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OUTLOOK: Long regarded as one of the top mid-major programs under Mark Few, the Gonzaga Bulldogs reached even loftier heights in 2012-13, claiming the number one spot atop the Top 25 at regular season's end, while entering the NCAA Tournament with one of the four coveted No. 1 seeds. The Zags failed to navigate their quarter of the bracket however and bowed out early on. However, they restored their shine atop the West Coast Conference, while earning their 15th straight NCAA Tournament bid. Few has lost a couple of high profile players, but returns enough this season to earn the Bulldogs their familiar spot atop the WCC preseason rankings.
Last season, BYU joined the league and immediately made things interesting for Gonzaga and the teams in the upper ranks of the conference. Saint Mary's meanwhile, fell back into its familiar slot just behind Gonzaga in the standings. The Gaels are still dealing with their probation for recruiting violations, but avoided a postseason ban and should be right in the mix again this season, despite the loss of the conference's top player.
There is expected to be a wide chasm between the top tier in the WCC and the second level, which should feature San Francisco, San Diego and newcomer Pacific. The Dons are in a state of flux, as they may take another step back to eventually move forward. Rex Walters hopes that his youngsters step up and keep San Fran in the conference talk all season long. The Toreros had some big wins last season in conference (beat BYU twice), but not enough of them to keep Bill Grier off the hot season this time around. A seasoned group will need to break through for San Diego in 2013-14. The Tigers are back where they belong in the WCC, but will be under new leadership, as the Ron Verlin era will be ushered in at Pacific. The team will need to elevate its play offensively to be relevant in season one.
The bottom part of the conference will likely consist of Loyola Marymount, Portland, Santa Clara and Pepperdine. The Lions will be led by explosive guard Anthony Ireland, but he may not be enough to keep Max Good in L.A. past this season. Eric Reveno has plenty to work with at Portland and while the Pilots may surprise with their gritty play, creating offense will be key to their WCC journey this season. After last year's CBI and with a CIT championship also in the trophy case, Santa Clara has become the king of the JV Tournament circuit. Evan Roquemore is a great piece to work around, but Kerry Keating unfortunately has little else in terms of proven commodities. The same goes for the Waves, as a plethora of losses to the roster will make climbing the conference ladder nearly impossible for Marty Wilson and company.
CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Gonzaga
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Gonzaga, 2. BYU, 3. Saint Mary's, 4. San Francisco, 5. San Diego, 6. Pacific, 7. Loyola Marymount, 8. Portland, 9. Santa Clara, 10. Pepperdine
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:
GONZAGA: Mark Few's squad posted a 32-3 record last season, losing to Wichita State in the third-round of the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga did run the table in the WCC (16-0) and looks to continue that streak this season. However, the Bulldogs lose a pair of top performers with the departures of frontcourt stalwarts Elias Harris (14.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Kelly Olynyk (17.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg), the latter of which rode a truly surprising season to the NBA. The team will have a different feel this season, as Few works the offense around veteran guards Kevin Pangos (11.9 ppg, 3.3 apg), Gary Bell Jr. (9.0 ppg) and David Stockton (3.7 ppg, 3.4 apg). Pangos will be the key this season as he takes on more of a scoring role. Joining the backcourt depth is Providence transfer Gerard Coleman, who posted a double-figure scoring average with the Friars in 2011-12 (13.2 ppg). The problem for Gonzaga at both ends of the floor this season is in the frontcourt, where there are simply no proven commodities. The hope is that senior forward Sam Dower (6.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg) can become a viable scoring threat while sophomore seven-footer Przemek Karnowski (7-1, 300) plays up to his considerable size.
BYU: Dave Rose and the Cougars' first foray in the West Coast Conference was a success, as BYU finished the season at 24-12 overall and 10-6 in league play, good for third-place. However, the move to the WCC was a little costly in as much as BYU's streak of tournament appearances ended at six. The good news going forward is that the Cougars will have the scoring exploits of Tyler Haws once again. The 6-5 junior led the WCC in scoring last season at 21.7 ppg and set the BYU record for scoring by a sophomore (780 points). He will be joined in the backcourt by 6-2 junior Matt Carlino (11.5 ppg, 4.8 apg) who has shown flashes of brilliant play at both ends of the floor. Depth may be found un juco transfer Skyler Halford (6-1, 180), who could provide scoring as well along the perimeter, while Kyle Collinsworth (6-6, 210) has returned from a mission trip as BYU's jack-of-all-trades. The frontcourt is the reason for some concern, with the loss of Brandon Davies (17.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg). A lot is expected of freshman forward Eric Mika (6-9, 230), who will need to step in and become a factor right away.
SAINT MARY'S: There is no way to minimize the loss of Matthew Dellavedova (15.8 ppg. 6.4 apg), who was the heart and soul of the Gaels last season. Randy Bennett won't start the season on the bench, instead sitting out five games as part of the NCAA restrictions. In addition, the Gaels will not be able to sharpen their teeth in the preseason or at in-season tournaments. Senior guard Stephen Holt (11.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg) was more of a secondary piece to the puzzle, producing in the shadow of Dellavedova. Holt is now the focal point in the backcourt. Bennett hopes that juco transfer Kerry Carter can make an immediate impact, after averaging 20.4 ppg last season at Citrus College. The frontcourt duo of 6-9, 260-pound center Brad Waldow (10.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and 6-7, 220-pound junior Beau Levesque (10.6 ppg) should provide some balance, along with the addition of USC transfer Garrett Jackson (6-6, 225).
SAN FRANCISCO: Rolling with the punches is something that Rex Walters has grown accustomed to of late with the Dons. The team finished last season one game under .500 overall (15-16) and two games under par in-conference (7-9). San Francisco dismissed De'End Parker (11.7 ppg) in the off-season. Being more competitive this season starts and maybe ends with senior guard Cody Doolin (12.2 ppg, 5.6 apg) and senior forward Cole Dickerson (15.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg). The 6-7 Dickerson led the WCC in rebounding a year ago, while Doolin is a crafty veteran that has started 99 games at the point. Help up front should come in the form of juco transfer Kruize Pinkins (6-7, 240), sophomores Matt Christiansen (6-9, 235) and Mark Tollefson (6-8, 215) and Penn State transfer Matt Glover (6-5 swingman). Perimeter scoring will be aided by the return of 3-point specialists Avry Holmes, who led the conference in 3-point accuracy as a freshman and junior Chris Adams.
SAN DIEGO: Coach Grier returns three starters and six lettermen from a team that finished just under .500 last season both overall (16-18) and in conference play (7-9). Getting out of the middle of the pack in the WCC will be up to a deep backcourt, featuring Christopher Anderson and Johnny Dee. The 5-7 Anderson isn't much of a scorer (9.4 ppg), but is a catalyst both with his distribution skills (5.7 apg) and athleticism on the defensive end. Dee is the scorer. The 6-0 junior averaged a team-high 15.0 ppg last season and could find even more open looks, if foreign import Duda Sanadze (6-5, 210) can lighten his load. Sanadze is a polished Euro player that averaged 17.2 ppg in 2012 overseas. Grier must find some balance up front, especially with the loss of Chris Manresa (9.09 ppg, 7.1 rpg). There isn't much proven scoring ability down low, but 6-9 sophomore center Jito Kok is a defensive presence, who led the conference in blocked shots as a freshman (55).
PACIFIC: Long time coach Bob Thomason retired this last offseason, but spearheaded Pacific's return to the West Coast Conference. Now it is up to first-year man Ron Verlin to begin a new era of basketball for the Tigers, who are coming off a 22-13 record last season, including a 13-5 mark in their last year in the Big West and an NCAA Tournament appearance. It won't be that easy this year, with Thomason no longer at the helm, as well as the loss of last year's top two scorers The roster is void of any real offensive threats, so expect Verlin to concentrate on building an offensive gameplan around his solid, but rather non-explosive frontcourt options. Those players to likely build around include 6-8 senior Tony Gill (7.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg), who was actually last year's Big West Conference Tournament MVP, and 6-7 senior and former Big West Sixth-Man of the Year Ross Rivera (7.6 ppg). The backcourt has unknowns as well, with senior Sama Taku (8.1 ppg) needing to step into a more prominent role. Freshman T.J. Wallace (6-2, 205) could give the team a spark of youthful exuberance.
LOYOLA MARYMOUNT: At one point last season, the Lions dropped 13 straight league games. A lot of that had to do with a myriad of injuries that proved to be too much to overcome. The result was a mere 11-23 overall record, with just one of those victories coming in conference play. Still, a strong run in the WCC Tournament paints the picture of a team, when healthy, having the ability to compete with anyone in the league. The team does lose forward Ashley Hamilton (12.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg), but returns its most explosive player and one of the conference's best in senior guard Anthony Ireland, who averaged a hefty 20.2 ppg a year ago. He has a viable second option to pair with in the backcourt in senior Ayodeji Egbeyemi (10.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg), who needs to remain on the court and healthy to maximize his potential. LMU isn't the biggest squad along the frontline, but the hope is that 6-8 Binghamton transfer Ben Dickinson (13.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg) can remedy that and provide the Lions with some much needed balance.
PORTLAND: The years of plenty for the Pilots seem like an eon ago following a second straight poor season in 2012-13, as Portland finished 10 games under .500 (11-21) and a dismal 4-12 in WCC play. The good news is that the team doesn't lose much in terms of last year's roster. The bad news is that the squad wasn't that effective at either end of the floor. Eric Reveno is pinning his hopes of a turnaround on freshman point guard Alec Wintering and the return of junior David Carr, who may help transition Wintering into a leadership role. Long range shooting could improve with juco transfer Bobby Sharp (6-0, 175) and the continued solid range of Ryan Nicholas (13.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg), who is actually the team's best frontcourt option as well. Junior center Thomas van der Mars (7.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and West Virginia transfer Volodymyr Gerun (6-10, 240) give the team some big bodies in the paint.
SANTA CLARA: The Broncos won 26 games last season and were one of the few teams in the country that ended the year with a victory, capturing the CBI. The problem is that this year's version won't resemble last year's much, with losses of standouts Kevin Foster (19.3 ppg) and Marc Trasolini (15.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg). This is now point guard Evan Roquemore's squad to fashion into his likeness. The senior has an opportunity improve on last year's numbers (12.0 ppg, 5.2 apg) as the focal point. It will now be up to Kerry Keating to fill in the spots around Roquemore. Some of those spots, especially in the backcourt could be filled by freshmen like Jared Brownridge (6-2, 195) and Jarvis Pugh (6-6, 190). The frontcourt lacks any real commodities, but center Robert Garrett (7-0, 270) will need to provide the team with a productive body in the middle for the team to have balance.
PEPPERDINE: There haven't been many winning seasons of late for the Waves and last season proved to be more of the same, with Pepperdine finishing 12-18 overall, with a 4-12 mark in-conference. With a mass defection from that squad, Marty Wilson goes back to the drawing board in 2013-14. Three starters are back, including last year's WCC Newcomer of the Year Stacy Davis. The 6-6 sophomore had a strong debut campaign a year ago, averaging 11.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Another youngster, sophomore Jett Raines (6.6 ppg) is expected to improve as well. Taking care of the basketball was an issue last season, with the Waves committing 14.7 turnovers per game. Unknowns in the backcourt could effect that area of the game again for Pepperdine. Juco transfer Malcolm Brooks is more of a scoring threat than anything else, while senior Nikolas Skouen will help in that regard as well. There is no clear-cut leader in terms of running the point for Wilson, who may need to rely on a freshman in 5-10, 165-pound Jeremy Major.