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West Coast Conference preseason awards: Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga are loaded with talent

Get to know basically 100% of the Gaels’ and Zags’ rosters. Just kidding, kind of.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Arizona vs Saint Mary's Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga dominated the WCC last season, and they’re going to do it again this year. The Gaels and Zags had the most talent in the WCC last season, and they’ve got the most talent again this year. The words “Saint Mary’s”, “Gonzaga”, “Gaels” and “Zags” are all over these awards. You’ve been warned.

Now, something technical: The official all-WCC First Team consists of ten players. Why? I don’t know; it’s stupid. Ours will be traditional and honor just five. But since between the WCC’s first and second team there are 15 honorees, we’ll have a first, second and third team to match that number. Also, no newcomers. Just because.

Player of the Year

Jock Landale — Saint Mary’s Gaels

The big Aussie has a shot to be the league’s first consensus first team all-American since Kelly Olynyk in 2013. His deft touch and 6-foot-11, 255-pound frame make Landale a force down low. His box scores were impressive, with 17 double-doubles, six 20-and-10s, and an average of 16.9 points and 9.5 rebounds. But when you dig deeper his real value is even more evident.

Saint Mary’s played just 61.2 possessions per game last season, the second fewest in the country. Which makes the sheer volume of points and rebounds Landale accounted for become borderline absurd. Advanced metrics back this up, and he finished second to Villanova’s Josh Hart in Ken Pomeroy’s National Player of the Year rankings.

Coach of the Year

Randy Bennett — Saint Mary’s Gaels

Bennett has won the award three times over his 16 years at Saint Mary’s. He’d have won last year too, if Gonzaga hadn’t gone 29-1 in the regular season. And, if only because that probably won’t happen this year, Bennett has to be the favorite.

Yes, he might not have to do too much coaching with his senior laden squad. But he had to build that squad and keep them all in Moraga for four years. It paid off last year as his Gaels spent each and every week, starting with the preseason poll, ranked in the AP Top 25. This year should be no different, but the end result is expected to be better.

There’s never been a better basketball team in Moraga, California. It’s Randy Bennett’s year.

Newcomer of the Year

Zach Norvell Jr.Gonzaga Bulldogs

We haven’t seen Zach Norvell Jr. play a competitive basketball game in over a year. Nobody has. He scored 18 points last year in a preseason exhibition against West Georgia, but then put on a redshirt and sat out the season. Now fully recovered from meniscus surgery, the 6-foot-5 former four star recruit is ready to turn some heads if he hasn’t already. Earlier this month Norvell was named to the 21 man Erving Award preseason watch list.

Nobody has watched him play a game in a year, and he’s never played a competitive collegiate minute. But there he is among the nation’s best small forwards. It speaks to the level at which Gonzaga recruits these days.

First Team

G - Emmett Naar, Saint Mary’s
G - TJ Haws, BYU
F - Calvin Hermanson, Saint Mary’s
F - Johnathan Williams, Gonzaga
C - Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s

Look at that trio of four year seniors for Saint Mary’s. They’re why there is so much hype around the Gaels this season. Despite starting alongside another point guard last season, Emmett Naar finished third in the WCC with an assist rate of 28.5. Not to take anything away from the Aussie, but assists are pretty easy to rack up when you’ve got what he’s got around him. Calvin Hermanson, who led the WCC in offensive rating (129.1) and true shooting percentage (66.0%), could very well make the headband and glasses look blow up this season. And Jock Landale, well we already discussed Landale.

He might not be able to stop Landale from earning those honors, but Johnathan Williams is the only other player with a legitimate claim for preseason WCC Player of the Year. The senior power forward’s athleticism is unmatched in the WCC.

BYU has had a rough go recently, having missed the NCAA Tournament for two straight years. An at-large bid seems unlikely again this season, but sophomore TJ Haws (13.8 ppg) is the best player in a talented, young core that should elevate the Cougars going forward.

Second Team

G - Silas Melson, Gonzaga
G - Amadi Udenyi, Pepperdine
G - KJ Feagin, Santa Clara
G - Charles Minlend, San Francisco
F - Yoeli Childs, BYU

Amadi Udenyi and Silas Melson, both longtime sixth men, are seniors primed for their time in the spotlight.

Injuries, most recently an Achilles tear two weeks into last season, have cost Udenyi countless games over his career. Despite that lost time, he enters his redshirt senior season within reach of the Waves’ all-time assist record. His 331 assists are 163 shy of Jeremy Major’s record, set just last season. As a junior Udenyi dished out 145 assists while coming off the bench.

This isn’t supposed to be Silas Melson’s senior year, but a freak injury to Josh Perkins forced Mark Few to burn Melson’s freshman year redshirt. Since then he’s been stuck in a logjam of Gonzaga guards. This season, though, a starting spot should certainly be his. In conference play last season, among eligible players per KenPom, Melson ranked second in offensive rating (127.7) and first in three point percentage (49.1). So, don’t sleep on Silas.

KJ Feagin, an all-WCC second teamer last season, and Charles Minlend, an all-freshman teamer, will be asked to do even more this time around. Both Santa Clara and San Francisco have to replace their leading scorers.

Yoeli Childs, like the previously mentioned TJ Haws, is part of a talented young core for the Cougars. The 6-foot-8 sophomore is one of the more athletic big men in the WCC and a double-double machine.

Third Team

G - Josh Perkins, Gonzaga
G - Elijah Bryant, BYU
G - Olin Carter III, San Diego
F - Killian Tillie, Gonzaga
F - Anthony Townes, Pacific

Our third team features two players named to the conference’s official preseason first team: Josh Perkins and Olin Carter III. Perkins (8.1 ppg) saw his productivity drop last season, due to the arrivals of Nigel Williams-Goss and Jordan Mathews, but is still as talented as any Gonzaga point guard has been. Carter (15.3 ppg) is the lone returning bright spot in an otherwise anemic San Diego offense. The junior combo guard averaged over 12 field goal attempts last season, but connected on just 41% of them.

Junior Elijah Bryant was the CAA Rookie of the Year as a freshman before transferring to BYU. Injuries limited him to just 23 games, which was unfortunate for the Cougars because the 6-foot-5 guard was a top-10 WCC player last season in numerous measures of efficiency and shooting.

Killian Tillie (4.2 ppg) didn’t put up big numbers last season. He was just last guy in Gonzaga’s rotation last season (12.3 minutes per game). But the French stretch four is poised for a major jump in minutes this year, if not a spot in the starting lineup. His volleyball athleticism and icy veins have Zag fans salivating.

Over his first two years Anthony Townes (10.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg) has flown somewhat under the radar in the WCC. Townes got off to a slow start to his sophomore season, but started the final 23 games of the year. Of those, 20 were solid performances, at worst, and the other were games against Gonzaga. Such is life for a rising WCC underclassman.