RTC Conference Primers: #12 – West Coast ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on October 25th, 2010
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Predicted Order of Finish
- 1. Gonzaga (11-3)
- 1. Saint Mary’s (11-3)
- 3. Loyola Marymount (9-5)
- 4. Portland (8-6)
- 5. Santa Clara (7-7)
- 6. San Francisco (6-8)
- 7. San Diego (2-12)
- 7. Pepperdine (2-12)
- G: Mickey McConnell, Saint Mary’s
- G: Steven Gray, Gonzaga
- F: Elias Harris, Gonzaga
- F: Drew Viney, Loyola
- C: Luke Sikma, Portland
Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s
- G: Steven Holt, Saint Mary’s (12.7 ppg, 6.0 apg in senior year at Jesuit High School, Portland)
- G: Ben Vozzola, San Diego (21 ppg, 6.0 apg in senior year at Centennial High School, Las Vegas)
- F: Charles Standifer, San Francisco (24.8 ppg, 10.5 rpg in senior year at Capital Christian High School in Sacramento)
- F: Yannick Atanga, Santa Clara (15.2 ppg, 14.8 rpg in senior year at Besant Hill, Ojai, CA)
- C: Kenton Walker, Saint Mary’s (5.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg as sophomore at Creighton University in 08-09)
What You Need to Know
The WCC sent 10-time regular-season champion Gonzaga and conference tournament champion Saint Mary’s to the NCAA Tournament last year, with the Gaels advancing to the Sweet Sixteen after victories over Richmond and Villanova and the Zags winning their first-round game against Florida State. Loyola Marymount and Portland also played in the CollegeInsider.com Post-Season Tournament (CIT), with the Lions losing to Pacific in the first round and Portland losing to Northern Colorado, also in the first round. The conference is hopeful to return to its high-water mark of 2007 when Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and San Diego made the NCAA Tourney. LMU is bidding for the third NCAA invite in 2010-11, counting on a strong performance from its veteran core (four of five starters return) that produced an 18-16 record last year. Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga will be favored to fight for the automatic NCAA bid or an at-large berth.
- Saint Mary’s (NCAA: #10) and Gonzaga (NCAA: #6) will tie atop the WCC regular-season standings at 11-3 each, with Saint Mary’s receiving the automatic bid with a victory over Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament Championship. The Gaels will match their #10-seed of last year, while the Zags, on the strength of a monster out-of-conference schedule, (San Diego State, Kansas State, Duke/Marquette, Illinois, Xavier, Wake Forest and Memphis) receive a #6-seed.
- The situation regarding Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga was best exemplified by SI.com’s preseason pick of the Gaels as the 15th-best college backcourt and the Zags as the 13th-best frontcourt. Will the Gaels’ wily veteran Mickey McConnell, he of the gaudy 51% three-point average, and Energizer Bunny Matthew Dellavedova, with his ill-fitting jersey and oversized mouthpiece, edge out the Zags’ fearsome frontcourt of 7’0 center Robert Sacre, 6’7 forward Elias Harris and either 7’0 Kelly Olynyk or 6’6 swingman Manny Arop? This face-off will headline the WCC race and might not be decided until the Feb. 24 showdown between the two in Moraga.
- In the postseason, Saint Mary’s will be hopeful of crossing the Sweet Sixteen divide in 2011, erasing the memory of its collapse against Baylor (72-49) in the 2010 tournament. Gonzaga, which lost in the first round in ’07 and ’08, the Sweet Sixteen in ’09 and the second round in ’10, looks to revive the glory days of deep tournament runs.
- Loyola Marymount has the best shot at ending the Saint Mary’s-Gonzaga stranglehold on the top two positions in the WCC. Everyone but Kevin Young returns from last year’s squad that posted road wins over USC and Notre Dame in addition to a home upset of Gonzaga, and Young may not even be missed. Redshirt freshman center Edgar Garibay (6’10) could give the Lions a legitimate presence in the post to complement redshirt sophomore Ashley Hamilton (6’7) and the silky-smooth Drew Viney (6’8), who averaged nearly 17 PPG last year, on the front line. Combine that with the return of the explosive backcourt of 5th-year senior Vernon Teel (15.4 PPG last year) and Jarred DuBois (12.4 PPG last year), and the Lions will be dangerous. Uncertainty about Garibay’s long-term effectiveness and physical soundness – he went down with a torn ACL after seven games last year – and depth in the backcourt (will Larry Davis stay healthy all season?) are the only question marks for Max Good’s squad.
- Portland should be good enough to hold off the rest of the conference for fourth place, but must find a point guard to replace the departed T.J. Campbell, a post presence to make up for graduated Robin Smuelders and an all-around scorer and playmaker to take the place of Nik Raivio. Respected coach Eric Reveno has recruited well, but no one knows who will emerge from the newcomers to man some of these key spots.
- The conference dark horse should be Santa Clara, whom this columnist picked over Portland for fourth place in a mid-summer report. News that injured shooting guard Kevin Foster was seriously overweight upon his return from last year’s broken foot caused the Broncos to drop in the projected standings, but Kerry Keating’s team will be dangerous.
Top RPI Boosters
- 11/15/10 – Saint Mary’s vs. St. John’s in Moraga (ESPN Tip-Off Marathon)
- 11/16/10 – Gonzaga vs. San Diego State in Spokane (ESPN Tip-Off Marathon)
- 11/19/10 – Portland vs. Kentucky at the Rose Garden in Portland
- 11/23/10 – Gonzaga vs. Duke (if both teams advance) in finals of the CBE Classic in Kansas City. Gonzaga faces Kansas State in the opening round on the 22nd and will face either Duke or Marquette on the 23rd.
- 1/22/11 – Saint Mary’s vs. Vanderbilt in Nashville
Key Conference Games
- 1/6/11 – Saint Mary’s vs. LMU at LMU, ESPNU
- 1/15/11 – LMU at Gonzaga, FSN
- 1/27/11 – Saint Mary’s vs. Gonzaga at Gonzaga, ESPN2
- 2/5/11 – LMU at Saint Mary’s, ESPN2
- 2/10/11 – Gonzaga at LMU, ESPN2
- 2/24/11 – Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s, ESPN2
- Call it the price of success, but both Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s lost their top assistant coaches over the offseason, and San Francisco faced the same fate without enjoying the success enjoyed by the other two. Mark Few’s top assistant, Leon Rice, took over the top spot at Boise State, while Randy Bennett of Saint Mary’s said good-bye to Kyle Smith, who had been with him since Bennett set foot in Moraga ten years ago. Smith was named head coach at Columbia. The bleeding continued for Bennett as the person he tapped to succeed Smith, David Patrick, decided just before the season began to take a scouting job with the Houston Rockets of the NBA. Patrick was instrumental in the recruitment of Australian star guard Patty Mills and became highly valued in the college ranks since that coup. It was mildly surprising that he opted for a junior position in the NBA instead of an assistant’s role on a top college squad, but he is gone nevertheless.
- Bennett has plugged holes with two competent men, Eran Ganot, a 28-year-old coming off four years as an assistant at the University of Hawaii, and Rick Croy, a 33-year-old former assistant at UC Riverside and, most recently, head coach of California community college powerhouse Citrus College. His staff is still a man down from last year, and it is unknown whether Bennett will carry on with a smaller support cast or pick up a last-minute replacement for Patrick.
- Few replaced Rice with longtime UCLA assistant Donny Daniels, bringing the second former Bruin into the WCC – the other being Santa Clara’s head coach, Keating.
- Rex Walters has turned San Francisco into Kansas west, promoting former Jayhawk Justin Bauman when his top assistant Jeff Linder left for Boise State, and hiring another former Kansas assistant, Michael Lee, later in the year. With Walters, a former Kansas star himself, the Dons have three ex-Kansas basketball figures running their program.
- What does it all mean? The West Coast Conference is becoming known as a coaches conference, led by the spectacular success of Gonzaga’s Few, one of only two currently active coaches with an .800 winning percentage (the other is North Carolina’s Roy Williams), and the Gaels’ Bennett, whose .802 winning percentage over the last three seasons is fifth-best in the country. Portland’s Reveno, Santa Clara’s Keating, Bill Grier at San Diego, Good at Loyola and San Francisco’s Walters have all compiled records of success that mark them as rising stars.
NCAA Tournament History
The WCC is 63-71 (.470) all-time in the NCAA Tournament. Not surprisingly, Gonzaga is responsible for 15 of the conference’s 19 victories in the Big Dance since 1999. In an interesting trend, the WCC has beaten three of its last four Big East opponents, and those victories have each been big upsets: Saint Mary’s over #2-seed Villanova last season, San Diego over #4-seed Connecticut in 2008, and Gonzaga over #2-seed St. John’s in 2000.
- The 2010-11 season is the last in the WCC’s pre-BYU era, and could be a transitional one in several respects. When the Mormon institution joins the conference for basketball next year, it will accelerate a ferment that has been developing for the past few seasons. Simply put, the ferment consists of ending Gonzaga’s conference dominance.
- The Zags will be gunning for an incredible 11th straight regular-season title in 2011, and even without a strong BYU program among its ranks, other WCC schools have been trying to upend the Zag Express. Saint Mary’s has been the most notable rebel, adding to a string of second-place finishes with a resounding 81-62 victory over the Zags in the 2010 conference championship. San Francisco and Loyola Marymount chipped in with home victories over the Zags in regular season contests.
- Does the Gaels’ victory in the conference tourney final presage a psychological turning point in its battle for conference supremacy with Gonzaga? Does Loyola Marymount have a legitimate shot at interjecting itself among title contenders in 2010-11? Can other WCC teams that have been improving on the coaching and recruiting fronts – Portland, San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Diego – mount in-conference challenges to the Zags this year? Those story lines will play out this season, then the Zags’ challenge will gather momentum when BYU joins the conference ranks in 2011-12.
- The WCC has had a maximum of three NCAA Tournament entries (Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and San Diego in 2007), and will feature four legitimate contenders in 2011-12: Gonzaga, BYU, Saint Mary’s and, perhaps, LMU or another rapidly-improving squad such as Portland, San Francisco or Santa Clara. How that new dynamic plays out will color this season and provide a compelling drama for next year.