Thank goodness the Portland Pilots have women's soccer. Sadly for the University of Portland, they are recognized as the perennial doormat for the majority of WCC sports. However, it appears that slowly but surely, Eric Reveno is starting to have an effect on the culture of the men's basketball team. Reveno, who made his name as the top assistant at Stanford during the Mike Montgomery era, has brought a toughness and commitment to the Portland program, that in year 3 of his tenure will hopefully start to pay dividends. The Pilots will know where they stand early in the season, as they take on Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and BYU before WCC play begins. If they can score a couple of upset victories, this season could prove to be a springboard for the program.
Last Season's Results: There are not many positive things to say about a season that saw the Pilots go 9-23 (3-11) and end up in 7th place in the WCC. Last season marked the 10th consecutive losing season for Portland, but the hope is that the freshman and sophomores that were relied on will continue to develop. While the Pilots were competitive in games against Washington and Portland State, there are no victories that jump out. In fact, two of their three conference victories came against last place LMU. However, Portland fans should take solace in the fact that many people involved in the Portland program expected last season to be a struggle. It is difficult to rely on so many young players, but the hope is that they will use last season as motivation and to provide a sense of unity among the team.
New Faces: While the results on the court have been slow to come, Coach Reveno has done a great job of luring talent to Portland. After bringing in six freshman last season, has brought in four new faces to the team. Leading the way will be T.J. Campbell, a JC transfer from Glendale CC. Campbell was a JC All-American, and will push for immediate playing time at the PG position. I would be very surprised if Campbell is not starting from day one, as he was selected one of the top 20 JC players in the entire country. The other recruit who will be interesting to watch is John Hegarty. Hegarty, a 7'0, 320(I've seem him listed at 350) pound center from Massachusetts could alter games just because of his sheer size. Hegarty lacks stamina and conditioning, but actually has soft hands and can finish relatively well at the rim. While he may not be able to contribute this season, Hegarty should be fun to follow the next fours. Rounding out the class are Eric Waterford and and Nemanja Mitrovic. Both are solid guard prospects, but because of the amount of returning players they will likely not make many contributions this season.
Players to Watch: Portland returns the core of its team from last season. Leading the way is a name that Gonzaga fans are very familiar with. Nik Raivio, younger brother of Derek Raivio, was the leading scorer last season, and he returns for his junior year. While Nik may not be the top level shooter that Derek was, he was very impressive in his first season of DI basketball. Last season saw Raivio average 12.6 points per game from the SG position. If he can improve on his measly 40% shooting from the field, Raivio could be in store for a big season. The top returning rebounder for the Pilots is Luke Sikma. The son of Seattle Supersonics (or should I say Oklahoma City Thunder) legend Jack Sikma made immediate contributions as a freshman last season. The high-effort PF led the Pilots with 7.3 rebounds per game, while also chipping in 6.1 points. Sikma has been battling a knee injury during the preseason, but coaches are cautiously optimistic that he will be ready to go for the opener. Sikma's toughness would be difficult to replace, and much is expected from him this season. Much is also expected out of 6'10 Robin Smeulders. Smeulders, a native of the Netherlands, began last season with a bang, when he scored in double-digits in the first five games. Smeulders continued to impress throughout the season, as he averaged 9.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. If both Smeulders and Sikma are healthy, the Pilots will have a very formidable duo in the paint.
TKR's Concern-O-Meter: While I am very impressed with what Eric Reveno is doing with the Portland program, there is no way that they should challenge Gonzaga. Portland lacks the athletes and the overall talent to compete with the top half of the WCC this year. I really like the toughness and skill of Sikma and Smeulders in the post, but they should not be able to give the combo of Daye and Heytvelt much trouble. I think that Portland is one year away from being able to make some noise in the WCC, and while there is no such thing as a guaranteed win, there is no excuse for this game to be close.
What We are Watching for: One player on the Pilots that could give the Zags some trouble is T.J. Campbell. Campbell is an ultra quick guard that could make life difficult for Pargo and Meech. From what I have read, the Pilots got a steal in Campbell, and he is the type of quick guard that can bother Pargo on the defensive end. For the sheer size of the matchup, it would fun to see Will Foster and John Hegarty matchup. Although Hegarty's sheer size would allow him to clear space in the paint, I think Foster's length would make life very difficult for Hegarty on the offensive end.