We have officially reached that awkward point in the college hoops offseason where the dust has mostly settled from all the transfer/coaching carousel madness, but it’s still far too early to start any serious previewing of the 2015-16 campaign.
In keeping with the spirit of the season, it’s time to begin our series of brief rundowns of what each conference looks like after all the moving and shaking that has happened since Villanova cut down the nets in Houston. We kick things off today with a West Coast Conference, which has the potential to start the season with multiple teams ranked in the top 25.
THREE BIGGEST STORYLINES
1. Will Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s both field legitimate top-20 teams?
Gonzaga, which has been to 18 straight NCAA Tournaments, has existed as the poster boy for mid-major basketball for years now … just don’t use those two words to describe them. After five straight years of second-round disappointment, the Zags are suddenly coming off back-to-back trips to the second weekend of the Big Dance.
Despite losing Domantas Sabonis, Kyle Wiltjer, Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis, the Zags might actually be a more complete team in 2016-17 than they were a year ago. Przemek Karnowski is coming back to man the middle, and Josh Perkins returns after a solid freshman season running the point. Perkins and Karnowski will have plenty of support in the from of stellar transfers Jordan Mathews (Cal), Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington) and Johnathan Williams III (Missouri).
That doesn’t mean Mark Few and company are locks to run away with the WCC.
One of the biggest tournament snubs in 2016, Saint Mary’s doesn’t lose a single player from a 2015-16 roster that tasted defeat just six times and swept its regular season series with Gonzaga for the first time since 1995. Emmett Naar and Joe Rahon Jerseys figure to make up one of the best backcourts in the country, one which should lead the Gaels back to the Big Dance for the first time since 2013.
After a disappointing 2015-16 season for the league, there is a very real chance that multiple teams from the West Coast Conference will start 2016-17 ranked in the top 25. Whether or not both squads are able to validate and maintain those rankings is the more important issue.
2. Can any team outside the big three make a splash?
Last season was supposed to be the year Pepperdine made a jump in class and one of the “other seven” teams posed a legitimate threat to the power trio of Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU. The Waves were the only WCC team outside the big three to finish above .500 in conference play, but their 10-8 mark coupled with an overall record of 18-14 failed to convey the type of progress that Marty Wilson was hoping to show. In fact, both the record and the first-round exit in the CBI wound up being a mirror image of Pepperdine’s 2015-16 campaign.
Now, the Waves are staring down life without Stacy Davis and Jett Raines, as well as four other players who opted to transfer out of the program. Wilson will turn to Lamond Murray Jr. (he’s friends with Drake, by the way), Jeremy Major and Utah transfer Chris Reyes to keep Pepperdine competitive in 2016-17.
As for the rest of the conference, Santa Clara (Herb Sendek), San Francisco (Kyle Smith), Portland (Terry Porter) and Pacific (Damon Stoudamire) all brought in a new head coach to attempt to swing the direction of their respective programs, but there’s little indication that such a swing is possible in year one. San Diego won just nine games in 2015-16, and it’s more likely than not that the Toreros finish at or near the bottom of the league standings yet again.
That leaves Loyola Marymount, which might be the most interesting team out of the “other seven.”
After winning just eight games in 2014-15 and 14 a season ago, Mike Dunlap has some pretty serious momentum heading into year three on the job. Guards Brandon Brown (12.6 ppg) and Steven Haney (10.7 ppg) were both double-figure scorers last season, and 6’11 transfer Stefan Jovanovic from Hawaii and 6’10 Trevor Manuel from Oregon should provide a huge boost to the frontcourt.
Are the Lions a legitimate threat to finish above any of the big three in the WCC standings? Maybe not, but on paper they look like the best bet.
3. WCC tournament staying in Las Vegas
In May, the West Coast Conference announced that it had signed a new deal keeping the league’s men’s and women’s postseason tournaments at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas through the 2019 season. The tournament has been played at the venue in every season since 2009, where it’s been won by Gonzaga in six of those eight years (Saint Mary’s captured the other two crowns).
There had been talk that the tournament might be moving to MGM Grand Garden Arena, where the Pac-12 had played its championship for the last four years, but guarantees of a new high-definition video board as well as additional LED lighting and three-sided shot clocks viewable from each seat was all it took to convince the WCC to stick around.
Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington)
Jordan Mathews (California)
L.J. Rose (Houston)
Chris Reyes (Utah)
Eric Cooper (Nevada)
Stefan Jovanovic (Hawaii)
Trevor Manuel (Oregon)
Franklin Porter (Saint Mary’s)
TySean Powell (Duquesne)
Miles Reynolds (Saint Louis)
Isaian Pineiro (Portland State)
Isaiah Wright (Utah)
Franklin Porter (Portland)
Jordan Chatman (Boston College)
Jake Toolson (Utah Valley)
Jamani Spencer (WPI – Division III)
Atif Russell (Houston Baptist)
A.J. John (UC Davis)
Shawn Olden (New Mexico Junior College)
Uche Ofoegbu (UNLV)
Devin Watson (San Diego State)
Bryson Lockley (Panola Junior College)
Jason Todd (Cal Baptist – Division II)
Ryan Woolridge (North Texas)
Marcus Harris (Sam Houston State)
Brandon Perry (Lewis & Clark – Division III)
Vasa Pusica (Northeastern)
MEANINGLESS SUMMER POWER RANKINGS WITH TWITTER-ESQUE SUMMARIES
1. Gonzaga – The Zags are still the unquestioned top dogs in the WCC, but this might be the toughest test they’ve had to win at least a share of the league title since Saint Mary’s finished a game ahead of them in the standings back in 2012.
2. Saint Mary’s – There’s no reason for Saint Mary’s not to be a player on the national scene for the first time since Matthew Dellavedova left the West Coast for Cleveland.
3. BYU – The loss of triple-double king Kyle Collinsworth and leading scorer Chase Fischer are huge blows, as was the unexpected transfer for Jordan Chatman, but getting T.J. Haws, Eric Mika and Payton Dastrup back after two-year missions should keep the Cougars competitive.
4. Loyola Marymount – The Lions should have a legitimate shot at finishing with an overall record above .500 for the first time since 2011-12.
5. Pepperdine – The perennial conference underachievers will have to try and surprise the rest of the league after Marty Wilson appeared to have missed out on making a move with a loaded roster.
6. Santa Clara – Don’t be surprised if Herb Sendek makes a bit of a move with the Broncos right out of the gate. He should be able to work up some excitement with 20.6 point per game scorer Jared Brownridge back in the fold.
7. Portland – Alec Wintering might be the best point guard in the conference, and there’s no question that the Pilots can put up points, but instilling some degree of defensive toughness is task No. 1 for new coach Terry Porter.
8. San Francisco – Former Columbia coach Kyle Smith inherits a team whose two best returning players — Devin Watson and Uche Ofoegbu — opted to transfer rather than stick around and see what he’s all about.
9. Pacific – Life in the WCC has not been kind to the Tigers thus far, but new coach Damon Stoudamire has a solid nucleus for the future to build around.
10. San Diego – The Toreros are going to have to throw some freshmen big men directly into the fire this season, which is a scary thought for a team that won just four conference games last year.