WCC BASKETBALL PREVIEW –
Here is our complete rundown of all nine basketball teams in the West Coast Conference, which now includes BYU.
Gonzaga had to hit rock bottom last season before making a late run – aided by St. Mary’s slump — to earn a share of its 11th straight conference title.
And despite the loss of its best player (Steven Gray) and the addition of BYU to the WCC, the Zags are favored to win it again.
It’s getting more and more difficult for Gonzaga to dominate the WCC, what with St. Mary’s having established itself as a perennial contender, and San Francisco and Santa Clara becoming threats, not to mention the added competition from BYU.
But if the Zags could manage to keep their streak of consecutive titles alive last season, despite being 2½ game out of the lead with four games left, there should be no doubters that they can do it again.
Gonzaga returns three starters, and its talented five-man freshman class, featuring guards Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos, is by far the best recruiting class in the conference.
And that does not include the fact that redshirt sophomore G David Stockton, senior G Marquise Carter and sophomore F Sam Dower all played much better toward the end of their first season of college competition last year.
Despite the losses of Gray, the leading scorer at 13.9 ppg, and Demetri Goodson, who transferred to Baylor to play football, there is every reason to believe the Zags will be better than last season.
C Robert Sacre is the best big man in the conference, and Elias Harris, who looked like an NBA first-rounder as a freshman, figures to have a bounce back junior season after a disappointing sophomore year.
Stockton seems primed to take over the point guard spot, and there is more than enough talent to fill in every conceivable void.
Other than Harris, the Zags don’t have outstanding athletes blowing by everyone, but you can count on them being an outstanding defensive team, as they are every year, and, despite the loss of Gray, they should be a good outside shooting team once again.
As usual, the brutal nonconference schedule will toughened them for whatever they’ll meet in the WCC and give them some national exposure.
Anything less than a 14th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament will be a major disappointment.
–Gonzaga’s streak of 13 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances is the fourth longest active streak, behind Kansas (22), Duke (16) and Michigan State (14).
Its streak of 11 straight conference titles is the longest current such streak and the second longest in history, behind only UCLA’s 13 in a row from 1967 to 1979.
– Gonzaga was just 3-3 in the WCC at one point last season, having lost three straight conference games for the first time since 1996 after its home loss to St. Mary’s, which was unbeaten in the WCC at the time.
The Zags’ run of WCC titles and NCAA Tournament berths seemed to be at an end. But they rallied to tie for the regular-season title, win the conference tournament and upset No. 6 seed St. John’s in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
—The annual rumors that Mark Few would be headed elsewhere have quieted in recent years. He enters his 13th season at Gonzaga, and he seems settled there for the long haul. At this point, it’s difficult to imagine a program he would leave Gonzaga for.
— The Zags were ranked No. 23 in the coaches preseason poll, and their schedule again is brutal, with nonconference games against Xavier, Michigan State, Arizona, Butler, Illinois and Notre Dame
LAST YEAR: 25-10 overall, 11-3 in the WCC
HEAD COACH: Mark Few, 13th year as head coach (315-83 at Gonzaga 315-83 career)
QUOTE: “When it’s all said and done, I think it’ll be the highest-rated schedule we’ve ever had.” – Gonzaga coach Mark Few, to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, despite having some very tough nonconference schedules in the past.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG David Stockton, SG Marquise Carter, SF Elias Harris, PF Sam Dower, C Robert Sacre
The starting five might not have quite the star power and scoring potential of some Gonzaga teams of the past, but they are solid, and should get better as Stockton, Carter and Dower all improved late last season.
Dower and Sacre provide an almost unstoppable low-post presence, and Harris has a chance to be the best player in the conference after an so-so sophomore season.
Gonzaga will have more depth than it has had in recent years with 7-foot Kelly Olynyk and a slew of freshmen – most notably Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos – coming off the bench. One or two of those freshmen could even break into the starting five.
The key is Stockton. If he continues the improvement he showed late last season and shows he can hit the outside shot, the Zags will have something special.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS
The Bulldogs have six newcomers, including five true freshmen, and all of them could see playing time, although it seems inevitable that at least one or two of them will redshirt.
G Gary Bell Jr., who can do virtually anything on the court, is a good bet to be WCC freshman of the year, although Kevin Pangos, already a solid point guard who seldom makes a mistake, may challenge him.
Kyle Drainginis is a good shooter who figures to play too, while Chris Sarbaugh and Ryan Spangler may have to wait their turn.
The wild card is junior college transfer Guy Landry Edi.
–Freshman Chris Sarbaugh had knee surgery in July that kept him off the court awhile, and although he is practicing, he’s a candidate to redshirt.
—Junior Guy Landry Edi was working through knee problems as preseason practice began. It did not require surgery but limited his participation in practice.
—Manny Arop, who received significant playing time last season, transferred to Indiana State in the offseason.
— C Robert Sacre shaved his head during the early part of preseason practice, giving him a distinctive bald look.
St. Mary’s most important offseason activity was to sign Randy Bennett to a 10-year contract extension, which should mean continued success for the small school in Moraga, Calif.
That may have helped him get over being passed over for an NCAA Tournament berth for the second time in three years despite having 26 wins in 2009 and 25 wins and a share of the regular-season conference title in 2011.
To successfully defend their 2011 WCC regular-season title – and perhaps finish alone in first rather than sharing the crown with Gonzaga as they did last season – the Gaels must make up for the loss of just one starter.
However, that one starter was the WCC player of the year, Mickey McConnell. Plus, he occupied the most important position on the floor – point guard – and he directed so much of what the Gaels did on the floor, his loss cannot be minimized.
It means Bennett will have to alter some players’ roles, specifically the role of Matthew Dellavedova. An off-guard the past two seasons, Dellavedova is expected to take over the point-guard duties as a junior. That should not be too difficult for Dellavedova, because, late last season, he and McConnell both performed point-guard chores – with one handling the ball out front on one possession and the other running the team on the next.
Like McConnell, Dellavedova (13.4 ppg, 5.3 apg) has the ability to drive the lane and hit three-pointers. However, he is more inclined to try to score than McConnell, who was equally adepts at finishing himself or passing to a teammate. Plus, Dellavedova cannot match McConnell accuracy on three-pointers.
Otherwise, things should look much the same for the Gaels, with all-conference forward Rob Jones (13.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg) returning along with Dellavedova and two other starters from last season.
That does not include F/C Mitchell Young, who did not start any games last season but plays starter minutes and is clearly the team’s third best player. Bennett would prefer to have Young continue to come off the bench, but it remains to be seen whether he can afford to do that with the loss of his leading scorer, McConnell.
It also does not include sophomore G Stephen Holt, who became a starter for the final few games and could become a star this season on both ends of the court.
A perimeter-oriented team last season, the Gaels may be more balanced with the addition of 7-foot transfer Kyle Rowley and 6-9 redshirt freshman Brad Waldow.
The return of G Jorden Page, who missed last season with a knee injury, should help as well, as the Gaels have every reason to believe they can challenge for the WCC title again, despite the addition of BYU and Gonzaga’s strong returning cast.
— Coach Randy Bennett signed a 10-year contract extension, which means he is under contract through the 2020-2021 season. Although this will not prevent the annual rumors that Bennett could leave and go elsewhere, it seems Bennett is likely to stay. Bennett is not the kind of person who would make or accept such a commitment unless he planned to honor it. The rumors that he might leave have subsided in recent years anyway, as Bennett has shown a reluctance to leave. The only school that seriously pursued Bennett was Oregon State before Craig Robinson took the job, although Bennett was considered a serious candidate for the Cal job before Mike Montgomery came out of nowhere to get the job.
— St. Mary’s had a serious collapse at the end of last season that prevented the Gaels from winning the regular-season title outright and prevented it from getting to the NCAA Tournament. The Gaels had a 2½-game lead on Gonzaga with three conference games left, and they had already beaten Gonzaga on the road. But the Gaels lost to last-place San Diego, dropped a nonconference game at home to Utah State, then lost at home to Gonzaga before winning their final regular-season game to salvage a tie for the title. But St. Mary’s then lost rather decisively to Gonzaga in the WCC tournament finals. Mickey McConnell’s level of play dropped precipitously during that stretch.
— For the fourth straight year, St. Mary’s will host a game in ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon, and for the fourth straight year that game will start at 11 p.m. West Coast time. The Gaels have won all three of the previous late-night games, beating St. John’s a year ago. This season St. Mary’s will host Northern Iowa in its 11 p.m. game on Nov. 15.
LAST YEAR: 25-9 overall, 11-3 in the WCC.
HEAD COACH: Randy Bennett, 11th year as head coach (208-112 at St. Mary’s; 208-112 career)
QUOTE: “The longer you’re there, the more equity you have in the program and the more it means to you. It’s a good match.” – St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett, to the Oakland Tribune, after signing a 10-year contract extension in August 2011.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Matthew Dellavedova, SG Stephen Holt, SF Clint Steindl, PF Rob Jones, C Tim Williams.
St. Mary’s has always relied on outside shooting and getting scoring from all five positions. That should be the case again this season whenever Mitchell Young replaces Tim Williams or Kenton Walker III at the center spot.
Matthew Dellavedova’s ability to handle the point with be critical, and Clint Steindl must recover from the shooting slump he had much of last season. If he is not shooting well, his usefulness declines. That is why Stephen Holt replaced him in the starting lineup late in the season, and Holt looks like a budding star, both at the offensive and defensive ends.
It will be interesting to see how prominent Holt becomes as a scorer and how Randy Bennett will use Jorden Page after he missed most of last season.
G Paul McCoy, a transfer from SMU, could help in the backcourt as well.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS:
The Gaels brought in just one freshman this season, but they have three redshirt freshmen and two transfers that may make impacts.
Kyle Rowley, a 7-footer, started 28 games as a freshman at Northwestern and five more as a sophomore before transferring and sitting out last season. He should help up front, as should 6-9 redshirt freshman Brad Waldow.
G Paul McCoy may see action after sitting out last season following two seasons at SMU. He started 16 games at SMU as a sophomore before a knee injury ended his season.
Redshirt freshmen wing player 6-7 Eividas Petrulis of Lithuania may see some time, and redshirt freshman G Zach Sanchez is a walk-on.
The one true freshman is Jordan Giusti, who would have to show a lot in preseason or early in the regular season to get significant playing time.
–Junior G Matthew Dellavedova was a member of Australian national team that beat New Zealand in a best-of-three series in September to earn a berth in the 2012 Olympics. Dellavedova played more than 18 minutes in all three games, but did not shoot well, hitting just 1 of 12 shots for the series and totaling 10 points.
—Former St. Mary’s G Patty Mills signed a contract during the summer to play with the Melbourne Tigers in Australia’s professional basketball league.
— Former Gaels G Mickey McConnell was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Major League Baseball draft in June even though he had not played baseball in four years. However, McConnell signed to play professional basketball in Italy.
— Junior G Jorden Page had knee surgery last winter for an injury that caused him to miss all but seven games last season, but he has returned an seems to be a full strength.
It’s still hard to believe BYU will be playing at venues like St. Mary’s 3,000-seat McKeon Pavilion, the site of the Cougars’ first West Coast Conference game.
It’s equally hard to image the Gaels playing in BYU’s 22,700-seat area with first place possibly being on the line later this season.
In fact, it hard to believe BYU is in the WCC at all as the conference’s ninth member, because it just seems so different from the other eight.
“BYU changes the whole dynamic of our league,” San Francisco coach Rex Walters said. “They’re a totally different animal.”
The fact that its arena is more than three times the size of any other arena in the WCC is part of the difference, as is the fact that BYU is likely to have as much support at many of its WCC road games as the home team.
And then there’s the fact that BYU spent nearly all of last season ranked in the top 10 and had the national player of the year in Jimmer Fredette. The Cougars just seem too big for the WCC.
Nonetheless, BYU is not going to be running roughshod over the WCC. Not only does it seem unlikely BYU will win the WCC in its first (and perhaps only) season in the WCC, it may not finish second. And given its considerable losses in the backcourt and the way coach Dave Rose is going to have to alter his attack as a result, a fourth or fifth-place finish is not out of the question.
Not only did the Cougars lose Fredette, but they lost their No. 2 scorer and backcourt mate Emery Jackson.
Kyle Collinsworth, a starter last season as a freshman, is off on his Mormon mission, and his brother, Chris, is coming off microfracture knee surgery, which is always an iffy situation even though he seems to be progressing rapidly as preseason practice gets underway.
Rose can only be thankful that Bandon Davies has been reinstated after being dismissed for a school-code violation late last season. The 6-9 Davies (11.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg) becomes the Cougars best player, and he and 6-8 Noah Hartsock are the reasons BYU will go from a team that lived on the perimeter with Fredette and Jackson to one that will pound it inside every chance it gets.
The biggest issue is point guard, and, although no one can replace the numbers Fredette put up, BYU thinks it has the answer in Matt Carlino, a transfer from UCLA who never got on the court with the Bruins. However, he has to sit out the first 10 games as a transfer, and won’t start playing until Dec. 17.
Ball-handling and outside shooting are concerns, and BYU’s success may depend on whether Carlino is ready to be a floor general for his new team by the time BYU plays its first WCC game.
–When basketball practice began in mid-October, it was unclear whether BYU would be in the WCC for more than one season. The basketball move to the WCC was necessitated by the football team wanting to become an independent, and it appears the Cougars could be playing in the Big 12 next season.
— BYU has finished in the top two in the Mountain West Conference in each of Dave Rose’s first six years as the Cougars’ coach. But even though BYU seems to be stepping down in class by joining the WCC, the Cougars may be unable to finish in the top two this season. Most preseason publications predict Gonzaga and St. Mary’s will finish first and second.
—Although BYU will suffer from the loss of Jimmer Fredette, Rose had survived after the loss of a star in the past. The year after BYU lost conference player of the year Keena Young, the Cougars won 27 games in 2008. After Lee Cummard graduated in 2009, the Cougars won 30 games in 2010.
—Dave Rose signed a new five-year contract last April.
LAST YEAR: 32-5 overall, 14-2 in Mountain West
HEAD COACH: Dave Rose, seventh season as head coach (159-45 at BYU; 159-45 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: “I think we will rely on our frontline, especially early in the year.” – BYU coach Dave Rose, to the Salt Lake Tribune, regarding the switch in emphasis with Jimmer Fredette gone.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Matt Carlino, SG Charles Abuou, SF Chris Collinsworth, PF Noah Hartsock, C Brandon Davies.
Who will be the point guard until Carlino become eligible in mid-December is anyone’s guess, but the team is likely to struggle until then, and ball-handling may be an issue throughout the season.
The frontcourt of Davis, Hartsock and Collinsworth is strong and should be formidable, assuming Collinsworth’s knee is stable, and Davies should emerge as the team’s star and top scorer.
Obouo is tough, 6-5 defender, who might be out of position if forced to play in the backcourt, but he can probably make it work.
Depth is an issue, and the Cougars must hope guard Brock Zylstra and freshman Damascus Harrison can provide help off the bench.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS:
The Cougars had nine freshmen on its 17-man roster when preseason practice began, although Dave Rose is likely to travel with just 13 players.
The most important newcomer is PG Matt Carlino, a transfer from UCLA who is a freshman and is likely to be a starter when he becomes eligible Dec. 17.
After Carlino, the most likely newcomer to contribute is shooting guard Damascus Harrison, the most highly touted incoming recruit.
Also, G Josh Sharp could be a factor, even though he has not played since his senior year of high school in 2007-2008. He is a freshman who transferred from Utah.
— Junior Brandon Davies was readmitted to school on Aug. 26 and was reinstated on the basketball team. Davies had been suspended last March for an honor code violation – reportedly for having sexual relations with his girlfriend. He withdrew from school at that point, and fulfilled the requirements for re-admission.
–Sophomore Chris Collinsworth played just nine games last season before having microfracture knee surgery last January. Less than two months before the start of preseason practice, he was still having a lot of pain in that knee and it didn’t look like he would be ready for the start of the season. But suddenly the knee started improving, and he’s participating in practice. If he continues to improve at that pace, he could be in the starting lineup early in the season.
— Freshman G Josh Sharp transferred from Utah in the offseason, but will not have to sit out because of a loophole BYU discovered in the paperwork in the letter of intent to Utah he signed back in 2007. His letter of intent became invalid, and he could sign with any school and not sit out. He did not play the past two seasons while on his Mormon mission.
— Chris Cusick transferred from Utah to BYU
There’s a chance the glory may return for San Francisco basketball this season.
The Dons won’t be the favorite for the WCC title. They won’t even be picked second. But they have a chance – albeit a tenuous one – to challenge Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and BYU for the regular season title.
While Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and BYU each lost its best player, the Dons return all five starters from a team that finished just one game out of first place last season.
The steady progression the Dons have made under Rex Walters suggests they may be ready to break through to elite status in Walters’ fourth season.
“We have a chance to be pretty darn good this year, and I’d like to think we’re capable of winning the title,” Walters said.
But the question is whether USF can handle the high expectations. Loyola Marymount couldn’t do it last season when it was expected to challenge the elite teams, and San Diego finished 6-8 in the conference when it returned all five starters from a team that beat Connecticut in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and BYU are used to high expectations; USF isn’t, and it’s a different kind of pressure.
But the pieces are there, including all-conference players Mikey Williams and Rashad Green on the wings, improving low-post presence Perris Blackwell, reliable F Angelo Caloiaro, and Cody Doolin, a small, but bold point guard, who proved his ability to perform in clutch situations last season as a true freshman.
The Dons also have G Dominique O’Connor, who missed virtually all of his first two season with knee injuries. He provides additional quickness in the backcourt.
The margin for error is small for USF, though. They relied heavily on taking care of the ball on offense and consistently strong, physical play on defense, and they don’t have the talent to overcome any lapses in those categories.
–The only players of significance that San Francisco lost from last season’s team were F Moustapha Diarra, who started 11 games and was fifth on the team in scoring at 7.8 ppg, and Marko Petrovic, who averaged about 18 minutes a game but left school to play professionally in Europe.
— The health of Dominique O’Connor and is a key issue for the Dons. O’Connor was penciled in a starter as a freshman but missed the entire season with a knee injury. He was a starter for the first two games last season before injuring his knee again and missing the rest of the season. O’Connor seems to be moving well and has not lost any of his quickness.
– The Dons are trying to reach the NCAA Tournament for only the second time since 1982, which was USF’s final season before the program was shut down for three years because of repeated NCAA violations. Their one trip to the NCAA Tournament since then was in 1998, when USF finished 7-7 in the WCC regular season but won the conference tournament. That was when the conference was much weaker, before Gonzaga and St. Mary’s reached national prominence, and obviously before BYU joined the WCC.
– San Francisco won two postseason games last season in the CollegeInsider.com postseason event before losing at home to WCC rival Santa Clara.
LAST YEAR: 19-15 overall, 10-4 in the WCC
HEAD COACH: Rex Walters, 4th year as head coach (42-53 at USF; 73-85 career)
QUOTE: “We felt we were as good as Gonzaga at the end of last year.” – San Francisco coach Rex Walters, whose team split two regular-season games with Gonzaga and played the Zags virtually even in the WCC semifinals before losing by four points.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Cody Doolin, SG Michael Williams, SG Rashard Green, PF Angelo Caloiaro, C Perris Blackwell.
The Dons don’t have a lot of size, but 6-8 forwards Angelo Caloiaro and 6-8 Perris Blackwell give them a nice pair of rebounders, and Blackwell is an animal in the post.
Michael Williams, the team’s top scorer last season, is one of the fastest players in the WCC, and Rashard Green does a little bit of everything. PG Cody Doolin provides a hard-nosed scrappy mentality, and Dominique O’Connor provides speed off the bench, although he could conceivably become a starter.
Charles Standifer has a chance to be an outstanding wingman after missing most of last season with a foot injury, and Avery Johnson provides defensive help off the bench.
The Dons are not a great outside shooting team, so they depend heavily on ball movement and penetration. They lack a standout player who can carry a team in times of trouble, something Gonzaga and St. Mary’s have.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS:
Dominique O’Connor is a third-year player, but he is a newcomer in many ways because he has played only two games for USF. If he has sufficiently recovered from his two knee surgeries – and it appears he has – he could be a big factor.
Sophomore Charles Standifer played only seven games last season before being shut down because of ankle and foot problems, but he is an athletic player with potential.
The Dons added three freshmen –- F Mark Tollefsen, G Chris Adams and G Gavin Hoffmann – but they may not see much action unless there are injuries.
–Sophomore F Charles Standifer is trying to get a medical redshirt after playing just seven games last season. USF is saying the injury was originally misdiagnosed and that he would have been shut down earlier if the appropriate diagnosis had been made.
— Marko Petrovic left after his freshman season to play professionally in Europe.
— Freshman G Chris Adams did not sign with San Francisco until May of last spring.
At least Marty Wilson won’t have the pressure of high expectations in his first permanent job as a head coach.
The Waves lost their top three scorers from last season – one through graduation (Mychel Thompson), one through transfer (Keion Bell) and one through season-ending injury (Lorne Jackson). The loss of Jackson to an offseason knee injury (torn anterior cruciate ligament) was particularly troubling because he had been penciled in as the team leader and its one and only all-conference-caliber player.
Even though three players who started the final game last season are back, the Waves relied heavily on the three departed players for their offense. And even those players couldn’t provide much success, as the Waves lost 21 games, the sixth straight season the Waves have lost 20 or more games.
If Pepperdine end that streak this season it will be a surprise, because the Waves will do well to finish out of last place.
Pepperdine brought in Tom Asbury to get the program back to being the West Coast Conference power it had been when Asbury was the coach previously from 1988 to 1994. He simply couldn’t do it. Whether it was because the conference is stronger than it was in the 1990s or some other reason, the Waves continued to lag near the bottom.
It had been Asbury’s intention from the start to coach two or three seasons (he lasted three) and turn the team over to Wilson. But he didn’t leave it the way he had hoped.
Wilson is building from ground level, with Taylor Darby being his top returning scorer, at 7.7 ppg, and the two other returning starters at season’s end – 6-10 Corbin Moore and G Joshua Lowery – starting a little more than half the games last season.
Five newcomers are on the team, including two junior college transfers, and most of them will get immediate playing time. Freshman G Jordan Baker is the one most likely to see action early, and he could become a starter.
Wilson will be asked to put together a lot of untested parts in a cohesive manner and improve a program that has lingered at the bottom of the WCC for nearly a decade. The past few years the Waves have been inconsistent on defense, lacked a playmaker, did not play well as a unit, constantly experienced lineup changes and did not shoot well from outside.
Outside shooting, point guard play and defense again figure to be issues for the Waves, who also lack a proven leader.
With Gonzaga and St. Mary’s established at perennial power and BYU added to the conference, the chore is much more difficult than in the past.
And Wilson is being asked to do it in his first season as a fulltime head coach. If the Waves do anything other than finish last, the season will be considered a success – and a surprise.
— Marty Wilson had been a head coach at Pepperdine previously, taking over as interim head coach for the final 13 games of the 1995-96 season after Tony Fuller got fired. Wilson went 3-10 in that stint.
— Wilson is trying to recover the feeling the program had when it was the WCC’s kingpin through the 1980s and early 1990s by reaching out to a lot of the players from that era and making them part of the program. Eight former Pepperdine stars were on hand to judge the slam dunk contest on the Waves opening-night event on Oct. 14: Doug Christie, Dana Jones, Geoff Lear, Levy Middlebrooks, Dwayne Polee, Orlando Phillips, Dane Suttle and Camel Stevens.
— Pepperdine has had a losing WCC record for seven seasons in a row. It’s hard to believe that from 1975 through 2002, it was one of the powers of the conference – in fact, probably the strongest basketball program in the conference over that period.
— Jim Harrick, who coached the Waves to a first-place finish in five of his nine seasons as Pepperdine’s head coach in the 1980s, was inducted into the Pepperdine Hall of Fame in October.
LAST YEAR: 12-21 overall, 5-9 in the WCC.
HEAD COACH: Marty Wilson, first season at head coach (0-0 at Pepperdine, 3-10 as interim head coach at Pepperdine in 1996).
QUOTE: “I want a team that’s going to be smart. I want a team that’s going to be tough. I want a team that’s going to be unselfish. Defensively, we’re going to compete.” – Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson, although the team was none of those things the past few years.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Joshua Lowery, G Jordan Baker, SF Dane Suttle Jr., PF Taylor Darby, C Corbin Moore.
The lineup may look nothing like this by the time WCC play begins, and Marty Wilson probably will try a number of combinations hoping to find one that works. Joshua Lowery probably will get the first shot at being the point guard, but it remains to be seen whether he’s the answer because Wilson wants to push the pace.
Freshman Jordan Baker has a chance to be a starter before long, and he is the one player on the team that has a chance to become a star, although it may not be this season.
Taylor Darby is a pretty good rebounder, and Corbin Moore has a pretty good touch for a big man and will be asked to step up his scoring considerably. Dane Suttle Jr. is one of the team’s few outside threats.
Junior college transfers Moriba De Freitas, a 6-9 forward, and Nikolas Skouen, a 6-4 guard, are expected to play right away and may be starters, and freshman Manny Okenje, a summer signee, has the potential to be something special, perhaps even this season.
F Hector Harold and G Caleb Willis are two other returning players who have started a number of games and could see playing time.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS:
The Waves bring in five newcomers, and at least four figure to play significant minutes this season.
The most important newcomer is freshman G Jordan Baker, the most highly touted recruit Pepperdine has had in some time. He is an athletic combo guard who could become the Waves’ point guard.
The Waves also added freshman Manny Ochenje, a 6-9 player with athleticism and potential.
A Nigerian, Ochenje is also one of three foreign-born players among the newcomers. Junior college transfer Nikolas Skouen of Norway is expected to provide some needed outside shooting, and the other JC transfer is Moriba De Freitas, who was born in Trinidad and is more effective as a defender than an offensive threat.
The other newcomer is 6-8 freshman Ramon Eaton.
–Freshman PG/SG Jordan Baker was named Gatorade player of year in Arizona last season and was also named a third-team Parade All-American.
—Senior G Lorne Jackson, who averaged 16.6 points in WCC games last season, tore his ACL in June and had reconstructive surgery on July 18. He is expected to redshirt and return next season.
–Freshman F Manny Ochenje was originally listed as a 2012 recruit but completed his academic obligation sooner than expected and became eligible this season. He signed with Tennessee-Chattanooga last fall, but got a release and signed with Pepperdine this past July.
—F Paulin Mpawe signed with Pepperdine last fall, but he was given a release from his letter-of-intent in the offseason and is expected to play at junior college. That opened up a scholarship for Ochenje.
When September began, everything seemed to be lining up nicely for Santa Clara to make a run at a conference title.
The Broncos were coming off a season in which they had beaten Gonzaga at home, then won a postseason tournament. It was only the CollegeInsiders.com Postseason tournament, which is hardly the most prestigious event around, but the Broncos had beaten some good teams, the last three wins coming on the road, including a victory over San Francisco.
Coach Kerry Keating had signed a new contract in April, so he seemed settled. There had been no offseason drama as there had been in past years when players transferred, and though it lost two starters, Santa Clara returned the three key components of the team – fourth-year junior G Kevin Foster, sophomore PG Evan Roquemore and senior F Marc Trasolini – were back.
In Foster, the Broncos had, quite simply, the best returning player in the conference. He led the WCC in scoring (20.2 ppg) and might have been WCC player of the year last season if the Broncos had finished higher than fourth. And he was great in the postseason.
Roquemore improved throughout the season as a freshman point guard and had already shown he had the talent and the nerve to be a quality lead guard.
And Trasolini was the inside complement to the two guards, a player who could collect a lot of rebounds, score inside, yet also venture to the perimeter and score if need be.
Three of the four key reserves – John McArthur, Niyi Harrison and Raymond Cowells III – were back, and large freshman class might help, especially 6-9 Robert Garrett.
With a trip to Canada coming up, the Broncos could get an early start on competition, plus some extra practices.
But in the first game of that Canada tour, Trasolini tore his anterior-cruciate ligament and was lost for the season, robbing the Broncos of their leading rebounder and No. 2 scorer from last season.
The Broncos will still be good, but without Trasolini, they went from being a team likely to finish third or fourth to one that should be picked to finish fifth.
Unless McArthur or Garrett makes rapid strides to provide an inside presence, the Broncos will be even more perimeter-oriented than they were last season.
Foster can carry the team quite a ways, but he may not be able to get the team to the level of St. Mary’s or Gonzaga – or maybe not to the level of BYU or improving San Francisco — without Trasolini.
— Part of the reason Santa Clara picked the Vancouver, British Columbia, area as its summer tour destination is because Marc Trasolini is from Vancouver. But two minutes into the first exhibition game of the tour, Trasolini tore his anterior-cruciate ligament. Two days after the injury the team had dinner at Trasolini’s parents’ house in Vancouver. Trasolini, a senior, will be able to return to play next season while he takes graduate courses, and with Kevin Foster and Evan Roquemore both having eligibility remaining next season, the Broncos could be a contender in 2012-2013.
— In July, Kerry Keating signed a two-year contract extension that takes him through the 2014-2015 season.
— Santa Clara won its final three games of the CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament on the road in three different parts of the country. In the quarterfinals, it won at San Francisco, a team that had defeated the Broncos twice during the regular season. In the semifinals, Santa Clara won at SMU, although an injury to the Mustangs’ best player, Papa Dia, hurt SMU. The Broncos won at Iona in the finals. Kevin Foster averaged 25.4 points in the five-game tournament, including 36 against Air Force and 35 against SMU.
—Santa Clara led the country in free throws made last season, with 250.
LAST YEAR: 24-14 overall, 8-6 in the WCC
HEAD COACH: Kerry Keating, fifth year as head coach (66-68 at Santa Clara; 66-68 career)
QUOTE: “We’re going to have at least one or two of our underclassmen be pretty consistent in our top rotation.” – Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating, on the team’s dependence on its six scholarship freshmen and redshirt freshmen.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Evan Roquemore, SG Kevin Foster, SF Raymond Cowels III, PF Niyi Harrison, C John McArthur.
The Broncos know Roquemore and Foster can score, and the addition of Cowels in what would be a three-guard lineup gives the Broncos three players willing and able to hit three-pointers.
The key may be the play of McArthur. He is the one likely to take Marc Trasolini’s spot in the starting lineup, and he improved late last season, and is capable of being a consistent rebounder.
Harrison is an athletic player with potential that has not yet surfaced.
Freshmen will be in the rotation, and one or two might be starting before the season is over. C Robert Garrett figures to get playing time, especially with Trasolini out, and Brandon Clark may be the first guard off the bench.
Rebounding could be a concern, which is why Yannick Atanga, a redshirt freshman, may see playing time.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS:
The Broncos have eight freshmen on the roster, two of whom are walk-ons.
True freshmen Robert Garrett, a 7-footer, and G Brandon Clark figure to be the most important of the bunch.
Garrett is already an accomplished rebounder, and could be a top-notch defender eventually. He is expected to play a lot from the start, as is Clark, a point guard who showed on the Canada trip he can score. He will get more playing time than expected, and may be the first guard off the bench.
Denzel Johnson is a combo guard who might help, and 6-8 G Karim York is intriguing because of his height and versatility. He could fill several roles, although it may take Kerry Keating some time to figure out how to utilize him.
Redshirt freshman Julian Clarke will earn playing time as an outside shooter, and the other redshirt freshman, Yannick Atanga, provides needed rebounding.
— Chris Caird signed with Santa Clara in June after one season at Marshalltown Community College, but he tore his anterior cruciate ligament after signing and is not on the roster.
— Kevin Foster led the nation in three-point field goals made, with 140, which was the ninth highest total in history.
— Freshman walk-on G Nick Lamson is the son of former Santa Clara player Scott Lamson.
— Redshirt freshman Julian Clarke was a member of the Canadian Under-19 national team during the summer.
Loyola Marymount’s attempt to rebound from a deflating 2010-2011 season hit a temporary roadblock when its top player, F Drew Viney, had to undergo surgery for foot stress fracture that will sideline for at least the first regular-season game or two.
It’s unclear when Viney (17.2 ppg) will be back but he should return well before conference play begins.
The Lions must hope nothing else happens to Viney, because he has had trouble with his feet for years, missing most of his first season at Oregon because a stress fracture in his other foot. He also missed games last season because of calf problems and migraine headaches.
However, the Lions do have Jarred DuBois back after his medical redshirt season, and he performed well in the first days of preseason practice.
When Viney returns, coach Max Good has enough talent to make a significant impact on the WCC race and wash away the bad taste left by last season’s results.
Loyola Marymount was picked to finish second in the WCC last season and was given a shot at dethroning Gonzaga. But it unraveled quickly as the Lions started the season poorly, experienced a number of injuries, and slipped to the bottom of the pack. The Lions finished 2-12 in conference play, tied for last place.
Partly because of injuries and partly because he could never find a winning combination, Good tried just about every lineup combination possible. It leaves him with a lot of experience, but also a lot of questions.
DeBois and Viney (when he gets healthy) figure to be part of that lineup, as does Anthony Ireland. But beyond that there are a lot of question. Freshman C.J. Blackwell figures to work his way into the mix somehow, but just how remains to be seen.
The Lions need to find more players who can make outside shots, and DuBois’ return will help that, but a bigger issue is playing consistently strong defense. They did it on occasion last season, but not on any kind of regular basis.
The first order of business may be settling on a lineup and rotation, and if Good can do that early in the season, it may lead to some success.
Loyola Marymount returns most of its team from last season, with the notable exception of G Vernon Teel, so at least Good knows what he has.
–The loss of Vernon Teel may help the team chemistry. Despite being a versatile player with all-conference talent, Teel did not have a good season last year, and was a disruption to the team, frequently clashing with the coaches. Ultimately, coach Max Good dismissed him from the team late in the season.
— Eleven players started at least three games for Loyola Marymount last season, as Good completely made over his lineup a number of times, looking for something that worked. Toward the end of the season, he had given up on most of the veteran group that had played so well in 2009-2010 and was expected to lead the Lions to greatness last season. Good used a lot of younger players toward the end, frequently starting three freshmen – Anthony Ireland, Godwin Okonji and Ayodegi Egbeyemi. Obviously, with all the experienced talent returning from 2009-2010, that was not the plan.
— Loyola Marymount has been wildly inconsistent in recent years, going from three wins in 2009 to 18 victories and a postseason berth in 2010 and back to 11 wins and a 2-12 conference finish in 2011.
LAST YEAR: 11-21 28-9 overall, 14-4 in the Big Ten
HEAD COACH: Max Good, fourth year as head coach (33-61 at LMU; 274-285 career).
QUOTE:: “Any time you have the opportunity to play a program with a history of success, you take it.” – Loyola Marymount coach Max Good, on opening the season at UCLA, a far cry from last year’s opener at home against Morgan State, a game LMU lost.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Anthony Ireland, SG Jarred DuBois, SF Drew Viney, PF Ashley Hamilton, C Edgar Garibay.
Loyola Marymount has one of the best players in the conference in F Drew Viney, who could lead the conference in scoring, assuming he returns to full health early in the season.
Anthony Ireland gives the Lions experience at point guard after starting for most of his freshman year, although he is not a true playmaker.
Jarred DuBois provides leadership, another ballhandler and a good outside shooter as the other guard, but the two other spots are up for grabs. Ayodebi Egbeyemi figures to be the first guard off the bench, but depth in the backcourt is an issue.
The frontcourt remains uncertain besides Viney. Good would like to start 6-10 Edgar Garibay to give the Lions some inside muscle, assuming his knee problems are in the past.
Ashley Hamilton, an athletic 6-7 player who showed enormous potential two years ago but failed to fulfill it last year, is a good bet to start at a power forward spot, with 6-8 Godwin Okonji expected to play a lot in the frontcourt. Freshman C.J. Blackwell should get some time as well.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS:
The Lions brought in two freshman – Bruce English, a hard-working, athletic 6-1 guard, and C.J. Perry, an undersized 6-5 post player.
It is Perry who figures to make an immediate impact. Despite his size, Perry prefers to play on the block and has good post moves. Whether he can make them work against taller defenders remains to be seen. He is also a strong rebounder, especially for his size.
–Senior F Drew Viney had surgery on Oct. 3 to repair a stress fracture in his left foot that he sustained in a workout. It’s unclear when he will return, but he is expected to miss at least the first game or two.
–Redshirt sophomore Edgar Garibay has yet to demonstrate what he can do because of a knee injury. He played seven games, starting four, as a freshman before tearing an anterior-cruciate ligament. He played 18 games last season, but was bothered throughout the season by soreness in his knee. He expects to be fully healthy this year.
–Ashley Hamilton, a native of England, played for the British national team in 2010 and again this past summer.
It’s a sign of the progress Eric Reveno has made as Portland’s coach that winning 20 games and finishing 7-7 in the conference last season represented a disappointing year.
When Reveno arrived prior to the 2006-2007 season, such a record would have called for a ticker-tape parade. The program was so clearly the worst in the WCC that there were suggestions that it was impossible for the Pilots to become a contender.
Somehow Reveno changed that, taking talent that was not highly rated and turning them into winners with a style that relies on execution, perimeter shooting and no-mistakes defense.
The Pilots won 20 games, and they had an impressive win over St. Mary’s, but finishing fifth in the eight-team WCC was not what the team was hoping for or expecting after finishing third and just a game out of second each of the previous two years.
This season, with the loss of two of its best players – Luke Sikma, the leading rebounder in the conference last season, and Jared Stohl, the team top scorer – the Pilots will do well to match that fifth-place finish as the gap between Portland and the top five teams seems to be widening. Add BYU to the mix and Portland looks like the seventh best team.
The Pilots may be slowly sinking back into WCC insignificance, and this season may be pivotal in that regard.
They have looked undermanned in the past, and have managed to do better than what their talent suggested.
They still have one of the nation’s best shooters in G Nemanja Mitrovic, and they established their point guard late last season when Tim Douglas became a starter late in his freshman season.
The rest of the lineup is uncertain, though, and it remains to be seen whether Mitrovic will find room to shoot now that Stohl, the team’s other outside threat, is gone.
A bigger problem is the frontcourt, which had been a strength in recent years. The Pilots have very little experience up front, and they may get overpowered in a conference that has a decent number of quality big men.
Portland will need immediate contributions from newcomers Kevin Bailey, a 6-5 guard, and Thomas van der Mars, a 6-11 center.
It doesn’t look good for the Pilots. Of course, it didn’t look good for them in 2008-2009 when they were picked to finish last and wound up third at 9-5.
— Portland received a $2 million pledge from Earle Chiles, for whom the Chiles Center is named, to renovate and expand the Chiles Center. The renovation is scheduled to begin right after the basketball season.
— Portland is coming off consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time in school history.
— Portland played in the postseason for the third year in a row last season, but for the third year in a row the Pilots lost in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com tournament. The Pilots’ only other postseason appearance was in 1996, when they lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Portland has never won a postseason game.
— With Washington, Washington State and Kentucky on its nonconference schedule – all early in the season – the Pilots may have overscheduled a bit for a team that will have 11 sophomores and freshmen.
LAST YEAR: 20-12 overall, 7-7 in the WCC.
HEAD COACH: Eric Reveno, sixth season as head coach (78-81 at Portland; 78-81 career).
QUOTE TO NOTE: “At first glance, our nonconference schedule appears daunting. We hope it will provide the right mix of challenges for our young team to develop for the tough West Coast Conference.” – Portland coach Eric Reveno, on a schedule that includes games against Kentucky, Washington and Washington State.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Tim Douglas, SG Nemanja Mitrovic, SG Tanner Riley, SF Ryan Nicholas, C Riley Barker.
Besides guards Tim Douglas and Nemanja Mitrovic, the lineup is unsettled. Freshman Tim Bailey may earn a starting spot in the three-guard alignment and will certainly play a lot. However, Tanner Riley, a good shooter with athleticism, is likely to get the first crack at that third guard spot.
Eric Waterford, a starter most of last season, and Derrick Rodgers, who was expected to be the starting point guard last season but never panned out, figure to get playing time in the backcourt as well.
The Pilots will be very thin up front, which means 6-11 freshman Thomas van der Mars may get playing time, hoping he can develop quickly.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS:
The Pilots have four freshmen – SG Kevin Bailey, C Thomas van der Mars, F Dorian Cason and G David Carr – but the one most likely to play a lot this season is Bailey, an athletic wing who is physically ready for Division I action.
Because of its frontcourt problems, the 6-11 van der Mars figures to get a chance for playing time, too.
–Senior G Nemanja Mitrovic was sixth nationally in three-point field goal percentage last season at 46.3 percent. He participated with the Canadian national team over the summer.
–Sophomore point guard Tim Douglas missed the final three games of last season with a foot injury. The Pilots lost all three. He is healthy now.
The downward spiral of San Diego’s program under Bill Grier may take years to reverse, and it may be up to someone else to try to dig out of it if Grier does not show some progress this season.
Not only has the team reached rock bottom in a competitive sense, but the image of the program has been stained for the foreseeable future by the point-shaving scandal involving the school’s alltime leading scorer, Brandon Johnson.
Grier was not implicated, but the alleged point-shaving took place on Grier’s watch in February 2010, and the FBI investigation that came to light last April was the only subject of discussion regarding San Diego basketball in the offseason.
Perhaps the only helpful aspect of the scandal, which also involved assistant coach TJ Brown, is that it took some of the attention away from the Toreros’ precipitous decline on the court.
After winning 22 games in his first season, including consecutive wins over St. Mary’s and Gonzaga in the WCC tournament and Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament, the Toreros dropped to 16 wins in 2009, 11 wins in 2010 and 6 wins last season while finishing tied for last in the WCC.
The 2011-2012 battle cry is something like, “Well, it can’t get any worse.”
And, in fact, the Toreros should be better, perhaps good enough to climb out of the basement, assuming they can handle the derisive treatment they are sure to get at opposing arenas regarding the scandal.
San Diego played much better toward the end of the season, and it has many of the key players back, including three starters.
Post players Chris Manresa, who is 6-11, and 6-9 Chris Gabriel showed significant improvement in the final month of last season and may be able to hang with the top frontcourts in the WCC. The addition of 6-9 Simi Fajemisim, who is coming off a redshirt season, should augment the Toreros’ size advantage inside.
Darian Norris returns as a point guard who looked pretty good at season’s end, and he should get some help from freshman guard Chris Anderson.
Kenny Rancifer is a wing with the potential to be special, but the key may be redshirt freshman G Ben Vozzola, who could make a major impact.
And with a soft nonconference schedule, San Diego is almost certain to exceed last season’s win total.
Nonetheless, the scandal will frame everything the Toreros do this season. If they do well, it will be said that the bad publicity made them stronger. If they collapse, the scandal will be viewed as the debilitating distraction.
— The FBI report noted that Brandon Johnson tried to influence one current player to aid in the point-shaving scheme, and the San Diego Union identified that player as Kenny Rancifer, who refused to go along with the scheme. Which game Johnson tried to fix is unclear, only that it was a game in February 2010.
Johnson was the star of the 2008 team that beat UConn in the NCAA Tournament, but he and Grier clashed a lot in his final season, which is the one in which Johnson allegedly tried to fix an outcome.
— The high point of last season for the Toreros came on Feb. 16, when San Diego, 5-21 overall and 1-10 in the conference, beat No. 23-ranked St. Mary’s, then 22-4 and 10-1.
–San Diego lost its first 10 games against Division I opponents last season, beating two Division III teams in that span. The Toreros loaded up their 2011-2012 schedule with beatable teams. They open with home games against Stephen F. Austin and San Diego Christian and also have games against Alcorn State and Maine.
LAST YEAR: 6-24, overall, 2-12 in the WCC
HEAD COACH: Bill Grier, fifth year as head coach (55-75 at San Diego; 55-75 career)
QUOTE: “This group has done a really good job hanging together. They’ve obviously been through a lot of adversity, but it’s made them stronger and tougher, made them closer. They’ve got a chip on their shoulder, and they’re out to prove some things.” – San Diego coach Bill Grier, to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Darian Norris, SG Ben Vozzola, SF Kenny Rancifer, PF Chris Manresa, C Chris Gabriel.
The Toreros have good size inside with Gabriel and Manresa, and Bill Grier thinks he has enough athleticism to push the pace this season.
Rancifer is an athletic guy who always seems to be on the verge of breaking out, and Norris was the team’s top scorer (10.4) and assist man last season, but he also had a lot of turnovers for a point guard.
Vozzola was held out last season as a freshman, even though he would have played, and he should add some much-needed offense.
With four true freshmen and four redshirt freshmen on the 15-man roster, the Toreros have a lot to work out regarding their rotation off the bench.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS:
The Toreros have eight freshmen on the roster, four of whom are redshirt freshmen.
The one most likely to make an impact is redshirt freshman Ben Vozzola, who could become a starter and add a lot of offense, but two other redshirt freshmen – John Sinis, who could play guard despite being 6-9, and 6-9 post player Simi Fajemisim – should help too.
Blair Banker is the other redshirt freshmen.
Chris Anderson, a 5-7 point guard, is the true freshman most likely to get significant time this season, although Nick Kerr (Steve’s son) may see action as well.
–Trevor Fuller, who started two games and averaged 12 minutes of playing time as a freshman last season, transferred to Angelina College in the offseason.
–Rodney Tention, an assistant at Stanford the past three seasons and a former head coach at Loyola Marymount, was added to Bill Grier’s coaching staff in the offseason.
–Chris Gabriel averaged just 7.5 points last season, but had a career-high 18 in the Toreros’ final game.