Heading into the 2015-16 season the WCC looks very much like a league with three distinct tiers. Legitimate NCAA and NIT teams reside atop the league, fighting for position behind Gonzaga. Teams above average nationally but not at a level to contend in the WCC sit in the middle, with a WCC Tournament miracle their only real hope. Below them all lies the cellar, where hapless teams seem destined to fight simply for respectability.
Today we examine the WCC cellar. The common thread binding these teams is loss. Not just because their upcoming seasons will be filled with defeats, but because they've already suffered through many losses. Recent coaching changes, all-time greats lost to graduation and players (or in one case almost an entire roster) lost early as transfers. These are issues that, especially for mid-majors, can't be recovered from in just one year. So, there is hope going forward... but there's also this year now.
Last season: 8-23 (4-14), tied for ninth place in the WCC.
The turnaround under second year head coach Mike Dunlap really begins this season. Senior forward Marin Mornar represents the last vestige of the Max Good era in Westchester. As a junior Mornar (9.9 ppg) had the best year of his career. Despite seeing his involvement nearly double from the year prior, he managed to maintain his level of production and efficiency. That's good news, because he will likely see another uptick in workload with the departure of Evan Payne.
Payne (18.0 ppg), who was the best individual player on the team last season, transferred to Long Beach State. The sophomore and Mike Dunlap didn't exactly see eye-to-eye — Payne lost his starting spot early in the season and was left behind for a trip to BYU on January 10th. Despite ranking fourth in the nation, per KenPom, in percentage of possessions used and percentage of shots taken, Payne looks like he won't be missed.
While the Lions are better going forward without Payne, they've got little going for them right now. Around Mornar there isn't much in terms of proven Division I level talent. Four of the six newcomers are junior college transfers. However, the best looking newcomer is freshman point guard Munis Tutu. Last year Tutu helped Canada's under-18 team win a silver medal at the world championships. Tutu is as close to a lock for an immediate impact as a relatively hype-free freshman can be.
With Dunlap at the helm this LMU program is poised to return to the top half of the conference. Just, not quite yet.
Last season: 14-18 (7-11), tied for sixth place in the WCC.
Rex Walters and his staff have to contend with the loss of eight players from last year's squad. Well, actually 12 if you include the seniors who are no longer eligible. Walters has proven to be one of the worst coaches in the country at keeping his players around for a full four years. It doesn't seem to matter if you're a benchwarmer or the best player on the team. Nor if the Dons are coming off of a good season, a bad season (which is the case this year) or even in the first month of a promising season.
However, things aren't all bad on the Hilltop. Senior guard Tim Derksen (12.6 ppg), who narrowly missed our preseason all-WCC team, is back for one last go around. Joining him in the backcourt is Devin Watson (8.4 ppg), who was named to last year's WCC all-Freshman team despite not getting a start until January. Five total players return from last year's squad. Those five averaged 26.6 points per game. Derksen and Watson account for 21 of those 26.6 points.
The backcourt is solid for the Dons. Aside from that though, there isn't much to inspire confidence.
Last season: 15-16 (8-10), fifth place in the WCC.
LMU lost its best player. San Francisco lost most of its roster. San Diego lost a whole lot more, and that's why the Toreros are in dead last.
Gone is head coach Bill Grier. Also gone is the school's all-time best backcourt. Johnny Dee (2,046 points) and Christopher Anderson (757 assists) finished their four year careers as San Diego's all time leaders in career points and assists respectively. Their production and chemistry are impossible to replace.
What returns is the core of a stout defense —though likely significantly less imposing this season without Anderson, who also finished atop the USD career steals list with 254— but a hapless offensive unit. Only two players aside from Johnny Dee managed to post offensive ratings for the season over 100.0, sparsely used freshmen Marcus Harris and Cameron Neubauer.
The best returning player is senior center Jito Kok. The Dutch national led the WCC in blocks per game last season with 2.5 and holds San Diego's all-time career record with 193. However, his offensive game has never really been developed. His 5.1 points per game last season was a career high. But, in a league like the WCC which is very high-octane on the offensive end you need to get more than five points per game from your best player. Unfortunately for first year head coach Lamont Smith, this is the situation Bill Grier left behind.