In recent years, the West Coast Conference has been trending up. Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, and BYU are always good, but the rest of the league was slowly inching closer.
This year, not so much.
Four teams have new head coaches and two more are working with guys in the second or third year of a rebuilding project.
But it’s what’s going on up top that makes the WCC as relevant nationally as ever.
WCC Preseason Power Rankings
1. Saint Mary’s
Last season, the Gaels won a program-record 29 games and finished tied atop the WCC at 15-3. This season, Randy Bennett returns the players responsible for 99 percent of last season’s scoring, while also bringing in a solid Aussie-laden freshman class.
Like last year, expect to see junior Emmett Naar (14.0 ppg, 6.4 apg) and senior Joe Rahon (10.7 ppg, 5.4 apg) playing alongside each other on nearly every possession. And yes, with two point guards on the floor at all times, the Gaels’ offense is among the most beautiful in all of basketball. Though slow, with ball screens and passing eating up nearly two thirds of the shot clock on average last season, it is lethal.
Knockdown shooters outside open up space for the likes of Dane Pineau (11.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and Evan Fitzner (8.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg) inside. With another year under their belts, there’s no reason to expect this team won’t end up with two-point, three-point, and effective field goal percentages once again among the top ten in the nation.
Mark Few has, again, the most talented roster by far in the WCC. The only issue is that we don’t yet know how all the pieces will fit together.
After suffering a season-ending back injury last December, bruising, but soft-handed, center Przemek Karnowski (8.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg) is back for a fifth year in Spokane. Only one other regular starter from last season is back, however: sophomore point guard Josh Perkins — and he just got into some legal trouble.
But it’s the newcomers that set the Zags up for success.
Former Cal shooting guard Jordan Matthews (13.5 ppg) landed on the Jerry West Award watch list. Former Washington point guard Nigel Williams-Goss (15.6 ppg, 5.9 apg in 2014-15) landed on the Bob Cousy Award watch list. Then there’s Jonathan Williams (11.9, 7.1 rpg), a junior forward who transferred from Missouri. Oh yeah, and McDonald’s all-American freshman center Zach Collins, a seven-footer, is in the mix too. He’s one of five Zags clocking in at over 6-foot-10.
From a recruiting perspective, BYU’s roster is loaded. It’s also the first time, due to two-year LDS missions, that Dave Rose’s prized 2013 recruiting class can take the floor together.
Sophomore guard Nick Emery (16.3 ppg) set the school freshman record with 97 made three pointers last season and looks ready to take a step forward. Sophomore forward Eric Mika (11.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg in 2013-14) is back after a two-year mission to Italy. Those two will reunite with former high school teammate, now back from his mission to France, freshman TJ Haws. That trio led Lone Peak High School (Alpine, Utah) to a state title and national No. 1 ranking according to MaxPreps.com.
Throw in sophomore Elon transfer Elijah Bryant (14.2 ppg in 2014-15), who was the CAA Freshman of the Year, and graduate Houston transfer L.J. Rose (9.5 ppg), and the Cougars have as talented and high-scoring a roster as ever.
Senior wing Lamond Murray Jr. (16.6 ppg) led the Waves in scoring last year, and senior point guard Jeremy Major (9.8 ppg) is on pace to break the program’s all-time assist record despite not leading the team in assists last season — that honor belonged to fellow senior Amadi Udenyi (4.5 apg).
So there is talent coming back to Malibu, but Marty Wilson and his staff lost a lot to graduation this offseason. Namely, the program’s all-time leading scorer, Stacy Davis. He and fellow forward Jett Raines will be missed for both their leadership and efficiency.
For the Waves to show any improvement over last year, they’ll need raw-but-gifted sophomore forward Kameron Edwards (7.2 ppg) to take a step forward. The talented and wise backcourt of Major and Udenyi will also need to take even better care of the ball this season as they work to integrate nine eligible newcomers.
5. Santa Clara
Jared Brownridge (20.6 ppg) is a WCC Player of the Year candidate. He’s nearly single-handedly defeated Gonzaga on multiple occasions, and last season took then-No. 11 Arizona to overtime.
Unfortunately, he’s just about all first-year head coach Herb Sendak’s got right now, after sophomore guard KJ Feagin (11.4 ppg) went down with a broken foot earlier this month. Fortunately for Sendak, Brownridge might be the best player in the league. And fortunately for Brownridge, Sendak might be the best new coach in the league.
A big splash was made in Portland this offseason when it was announced that Terry Porter, the former Trail Blazers great, was returning to Rose City as the Pilots new head coach.
The two-time NBA All-Star will have some weapons at his disposal in his first campaign as the Pilots bring back five of their top six leading scorers from last season, starting with senior point guard Alec Wintering (18.3 ppg, 4.9 apg). The four-year starter will have familiar faces around him on the court in juniors D’Marques Tyson (10.4 ppg) and Gabe Taylor (7.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg). One notable newcomer is Portland’s own Malcolm Porter, who received an offer from the Pilots soon after his dad took over the top job this April.
7. Loyola Marymount
Mike Dunlap, now in his third year with the top job at his alma mater, is finally building the LMU program through recruiting. Incoming freshman Mattias Markusson, a 7-1 center from Sweden, averaged over 17 points and 12 rebounds per game last season in the Swedish second division. As he has in his previous two years, Dunlap will still call on transfers to play a big role for his squad. Namely forward Stefan Jovanovic (4.9 ppg) from Hawaii and Trevor Manuel, a former four-star forward who left Oregon in January, midway through his freshman season.
This season, expect the Lions to rely on their three returning starters. Senior point guard Brandon Brown (12.6 ppg) ranks 10th all-time at LMU with 177 assists. Junior Steven Haney (10.7 ppg) is a knockdown three-point shooter, and senior forward Shamar Johnson (5.5 ppg) is capable of cleaning up the offensive glass.
8. San Diego
The good news? Second-year man Lamont Smith’s roster is one year further removed from the mess former head coach Bill Grier made of it. The bad news? That’s not enough years. There isn’t much on this roster right now, and Toreros fans should know that. They should also appreciate that Smith is building for the future. Six incoming freshmen make up the foundation of the team for years to come. Plus, Smith is avoiding the junior college transfer market, opting to wait a year for guys with Division I experience like former Utah guard Isaiah Wright, who will sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Senior forward Brett Bailey (6.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and sophomore guard Olin Carter III (7.3 ppg) will be the stars in San Diego. Though, much like their crosstown rival San Diego State, don’t expect an offense that is anything but abysmal.
After three years with Pacific in the league, fans of other WCC teams are likely still asking why the Tigers are around. It seems the answer may be simple math: nine teams made less sense than 10.
Junior guard Ray Bowles (11.1 ppg) and all-WCC honorable mention senior T.J. Wallace (10.8 ppg) are quality players, but the best thing going in Stockton right now is new head coach Damon Stoudamire of Arizona and NBA fame.
10. San Francisco
Former Columbia head coach Kyle Smith is not a man to envy this season. His first job after taking over at USF this offseason was to replace 10 players, and none of the returners started more than half the team’s games last year. Junior guard Ronnie Boyce (11.1 ppg), who started 14, is the most experienced veteran on the team. The five other returning players totaled just 365 points last season.
On the bright side, before heading to Columbia, Smith spent nine years as an assistant across the Bay Bridge at Saint Mary’s. He knows what it takes to win in the WCC, he just doesn’t have enough to do that yet.