By Malika Andrews |
This year, more than most, the experts are shooting into the dark. The Pilots are pegged to finish in the middle of the pack in the WCC, a standing that shouldn’t inspire outrage. How can they be underrated — or overrated for that matter — with so many unanswered questions and new faces on this year’s roster?
Portland graduated almost their entire frontcourt with the exception of three-year starting point guard, Alec Wintering. This team is built around Wintering. Head coach Eric Reveno has tailored a squad that can keep up with Wintering’s quickness and agility. The bigs can run, the shooters can pass and this team is quicker and more exciting than past Portland teams.
There are seven new guys on the roster this season: Rashad Jackson, Chier Maker (redshirting), Jazz Johnson, Xavier Hallinan, Colin Russell, Jarrel Marshall and Ray Barreno.
The new guy to watch? Jarrel Marshall. Marshall, a junior transfer from Palm Beach State JC, missed the regular season opener against Oregon Institute of Technology with an ankle injury. When healthy, Marshall has started at the four but Pilot fans are already comparing him to former Pilot star Kevin Bailey.
“Stepping on the court I just want to be aggressive, not real timid for my first game with my new team,” Marshall said. “I just wanted to come out there and make my presence felt.”
Marshall is a consistent, versatile player that can spread the floor and brings athleticism that is similar to Bailey’s. His 15 points and five rebounds on 7-of-9 shooting against Concordia was promising, if he can keep that up against teams like Colorado and Gonzaga — he’s got something.
Jazz Johnson, who came off the bench for Wintering, was impressive. The freshman out of Lake Oswego added an efficient 14 points in 15 minutes against OIT. Expect Wintering to play 35 minutes a night come conference play, but Johnson will hold his own when he’s subbed in.
Rashad Jackson brings a new meaning to the word “athletic.” There have been times he goes up to dunk and his jaw nearly hits the rim. Jackson plays a similar role to D’Marques Tyson, about the same size, and gets good looks from 3-point range. Tyson has a better read on the game.
Do not overlook Jason Todd and Gabe Taylor. Both swing guards can do a little bit of everything. Senior Bryce Pressley is the glue that holds the team together. Pressley had a career high 30-points against OIT.
It’s been established that the pieces are there. But if Portland does want to finish fifth, or better, they need to have an answer the question that has been asked time and time again in the student section, “How much do you want to bet that they will blow this lead?”
The answer to that question needs to be no, they won’t. And in order to do that, the Pilots cannot be helpless on defense. Portland should be able to hang with almost anybody. Their biggest concern is whether they turn out to be their own worst enemy.
Against Concordia Irvine, the Pilots blew a 19-point lead but still managed to come away with the win. In the same game, Portland had 14 turnovers. In the exhibition game against Concordia, the Pilots recorded 20 turnovers. That is unacceptable.
Post-game, Marshall chalked it up to complacency. That may be so, but that kind of complacency will be exploited when they play teams like Gonzaga or Santa Clara, who is right behind Portland in the rankings. The pieces are there to have a successful and exciting team. The offense is already electric and gelling well. Expect lots of flashy alley-oops from Wintering to Marshall, but the defense needs to catch up.
Malika Andrews is the sports editor for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @malika_andrews.