nation’s best programs, and many about Gonzaga’s men’s team as well. A story about one of the nation’s best teams, and one about Washington State’s men as well. A story about the Big Sky favorite, and another about Eastern Washington’s men as well.
Notice a theme here? As good as the men’s teams in this area are, the women have more experience (at Gonzaga), more stars (Washington State) and more expectations concerning winning their conference (at Eastern). But that’s not the only aspect of college hoops covered today. No sir.
There are stories about the rebuilds going on at Idaho. Stories about the smaller colleges in the Spokane area. More stories than one person can cover in one morning.
Unless you have a big red S on your chest. Or a yellow lightning bolt. Luckily, we wore the latter last night – it was Halloween, after all – and we kept the speedy shirt on this morning. Our thoughts about the section follow …
• It’s amazing what is contained within today’s local sports section. We read newspapers from all over the country on a daily basis – yes, we are the last of a fading breed – and nowhere do we find the in-depth coverage that is displayed here. Respect must be paid to S-R sports editor Ralph Walter and his crew, and we’re not just writing that because Ralph approves our checks. (Though, in service to full disclosure, as Mel Brooks might say, it don’t hurt.)
Many places with college programs as successful as Gonzaga’s has been the past two-plus decades devote resources to previewing what’s ahead in the coming season. We’ve seen it. And places with as many varied programs – though that subset is a smaller one – will devote resources to doing the same for the schools in their area. But few have both and are willing to delve into all with the fervor and depth shown here.
• We recently made a long trip during which we visited a couple Power 5 schools and observed practices for multiple days. One thing we learned? Despite the ubiquitous level of coverage, from recruiting sites to in-house publications to cable networks to old-fashioned word of mouth, some players’ potential still falls through the cracks.
A player or two, whether they be overlooked newcomers or returning reserves, always seem to pop up to help teams. And often, their improvement or importance is missed in such previews. It’s not always the fault of the folks putting such things together. Coaches, for whatever reason, are reluctant to share what they’ve been seeing over the summer and in preseason practice.
But it will happen most everywhere.
Who will it be for Gonzaga? The Cougars? Eastern?
We’re not sure. At the schools we watched recently, we’re pretty confident we know, and in both cases, hardly a word of their ascendence has appeared outside the programs.
Which only solidifies our long-held belief. Someone from GU will surprise you this month. An Eagle will soar to unexpected heights. Kyle Smith will be happy with the amazing play from an unexpected source. And on and on.
It’s another reason why we love November. And college basketball.
WSU: Before we get to Greg Woods and Colton Clark’s basketball stories, we can’t ignore Greg’s piece on offensive lineman Christian Hilborn. … OK, on to the hoops. Greg has a preview of the new-look Cougars – remember when DJ Rodman fooled everyone on Senior Night only to head out the door a month later? – and their big possibilities – literally. … Colton takes on the responsibility of the women’s preview, highlighting their returnees and the newcomers that have them ranked in the preseason Top 25 for the first time. … As for the Pac-12 men’s last go-round, John Blanchette shares his unique ability to cut to the core of an issue, in this case realignment, and eviscerate the hypocrisy. … We also can pass along this preview of the conference’s last season among the women. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, we passed along Jon Wilner’s power ratings in the Mercury News yesterday and in the S-R today. … We add his look at the playoff’s first rankings as well as his Heisman thoughts, Pac-12 bowl prospects and the Mountain West power rankings, all in the Mercury News. … Speaking of the rankings, and John Canzano does, how would next year’s format work now? … Canzano also has fun with Dabo Sweeney’s recent rant. … The Huskies were outside the top four but a key part of the season still awaits, including this week at USC. Meanwhile, Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. dealt with inner and outer pressures last week. This week all he has to worry about is the leaky Trojan defense. The other side of the ball has to worry about Caleb Williams. … As Oregon preps for a visit from California, the Ducks are probably the conference’s most-complete team. … Oregon State appeared in the first CFP rankings but one has to wonder where the Beavers would have been if they hadn’t lost in Tucson. … They also are losing a defender. … Deion Sanders wants the Colorado players reimbursed for the stolen jewelry. … Utah has to re-examine its goals for the rest of the season. … UCLA has suffered some doldrums while playing Arizona in the desert. … In basketball news, Utah will play an exhibition game tonight. … The Arizona women may only have six players available for their exhibition. … The Oregon men are a little shorthanded as well.
Gonzaga: We start with Mark Few’s formula for success, as epitomized by the return of Anton Watson and the importation of three key transfers. Jim Meehan has the former story, Theo Lawson the latter. … Dave Boling has a column on Watson and how he is the Keeper of the Zag Flame. … Jim has an overview of the men. … The key point about the women? Greg Lee puts a huge emphasis on the returnees and, most importantly, the four fifth-year seniors. As he should. … John devotes a lot of his look at the WCC to the departure of BYU. As he should. But the conference’s depth, as John points out, has improved in the past decade. It’s still GU and Saint Mary’s at the top, but there is a bigger, better middle. … Theo checks in with a recruit who has Gonzaga in his final nine. Wait? Nine. Not 10? Wonder who got cut. … Jim also has a story on the Wizards picking up the fourth-year option on former GU standout Corey Kispert and another on Filip Petrusev being included in the James Harden trade to the Clippers.
EWU: Dan Thompson has a preview of the men and David Riley’s need to rebuild the roster a bit. … He also delves into the prospects for the women, who return enough, including preseason MVP Jamie Loera (in our eyes), to be a favorite in the Big Sky. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, the conference has four of the top seven teams in this week’s FCS poll. … Northern Colorado is not one of them. In fact, the Bears are still chasing their first win. … Portland State will play at Boise State next season. … In basketball news, the Montana women are on the court tonight as the school won a victory in the courts yesterday.
Idaho: There are new coaches in both Vandal programs, with Alex Pribble complete rebuild the men’s roster and Carrie Eighmey replacing about half of the women’s. Both are expected to be in for a rough go this year, as Colton Clark explains.
Whitworth: Before we get to the basketball story, we can pass along Greg Lee’s look at an offensive line that has played a big role in powering the Pirates to their undefeated record. Every one of the starters has an interesting story in their own right. … Now, the men’s hoop. The Pirates aren’t expected to reach the heights they have in the past couple decades, as contenders for a long postseason run, but Justin Reed tells us if they are healthy, they will contend for the Northwest Conference title again.
CCS and NIC: Justin has a preview of the men’s programs at the community colleges, with the two going separate ways this season. … He also has a preview of the women in the area, with the two-year schools joined by Whitworth.
Preps: Rogers High is going to the 2A playoffs. The Pirates earned that right with a Kansas tie-breaker win over West Valley on Tuesday night. Dave Nichols was at University High and has this story of the three-way playoff. … He also has a roundup of other action.
Kraken: Mandatory neck protection is coming to the NHL at some point.
Mariners: The M’s lost a member of their bullpen. … Speaking of that, we link Larry Stone’s column again today as it ran in the S-R. … Stone also writes about Seattle’s own Corbin Carroll. … The Rangers are one win away from the World Series title after holding on for a 11-7 victory in Arizona last night. … They are proving spending money wisely, as opposed to widely, works.
• Now that it is November, we can start looking forward to the holidays. We’ve passed Halloween. Next up is going back to standard time this weekend. And the first tip of college basketball’s regular season. Then high school hoops start. Thanksgiving. Tournament season. And then December and everything it holds. If that didn’t include piles and piles of snow, we would even enjoy it more. Until later …