Other 26 Previews: West Coast Conference

Posted by Michael Vernetti on November 11th, 2015

Michael Vernetti is the Rush the Court’s correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

2015-16 Projected Order of Finish

Same As It Ever Was in 2015 as Gonzaga Won Another WCC Trophy

Same As It Ever Was in 2015 as Gonzaga Won Another WCC Trophy

  1. Gonzaga (35-3, 17-1 in the WCC)
  2. BYU (25-10, 13-5)
  3. Saint Mary’s (21-10, 13-5)
  4. Pepperdine (18-14, 10-8)
  5. San Diego (15-16, 8-10)
  6. Santa Clara (14-18, 7-11)
  7. San Francisco (14-18, 7-11)
  8. Pacific (12-19, 4-14)
  9. Portland (17-16, 7-11)
  10. LMU (8-23, 4-14)

Player of the Year

  • Kyle Wiltjer, 6’10” senior forward, Gonzaga

Rookie of the Year

  • Anthony Townes, 6’6″ freshman forward, Pacific

All-Conference First Team

  • Kyle Collinsworth, G, BYU, 6’6″, 210
  • Jared Brownridge, G, Santa Clara, 6’2″, 190
  • Josh Perkins, G, Gonzaga, 6’3″, 185
  • Stacy Davis, F, Pepperdine, 6’6″, 235
  • Kyle Wiltjer, F, Gonzaga, 6’10”, 240

All-Conference Second Team

  • Chase Fischer, G, BYU, 6’3″, 195
  • Joe Rahon, G, Saint Mary’s, 6’2″, 195
  • Tim Derksen, G, San Francisco, 6’3″, 202
  • T.J. Wallace, G, Pacific, 6’3″, 215
  • Przemek Karnowski, C, Gonzaga, 7’1″, 288

In Depth

Fans would be forgiven if they assumed a defeatist attitude would prevail among all WCC teams not named Gonzaga in the 2015-16 season. After all, the Zags return their formidable frontcourt trio of Przemek Karnowski, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sibonis, along with a group of guards that will allow them to survive the loss of team leaders Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Byron Wesley. A repeat – perhaps an improvement – of last season’s dominant 35-3 run that ended with an Elite Eight loss (66-52) to eventual national champion Duke is certainly possible.

Dave Rose's crew might have the best team to knock off mighty Gonzaga this year. (Getty)

Dave Rose’s crew might have the best team to knock off mighty Gonzaga this year. (Getty)

But the WCC has elevated its status among non-power conferences, and there are prizes to be sought in addition to the automatic NCAA bid that goes to the conference tournament champion. An at-large NCAA bid – maybe two – a slot in the NIT, or even chances to play in one of the lesser post-season tourneys such as the CBI are available to teams that play well and put together competitive resumes. Which teams, then, are most likely to compete for those postseason trophies if a David and Goliath challenge to Gonzaga falls short?

BYU’s 103-75 exhibition win over NAIA competitor Arizona Christian University on November 1 showed why the Cougars are one of those teams. It also showed why Dave Rose’s teams are so difficult to handicap in the early season. The game summary hardly mentioned expected BYU leaders such as Kyle Collinsworth, Chase Fischer, Nate Austin (given an additional year’s eligibility following an injury-shortened senior year) and Corbin Kaufusi. Instead, kudos were awarded to players who are unfamiliar to WCC fans: Jake Toolson led scoring with 23 points and Nick Emery followed with 20; others receiving notice were Cory Calvert, Braiden Shaw and Jakob Hartsock. Four of those five return to BYU after two-year missions, and Toolson was a fixture on the BYU bench in his freshman season.

The point is, you never know who is going to show up on the BYU roster from one season to another, much less who is going to star. But Rose has a stable of quality players to choose from and no one should doubt he will assemble a powerful team by the time conference play begins.

Randy Bennett’s Saint Mary’s club evokes a completely different response than BYU. Most fans, and a host of preseason prognosticators, have concluded that the Gaels’ cupboard is empty and the coming year will be a rebuilding effort. Surface analysis supports that view: All five of last year’s starters graduated, taking with them 90 percent of the Gaels’ scoring; there are only two upperclassmen on the roster and the rest is composed of freshmen (eight) and sophomores (three). It is actually not so scary to contemplate the Gaels’ upcoming season, however, and one can discern a method to Bennett’s madness.

Until proven otherwise, however, Mark Few and Gonzaga will always be the favorites in the WCC. (AP)

Until proven otherwise, however, Mark Few and Gonzaga will always be the favorites in the WCC. (AP)

Of his projected starters, four – Emmett Naar, Calvin Hermanson, Dane Pineau and Jock Landale – received significant minutes last season. The fifth, projected starting point guard Joe Rahon, started for two years at Boston College in the powerful ACC, and sat out last season per NCAA transfer regulations. It is true that Hermanson, Pineau and Landale played less than one might expect from players who were slotted to step up in the following season, but their body of work – although limited – was impressive. More importantly, all were prized recruits and three have at least two years in Bennett’s system, compared to his transfer-heavy lineup from last year. Bottom line: Don’t write off the Gaels as a work in progress until we see how Bennett molds these youngsters.

Knocking at the door of a top-three finish are Marty Wilson’s Pepperdine Waves, who bring stability and high hopes to the season. Wilson doesn’t have to worry about blending in newcomers, as his top seven players, including Player of the Year candidate Stacy Davis, return from last year’s 18-14 squad that went 10-8 in WCC play. The only notable addition to the Waves’ roster is freshman small forward Kam Edwards, a highly-recruited mid-major competitor from Rancho Cucamonga, California. The Waves’ success, however, depends on the return to health of shooting guard Amadi Udenyi, who went down towards the end of last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. The Waves struggled badly in the latter part of the season, losing six of nine games including a disappointing 62-45 loss to a mediocre Seattle team (17-15) in the opening round of the CBI tournament. Udenyi was sidelined for most of those games, and the Waves need his outside scoring ability to free up Davis, Jett Raines and Lamond Murray Jr. on the inside.


Pepperdine's success will no doubt hinge on the production of Stacy Davis. (Getty)

Pepperdine’s success will no doubt hinge on the production of Stacy Davis. (Getty)

Lamont Smith steps into the head coaching position at San Diego after the Toreros grew tired of waiting for Bill Grier to elevate them to contention in the WCC. Smith is a San Diego alumnus who has also logged time on the staffs of Saint Mary’s and Santa Clara, so he knows the WCC well. Additional experience at New Mexico, Washington and Arizona State has extended his recruiting base throughout the western states. A defensive specialist, he inherits a quartet of experienced players in Duda Sanadze, Vasa Pusica, Brett Bailey and shot-blocking forward Jito Kok, along with a load of freshmen recruits, to mold into a team capable of crashing the league’s top level.

Santa Clara’s challenge always seems to be to develop quality frontcourt players to complement excellent guards, and this season will be no different. The big gun on offense will be junior guard Jared Brownridge, who averaged 15.9 PPG last year and shot 43 percent from three-point range. Kerry Keating has brought in 6’11” Henrik Jadersten from Sweden and 6’8″ Tony Lewis from San Antonio, Texas, to supplement promising sophomores Matt Hubbard and Emmanuel Ndumanya in the frontcourt.

San Francisco sagged to 14-18 last year following its 21-win season of the year before, largely because Rex Walters couldn’t replace point guard Avry Holmes, who transferred to Clemson. Freshman Devin Watson stepped in for Holmes, and he will take the point again this year alongside senior stalwart Tim Derksen, a preseason all-WCC selection. Walters will count on freshmen bigs Cedric Wright and Nate Renfro, along with JuCo transfer Dont’e Reynolds, to bolster the Dons’ frontcourt.

Pacific hopes to finally establish its footing as it begins its third year in the WCC, and will lean heavily on leading scorer T.J. Wallace (13.0 PPG) to lead six other returning players who played considerable minutes last year, including Ray Bowles, Eric Thompson and Sami Eleraky. Freshman forward Anthony Townes from Modesto Christian could be a high-impact addition to the Tigers.

Portland’s Eric Reveno faced the biggest challenge this offseason besides Randy Bennett’s, losing his entire frontcourt and leading scored Kevin Bailey to graduation. He is regrouping around the veteran backcourt duo of Alex Wintering and Bryce Pressley and a host of new recruits.

The reshuffling beat goes on at Loyola Marymount, as Mike Dunlap continues to weed out players who don’t meet his exacting demands. Sensational guard Evan Payne is the latest Lion to run afoul of Dunlap, taking his game and 18.0 PPG average to Long Beach State. Eight new players, including five junior college transfers, will suit up for LMU this season.

Don’t Miss Games

  • Gonzaga can redeem its preseason hype at home against Arizona on December 15 in a nationally televised game (ESPN 12:15 PM Pacific).
  • Is Saint Mary’s a viable challenger to BYU for second place in the WCC? Find out on New Year’s Eve (12/31) in a showdown in Provo (ESPNU 8:00 PM Pacific).
  • Pepperdine will get a chance to prove its worthiness as a top-tier WCC team by hosting Gonzaga on February 6 (ESPN2 9:00 PM Pacific).

Best Recruiting Classes

Leaning heavily on its Australian pipeline, Saint Mary’s knows is recruits will not garner national acclaim because no one sees them in high school. Nevertheless, the Gaels are excited about a trio of Aussies led by 6’6″ sharpshooting guard Tanner Krebs, Krebs’ backcourt teammate in the FIBA U-19 championships, 6’7″ Kyle Clark, and 6’10” post man Jordan Hunter.

San Diego’s Lamont Smith proved his Texas roots were strong – he was born in The Colony, Texas – by lassoing three guards from the Lone Star State: Ryan Woolridge, Tyler Williams and Olin Carter III.

To refill his depleted roster, Portland’s Eric Reveno searched far and wide to assemble a large incoming class. The best of the lot may be guard Rashad Jackson from Garces Memorial High School in Bakersfield, California, and the IMPACT academy in Las Vegas.

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