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West Coast Conference media day: Saint Mary’s is the favorite

It’s not Gonzaga’s league anymore, folks.

NCAA Basketball: St. Mary's at Gonzaga
Calvin Hermanson (24), Johnathan Williams (3) and Jock Landale (24) all made the preseason all-WCC team.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS — The Saint Mary’s Gaels are the overwhelming favorites according to West Coast Conference coaches. Randy Bennett’s Gaels received nine first place votes to Gonzaga’s one. They also led the way on the all-conference team with three players named. Gonzaga and BYU were represented by two players each.

Preseason poll:

  1. Saint Mary’s Gaels (9)
  2. Gonzaga Bulldogs (1)
  3. BYU Cougars
  4. San Francisco Dons
  5. Santa Clara Broncos
  6. San Diego Toreros
  7. Pepperdine Waves
  8. Pacific Tigers
  9. Portland Pilots
  10. Loyola Marymount Lions

Preseason all-conference team:

Olin Carter III, Jr., G, San Diego
Yoeli Childs, So., F, BYU
KJ Feagin, Jr., G, Santa Clara
TJ Haws, So., G, BYU
Calvin Hermanson, Sr., F, Saint Mary’s
Jock Landale, Sr., C, Saint Mary’s
Charles Minlend, So., F, San Francisco
Emmett Naar, Sr., G, Saint Mary’s
Josh Perkins, Jr., G, Gonzaga
Johnathan Williams, Sr., F, Gonzaga

News and notes:

The people who know best know that Saint Mary’s is absolutely loaded

The coaches named three Gaels to the all-conference team, as Calvin Hermanson and Emmett Naar joined last year’s breakout star Jock Landale on the 10-man squad. After exploding onto the scene last season, Landale is a trendy pick for national honors this year. Conference commissioner Lynn Holzman noted in her address that Landale was named a Blue Ribbon preseason first team all-American. Holzman also pointed out that the Gaels were ranked in the Top 25 for the entirety of last season.

They’re back this year, but they’re behind Gonzaga in the USA Today Coaches Poll. As to which projection is correct, my money is on the people closer to these programs.

Same, but better for San Francisco

After overachieving in 2016-17 — USF was picked ninth last season but ended up winning 20 games and finishing fourth — head coach Kyle Smith said he doesn’t have many new goals for this year, just the same, but better.

With nine players returning from last year’s squad, there’s continuity in San Francisco for the first time in recent memory. More over, there’s real talent in that group. Sophomore forward Charles Minlend was named to the preseason all-conference team. Even though he’s been less than 100 percent this preseason, Smith isn’t worried.

“He’s been a little dinged up,” Smith said. “But Jordan Ratinho kinda goes a little under the radar. I’m very lucky to have both of them. They’re just building blocks, and to have them for three more years is really exciting.”

Both Minlend and Ratinho were all-freshmen performers last season. As long as they’re on the Hilltop, the Dons will be just fine.

KJ Feagin’s health is huge for Santa Clara

Last year, the Broncos came in fifth place in the WCC but managed just a 17-16 record overall. For the first 12 and final two games of the year, they were without the services of then-sophomore KJ Feagin. In those games, they went 6-8.

“We ended up playing about half the schedule without KJ last year,” coach Herb Sendek said. “But the games we did play he made a real difference for us.”

If he can stay healthy, there’s no reason to expect he won’t make an even bigger difference this season. An offseason foot surgery kept the preseason all-conference guard shut down for most of the summer, but he’s back at full strength now.

“Through the first weeks of practice, he’s playing his best basketball,” Sendek said.

Nobody expects BYU to break through

Where do the Cougars fall in the WCC hierarchy? In terms of talent, they’re at or near the top. Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws were both named to the preseason all-WCC team, making BYU one of just three teams with multiple all-conference players. But performance is another issue, as the Cougars lost twice as many regular season conference games last year as Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s combined. With 62 points in the preseason poll, the Cougars sit far closer to fourth place San Francisco (59 points) than second place Gonzaga (73).

This is a proud program with championship aspirations. But this year, the Cougars will have to fight for third place rather than be part of some WCC big three.

Gonzaga knows two very different second places

Last year’s second-place team in all of college basketball is picked to be this year’s second place team in the West Coast Conference. That’s quite a drop. But, Gonzaga lost a lot of pieces from last year’s team. Contrast that with Saint Mary’s, which brings pretty much everything back, and it’s totally reasonable to expect Gonzaga to fall from first this season. As crazy as that sounds.

The Salt Lake Tribune’s Jay Drew pointed out that this is the first time in 17 years that Gonzaga is not the preseason favorite in the WCC.