Recon: Portland

Recon: Portland

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I’m going to be deadly honest with you guys, I got into the mid-major college basketball bloggin’ game for the fast money and easy women. I didn’t get into the business expecting to preview the Portland Pilots after having watched Dayton defeated at the hands of a second-rate football school. But that’s where we are today. 

If we take a quick look ahead at what remains of the Flyers’ non-conference schedule you’ll see it’s less than impressive. Vanderbilt, a team that added a little bite to the slate, currently stands at 2-3. Northwestern, UD’s opponent in the Chicago Legends doubleheader, is 3-2 and it doesn’t look like they will break their NCAA tournament drought this season.

Winthrop, VMI, East Tennessee State and Saint Joseph’s College fill out the rest of the non-conference schedule. Again, these are games that will do little in terms of post-season resume building.

The bad news? UD will not come away with a non-conference win worth a damn. The good news? Archie has a month to figure things out. In addition, this may give Kendall Pollard even more time to heal whatever it is that ails him. Let the senior forward go see a herbal specialist and crystal-health advocate. Whatever.

The overriding point being that the non-conference schedule is damn near irrelevant at this point. If the Flyers are going to make their fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament, they will have to make their bones in conference play. The plan going forward: avoid bad losses, get Pollard as healthy as possible and gear up for conference play. FIN.

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In the offseason, Portland hired former Trailblazer Terry Porter to lead the Pilot program until he gets bored with it (Porter has always looked like he was 55 years old, now he actually is). Porter’s pitch is rather simple: someone has to be the fourth place in the West Coast Conference behind Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU every season – why not us? The former NBA player made a distinction between the “different buckets” in the league; he wants Portland to be in the bucket with the upper-tier teams in the WCC. This is a smart parsing of words by Porter, he isn’t declaring an indication that his goal is to bypass those established programs, he merely wants to compete with them (we call this the Brian Gregory Scheme).

Obviously, given the current state of the program, Porter has some work to do. The Pilots are coming off a 12-18 season, a campaign that saw them finish tied for seventh in the West Coast Conference. The cupboard isn’t entirely bare, as Portland returns three solid starters from last year’s club. What Porter really lacks at this moment is depth. Like Dayton, the Pilots are forced to give significant minutes to players that likely won’t be contributors a year from now. They are facing the same growing pains that every college basketball program has to go through with a coaching change.

Portland is 3-1 on the season, they took their first L of the year in a fairly one-sided loss against UCLA last night (I watched the game against the Bruins last night because I wanted to see what the Lonzo Ball hype was all about. He’s good, guys). The Pilots are a fundamentally sound basketball team. They shoot the ball well from the perimeter, hitting 42% of their threes, and are hitting an outstanding 83% of their free-throws. Porter’s squad is clearly an above-average offensive team that will probably average somewhere between 75-78 points a game this season.

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Senior point-guard Alec Wintering is the do everything guy for the Pilots. He leads the team in scoring, assists and, at just six feet tall, is the club’s third leading rebounder. Wintering (17.5 ppg, 6.5 apg, 5.0 rpg) is having some uncharacteristic struggles form the three-point line so far this season, shooting a dismal 14% from three. It was clear from the UCLA game that he has no issue beating his man off the dribble and getting to the basket, Wintering is going to be a handful for Scooch and Kyle Davis. 5’10” sophomore Jazz Johnson joins Wintering in the Pilot backcourt. Johnson is the benefactor of extended minutes and has made the most of it thus far. He is scoring 17 points per contest, shooting 63% from three and is a perfect 10-of-10 from the charity stripe. This will come as no surprise to you; Jazz Johnson is a rather quick individual.

5837d6f106d8f_imageGabe Taylor (14.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 38% 3fg) is a 6’8” forward with the ability to knock down shots from the perimeter. Exactly half his shots from the floor have come from behind the three-point line; he is knocking down 38% of his threes coming into tonight’s game. Much of Taylor’s offense comes off of pick-and-pops and off of kick-outs from Portland’s guards. He will be a tricky matchup for the Flyers. Forward Jarrel Marshall and center Philipp Hartwich will round out the starting lineup for Portland. Marshall (6.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg) can do a little bit of everything and Hartwich (1.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg) is a skinny 7’1” player that I assume starts because he can win the game’s opening tip.

Junior wing D’Marques Tyson (9.8 ppg, 41% 3fg) gets starters minutes and can fill it up from the outside. Like most of the Pilot’s main contributors, he has a tendency to rely solely on the three-point shot – Tyson isn’t a threat to blow by anyone, not even Sam Miller. Rashad Jackson (6.5 ppg, 50% 3fg) will spell Wintering and Jazz Johnson, another solid shooter from the perimeter.

6’10” forwards Ray Barreno (3.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Joseph Smoyer (2.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg) shore up the Pilot frontcourt and freshman Andrew Ferguson gets in where he fits in. Barreno is tough on the glass, Smoyer does little and Ferguson (2.7 ppg, 9.3 mpg) can knock down shots.

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When looking at Portland they appear to be a very perimeter oriented team. Much like the 2015-2016 version of the Pilots, this team likes to jack threes.  Almost 40% of their attempts come from behind the arc, along with almost 40% of their points. Gabe Taylor, Jazz Johnson and D’Marques Tyson are all more than willing to let it fly. All three are shooting an above average percentage and have eight made threes over 3 games. Other signs this team cares not for the paint including their lack of free throw attempts – they’re almost dead last in free throw rate, while also being in the basement in regards to hitting the offensive glass. Given the aforementioned, this would appear to be a good match up for Dayton.

In last night’s game I nailed the opener at -5 and as predicted the market moved against the Flyers. Dayton closed as a 4 point favorite rather than 3.5 as I thought. In aggregate I’ve been off 1 point on openers and 4 on the close. I think our guys open as 9.5 point favorites and, given the fact that Dayton hasn’t covered a game yet, the market continues to move against them. Flyers close at -8.5 over the Pilots.

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Make no mistake, Portland can win this game. Although I certainly think Dayton should and will come out on top, the Pilots have the type of shooting ability that can keep less talented teams in ballgames. You let a team like Portland hang around long enough; they will eventually make you pay.  

That being said, I think the Flyers band together and salvage some respect, Dayton 74, Portland 67. Charles Cooke drops 18, Scoochie comes out swinging and Kyle Davis finally makes an impact, scoring eleven points on the night. UD gets on the winning side of the ledger and prepares for the winner of New Mexico/Cal State Northridge (please be New Mexico). 

The biggest question going into the game: does UD Santa even wear the hat or was he so disgusted by last night’s performance that he leaves it at the hotel?

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Tom Blackburn is a proud U. o' D. alum. He loses faith in humanity one day at a time, but not in you, you seem like you are all kinds of alright. Charter member of the T-Man fanclub.

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