The WCC recently unleashed its annual men’s basketball preseason coaches’ poll, and to no one’s surprise, coaches selected Gonzaga as their pick to win the WCC again. Gonzaga has won the WCC the last nine years, which is currently the longest conference title-winning streak in the nation. There is no doubt that Gonzaga is the best team in the conference, despite losing many key players to the NBA, but what other teams will compete for a high finish in the WCC? With the season just a week a way, here is a look at the top five teams according to the coaches’ poll.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs lost six players after last season, including Josh Heytvelt, Jeremy Pargo, Austin Daye and Micah Downs, all of whom were crucial to the team’s success last season. But as always, Gonzaga has found a way to rebuild the team with talented freshmen and solid veterans, whom they will count on to step up into bigger roles this season. Senior guard Matt Bouldin is the leader and best player of this Zags team. Last year he averaged 13.6 points per game, 4.1 rebounds per game, 3.4 assists per game and 1.5 steals per game. Bouldin does everything well on the court and should be able to carry the load on this team. The player that will most likely emerge as the second leading scorer is Junior Steven Gray, who averaged 9.1 points despite playing only 27 minutes. With the added minutes, he should score a lot more for the team, as he doesn’t have great players ahead of his this year, like Austin Daye and Micah Downs. The Bulldogs also added a great recruiting class, which includes Kelly Olynyk, a highly rated recruit from Canada. Gonzaga added four freshmen to the team, and all of them should contribute to the team. With all the talent and veteran leadership, Gonzaga will easily win their 10th straight WCC title.
Last season the Portland Pilots had a breakout year as they won 19 games after three straight losing seasons. They finished the season in third place in the WCC, which was a huge improvement for them. The Pilots are returning nine upperclassmen to their team and they will rely on their experience to lead them to another successful season. Portland is a fun team to watch because their offense is fast-paced and relies on the three-point shot. Their best player, senior Nik Raivio, is a great shooter/scorer and a leader for this team. Raivio averaged 16.1 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game last season. He is a dangerous player and among the best in the WCC; the success of Portland’s team will depend on his play. A big problem for Portland last season was their lack of size. Portland starts three guards in their offense because of their ability to shoot the three. But they give up rebounding and post defense and scoring by going with a small lineup. They were able to add some size by recruiting power forwards John Bailey and Ryan Nicholas and center Riley Barker. If their big men can improve, then Portland will be very hard to beat.
St. Mary’s lost their best player, Patrick Mills, to the NBA draft after last season. The loss of Mills is a big for St. Mary’s as he was their leader and most explosive player. Last season Mills did not play for nine games due to injury and the Gaels went 6-3, but with him in the lineup they were 20-3. Saint Mary’s also lost five seniors including forward Diamon Simpson who was a three time All-WCC first timer. Losing those players will be tough to overcome but this team still has some talented players. They will be led by six foot eleven senior center Omar Samhan who was the second leading scorer on the team last season, averaging 14.1 points per game while also snagging 9.4 rebounds per game and blocking two shots a game. The Gaels will be banking on senior guard Wayne Hunter and junior guard Mickey McConnell to emerge as second and third scoring options. The success of Saint Mary’s team will be how well they replace the production of Mills and Simpson.
University of San Francsico
The USF Dons had another losing season last year but they showed vast improvements from the previous seasons. Coming into the season, the Dons have essentially the roster, as they did not suffer many significant losses. The team is young but led by WCC scoring leader and senior forward Dior Lowhorn. Lowhorn had another outstanding season last year as he managed to score 20 points per game despite playing through double and triple teams for much of last season. Senior forward Blake Wallace had a nice first season for the Dons as he finished fourth on the team in scoring with 8.5 points per game. He is a big man who can shoot the three, which is always a dangerous weapon on offense. If he can have a good season, that would do a lot to improve the team this year. Sophomores Kwame Vaughn and Angelo Caloiaro contributed a lot to the team last year as freshmen. With their improvement and the addition of Rashad Green, who was redshirted last year, the Dons have solid young players. USF also did a great job during the recruiting season to sign highly-rated recruits Dominique O’Connor and Perris Blackwell. They also signed big men Tomas Bruha and Moustapha Diarra to add depth and defense along the front line. Coach Walters has quietly built a solid, deep team that should be competitive in the WCC and may surprise some people.
The Santa Clara Broncos are coming off another solid season as they went 16-17 on the year. After the season they lost their best player, John Bryant, to the NBA draft. Bryant, who was named conference player of the year last season, averaged 18.1 points per game, 14.2 rebounds per game and 2.5 blocks per game all while shooting .596 from the field. His size and play will be difficult to replace, but with his loss the Broncos are improved in their speed and athleticism. They will be led by sophomore guard Kevin Foster who averaged 14.7 points per game last season while setting a season record for most three pointers made with 85. Foster’s shooting will have to lead the team this year if they hope to compete for the top of the WCC. The Broncos will have to rely on youngsters to make up for Bryant’s loss. Sophomore Marc Trasolini and freshman Niyi Harrison are the most likely players to step in for Bryant. These players add more athleticism to the team, which was something they were lacking in Bryant. If the team can adjust styles with ease, they will be very competitive.