Kip's Corner 2007-08: Bearcat Hoop Internet Release #5

By Kip Ioane

Conference Play Opens with Bearcats at Home … Finally:
If you haven’t had a chance to see Willamette University’s Men’s Basketball team yet this season, don’t feel bad; no one else in Salem has either. Head Coach Gordie James’ team opens Northwest Conference play this weekend with its first two home games of the year, hosting Whitman College (Friday) and Whitworth College (Saturday).

Breaking Down the Bearcats
As WU enters conference play, it’s a good time to take a look at the positives and areas in need of improvement after a 2-7 start, with all 9 games being played on the road, including seven games against NAIA or NCAA Division II scholarship programs.

Positive Accomplishments:
• Junior wing Kyler McClary has averaged close to 16 points and six rebounds per game in his expanded role as a perimeter/post dual threat
• Senior wing Michael Smith has averaged close to 14 points per game, while shooting 44.7% from 3-point range, and is the league’s leading free throw shooter at 91.7%.
• Sophomore post Cameron Mitchell has played well off the bench and is third in the Northwest Conference in rebounding at 7.6 rebounds per game.
• Freshman point guard Robbie Kunke has performed as well as can be expected for a rookie running the offense, as he has averaged 4.0 assists per game while sporting a 1.64 assist-to-turnover ratio (both good for seventh in the NWC).
• Junior wing Corey Costantino has been a force off the bench, especially of late, averaging 11 points per game over the past four games.
• The Bearcats as a team are currently second in the NWC in rebounding margin at +2.3 boards per contest.

NEEDING IMPROVEMENT:
• The ‘Cats are giving up an average of 76.3 points per game, the second highest amount in the past seven seasons.
• Willamette is converting on only 69% of its free throw attempts.
• Willamette is last in the NWC in turnover margin with 3.56 more turnovers per game than the Bearcats' opponents.
• The Bearcats have had double figure leads in four of their losses.

Projected Depth Chart this Week

Point Guard
Starter - Robbie Kunke (Fr.)
Back-up - Ricky Thompson (Fr.)

Shooting Guard
Starter - Mike Smith (Sr.)
Back-up - Corey Costantino (Jr.)

Wing
Starter - Kyler McClary (Jr.)
Back-up - Sean Spang (So./Fr. elig.)

Post
Starter - Ian Mansfield (Sr.)
Back-up - Simon Currie (Jr.)

Post
Starter - Tain Cantrell (Jr.)
Back-up - Cameron Mitchell (So.)

Getting Reaquainted
Friday marks the Bearcats' first home game of the 2007-08 season. Willamette plays its home games in the friendly confines of Cone Field House, located in the Leslie Sparks Athletic Center in Salem, Ore.

WU has enjoyed considerable success in Cone Field House over the years. Here is a breakdown of Willamette’s home record the past 8 seasons:

2006-07: 8-2
2005-06: 7-1
2004-05: 5-6
2003-04: 6-1
2002-03: 12-0
2001-02: 8-2
2000-01: 4-5
1999-00: 5-3
Totals: 55-20 (.733 winning percentage)

Where Are They Now?
Kip's Corner will be featuring Bearcat Hoop alumni every week, giving an insight into their whereabouts, as well as a look back at their “glory days”. This week’s edition features former Bearcats Ryan Hepp (’03) and Marques Johnson (’03).

Hepp, was a two-time First Team All-Conference selection for Willamette, and was a member of three teams that played in the NWC Tournament, including two championship games (with a victory in 2000). Hepp was a 1000-point scorer at Willamette, and led the team to a perfect 12-0 season at home during his final year. He and wife, Melinda, live in Santa Rosa, Calif., where Ryan is a member of the Santa Rosa Police Force.

Johnson’s career was intertwined with Hepp’s, as the two were both members of the same class of Bearcats that finished with 62 victories in four seasons. Another 1000-point scorer, Johnson was also a two-time First Team All-Northwest Conference pick, and competed in the high jump for the Willamette track team as well. Marques is currently in Law School at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Scouting The Opponents
Whitman College is member of the NWC and is an NCAA Division III institution. Head Coach Skip Molitor’s Missionaries are 3-4 overall and 0-0 in the NWC. Whitman has been led this season by Chris Faidley, who leads the NWC with 28 points per game. Whitman split with Willamette a year ago, losing in Salem and winning on its home court in Walla Walla, Wash.

Whitworth College also competes in the NWC and NCAA Division III. Head Coach Jim Hayford has guided the Pirates to a 6-2 start. Whitworth has been paced so far by the efforts of David Riley and Ryan Symes, as both players have averaged 15 points per game. Whitworth has not lost to the Bearcats since a 72-68 defeat in Spokane in January of 2004, a span of eight consecutive games.