It worked once, why not try it again? This seems to be the thought process of the administration towards the Pepperdine basketball program. After a forgettable coaching effort by Vance Walberg, Tom Asbury returns to Pepperdine after coaching the Waves from 1989-1994. During Asbury's first stint at Pepperdine, the Waves were actually a force to be reckoned with in the WCC. Asbury was 125-59 and led the Waves to three NCAA Tournaments. The Waves were conference champions in three of his seasons and were never worse than second place in his six years at the helm. Asbury returns this season and has his work cut out for him. The Waves appeared to be the up and coming team after high school stars Tyrone Shelley and Malcolm Thomas came to Pepperdine but that notion died once both players transferred over the summer. It's basically a brand new team in Malibu with eight newcomers including seven true freshmen.
Last Season's Results: It's hard to see the validity in doing Pepperdine's last season's results because the team is going through such a major transformation. But for the sake of being objective we will. The Waves went 11-21 last year including a 4-10 record within the conference. They had nail biters against Long Beach State, Northern Arizona, and Portland but they pulled each game out in overtime. They played some talented teams such as Memphis, Oregon, and BYU but never really competed. They had three players average in double figures last season, only one of which is still on the team. Tyrone Shelley and Malcolm Thomas were the standouts on the team, averaging 15 and 13 points a game, respectively. Rico Tucker, who actually returns this year, averaged 11 points a game last season. It was a tumultuous season for the Waves to say the least. After the midyear resignation of Walberg, two players left the team due to his resignation, including his son. Another player left to return home to Australian and seek a professional basketball career there and another left the team to focus on his studies. Hopefully Asbury can restore order to this once-proud program but it is not going to happen overnight.
New Faces: There's no good way to attack this section of the breakdown because it may take all night. There are eight new players for Pepperdine...who wouldn't want to play in Malibu? The three standouts appear to be Keion Bell, Lorne Jackson, and Corbin Moore. Each player was a three-star as rated by Rivals and should be able to come in and impact the lineup immediately. Keion Bell averaged 22 points a game in his senior season at Pasadena High School and is a freak athlete. I'll post a video at the end of this breakdown that should make you very impressed by the athletic ability of Mr. Bell. Lorne Jackson is a point guard from Simi Valley who averaged 23 points a game in high school. He was offered by George Mason and San Diego but decided that Pepperdine was the place for him. Corbin Moore should bring some much needed size to Pepperdine's roster. Moore, according to Scout, was one of the best center prospects of 2008 and has an excellent face up game including a solid jump shot. Moore was recruited by Northwestern and Long Beach State but decided to stay close to home. Dane Suttle and Andy Shannon will also work their way into the lineup this season. Suttle is a nice looking shooting guard with plenty of athleticism and Shannon, a 6'10'' forward out of Sacramento, possesses plenty of upside to go along with his long frame. Denis Agre comes to Pepperdine via Central Arizona Community College and should provide some maturity for the young waves. Small forwards Jonathan Dupre and Taylor Darby round out the recruiting class for Asbury's Pepperdine Waves.
Players to Watch: The key to this year's team will be Rico Tucker. However, an injury to Tucker's knee may leave him sidelined for the beginning of the season. He didn't participate in Pepperdine's Midnight Madness and his status is relatively uncertain at this point. Obviously the Waves hope he can go but you never know with a knee injury. If Tucker's injury is serious enough for him to miss a good portion of the year, you can probably go ahead and save this team a seat at the bottom of the WCC. Tucker averaged 11 points a game last season and led the WCC is steals and was sixth in assists. The knee injury came in a late season game with San Diego. The transfer from Minnesota will have to be the court general for this very inexperienced team; no one else on this team has enough skill or maturity to make this team go like Rico can. Another guy that will be key for the Waves is Mychel Thompson. The 6'7'' sophomore attended prep school before joining Pepperdine and started as a freshman. He averaged eight points and three boards a game in limited action and will be expected to make a big leap in his sophomore season. Even though he's got a big frame, Thompson can light it up from anywhere on the floor. If he gets in a groove, he won't miss for a long time. Even though he is a sophomore, Thompson will be called on to be a leader of this team from day one. On such a young team, it's hard to know where the leadership is going to come from to drive these guys but if Asbury can gather all the skill in to one concentrated effort, the Waves could succeed down the road.
TKR's Concern-O-Meter: I'm not going to doubt the coaching ability of Tom Asbury. The man is a legend at Pepperdine and led them to their only three WCC Tournament championships. His best coaching night could not beat this year's Zags. Gonzaga is just too experienced and too solid from top to bottom to suffer a lapse big enough to lead to a defeat. I don't believe that Pepperdine will be at the bottom of the WCC when the season ends but I don't think they will be in the top-half. They will be battling with LMU and Portland for the 6,7, and 8 spot in the conference. Asbury's got talented young players but for this season, the gap should be quite large between these two programs.
What We are Watching for: There's not really any match up in this game where a Gonzaga player should be challenged. Rico Tucker and Mychel Thompson are Pepperdine's best players but I don't think either of them will be able to go off on Gonzaga. I'll be interested to see how the young Waves play against Gonzaga. They play a pretty solid non-conference schedule as they take on Arizona State, USC, and Georgia Tech but the WCC games should be a real eye-opener. That feels weird to say but consider this: from January 15th to January 22nd, the Pepperdine Waves will be taking on San Diego, St. Mary's, and Gonzaga all in a row. Only the Gonzaga game will be in Malibu. This stretch of games could bury the Waves if they aren't ready. By far the class of the conference, these three teams could send the Waves in to a tailspin all the way to the bottom of the conference. It's going to be a learning experience for Pepperdine, and I'm excited to watch their development over the year.