Athlon Sports continues its countdown to the start of the 2012-13 basketball season, which begins with the first games on Nov. 9, with a countdown of the nation’s top conferences. We will release one conference preview each day, counting down to the top conference. For profiles of every team in each conference, check out the 2012-13 Athlon Sports College Basketball annual available in the online store.
The West Coast Conference had one of the most unorthodox seasons it’s seen in the last two decades, and not just because the league added BYU to the mix.
Certainly, adding BYU played a role in the WCC’s success last season, enabling the league to send three teams to the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in conference history.
But what was really strange in the WCC was not seeing Gonzaga at the top of the league. For the first time since 1996-97, Gonzaga capture neither a share of the regular season title nor the conference tournament title. Instead, Saint Mary’s became the first WCC team to win both an outright regular season title and the league tournament title since Pepperdine in 1991-92.
The addition of BYU’s consistency makes the WCC a deeper league, but Gonzaga may be poised to return to its familiar spot as the West Coast king.
ATHLON ALL-WEST COAST TEAM
WEST COAST FACTS AND FIGURES
G Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary's*
2011-12 regular season champion: Saint Mary's
G Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
2011-12 NCAA Tournament teams: BYU, Gonzaga, Saint Mary's#
G Anthony Ireland, Loyola Marymount
New coaches: None
F Elias Harris, Gonzaga
F Brandon Davies, BYU
*preseason player of the year
#conference tournament champion
2012-13 WEST COAST CONFERENCE PREVIEW
1. Gonzaga (26-7, 13-3)
Mark Few and the Zags made it 13-for-13 last season, but the road to another NCAA Tournament berth wasn’t quite the same as it had been in the past. It was the first time in a dozen years that Gonzaga didn’t claim at least a share of the WCC regular-season crown. Despite the loss of Robert Sacre, the Bulldogs will have a potent and skilled frontline that will be an upgrade over last season. Elias Harris is back for his senior campaign. The skilled German worked on his body and conditioning over the offseason, and Few intends to play the 6-7, 240-pounder at small forward in an effort to get him on the floor as much as possible. The all-freshman backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. didn’t disappoint a year ago. Pangos wound up leading the team in scoring, but it may have been Bell who was the most consistent player. Bell didn’t score as much — he averaged 10.4 points in 28.9 minutes of action — but he was terrific on the defensive end. His offensive production should increase as a sophomore as he becomes more assertive. There’s not much missing in Spokane this year. Gonzaga has talent, balance and experience. After a one-year hiatus, the Bulldogs should return to supremacy in the increasingly competitive WCC.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Two and Out
2. BYU (26-9, 12-4)
In their first season together, BYU and the other West Coast Conference schools coexisted nicely. Having lost the WCC’s leading scorer, forward Noah Hartsock, the Cougars will rely even more on all-conference center Brandon Davies while hoping that young guards keep developing in the Cougars’ second season in the league. BYU classifies its big men simply as “post” players, but it is fair to say that Davies functions as a traditional center. He thrived against some undersized opponents in the WCC, ranking fourth in the league in scoring and rebounding. Coach Dave Rose essentially uses a three-guard lineup. UCLA transfer Matt Carlino immediately took over as the starting point guard in mid-December after becoming eligible. He proved to be a dynamic, if inconsistent, scorer as a freshman. BYU is well stocked at the two wing positions. Tyler Haws returns from a church mission after averaging 11.3 points and 4.2 rebounds as a freshman in 2009-10. Brock Zylstra is an overachiever who emerged as a scoring threat in ’11-12. The Cougars’ biggest deficiencies in the post-Jimmer Fredette era were 3-point shooting and free throw shooting. Their 34.3 percent showing from beyond the arc was the worst in Rose’s seven seasons. The hope is that junior college transfer Raul Delgado will improve that figure.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament One and Done
3. Saint Mary’s (27–6, 14–2)
The Gaels are coming of an historic season, capturing both the West Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles for the first time. Saint Mary’s has won the WCC Tournament in two of the last three seasons and has made three of the last five NCAA Tournaments while in the process eliminating the intimidation factor of league bully Gonzaga. With WCC Player of the Year Matthew Dellavedova and three other starters returning, the Gaels have a good chance to earn yet another bid and battle the Zags and BYU for the WCC crown. Dellavedova was one of two returning college players to participate in the Olympics, starting alongside Patty Mills for the Australian team in London. He averaged 15.5 points and 6.4 assists per game last season and is a preseason All-America candidate. Dellavedova will be joined in the backcourt by Stephen Holt, a defensive wizard who will be expected to up his 10.1 points per game this season. Brad Waldow had strong efficiency stats en route to earning WCC All-Freshman honors in 2011-12. Up front, Southern Utah transfer Matt Hodgson will be counted on to make up for some of the production lost by the graduation of double-double machine Rob Jones.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament One and Done
4. San Diego (13–18, 7–9)
After three straight sub-.500 seasons, Bill Grier seems poised to get the Toreros back on the plus side and further away from the point-shaving scandal that rocked the program. All five starters return, led by emerging star Johnny Dee. The 6-0 guard made the WCC All-Freshman team and exploded for 30 points in a win over Pepperdine in the WCC Tournament. Dee averaged 13.7 points for the season and will again be leaned on to pace the offense. Diminutive point guard Christopher Anderson also enjoyed a strong freshman year with 9.0 points and 5.0 assists, which was double the next closest freshman in the category. Up front, Dennis Kramer and Simi Fajemisin give San Diego very good size, though their rebounding must improve after USD was last in the WCC in rebound margin. A pair of seniors — Chris Manresa and Cameron Miles — give USD solid production off the bench.
Postseason prediction: NIT
5. Loyola Marymount (21–13, 11–5)
Max Good was rewarded with WCC Coach of the Year honors last season after winning 21 games. Good has his best player returning in guard Anthony Ireland, a dynamic point guard who averaged 16.1 points and 4.9 assists. Two other veteran starters are back in Ashley Hamilton (11.0 ppg) and Godwin Okonji (4.6 rpg). The Lions did lose All-WCC first-teamer Drew Viney as well as Jarred DuBois, who transferred to Utah after averaging 10.1 points off the bench. Incoming freshman Nick Stover has gotten some good press and will be able to find minutes if he is ready. The Lions knocked on the door of the Big Three in the league last year, but they will be in a dogfight with San Diego this year for fourth place behind Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU.
6. Santa Clara (8–22, 0–16)
Santa Clara struggled through a puzzling 0–16 league record last season one year after winning 24 games and the CollegeInsider.com postseason title. Kevin Foster, a first-team All-WCC guard in ’10-11, returned for Kerry Keating, but the team did suffer the loss of forward Marc Trasolini to a torn ACL in the preseason, which contributed to the Broncos’ downturn. Trasolini, who averaged 12.8 points as a junior and 13.7 as a sophomore, should return to the starting lineup as a fifth-year senior. In addition to Foster, Santa Clara returns the other four starters from last season, plus the top three bench players. Evan Roquemore averaged 13.8 points per game led the team in assists (5.3 apg) and will team with Foster to give the Broncos a solid backcourt. If Santa Clara wants to improve, it must up its defensive pressure after finishing 302nd nationally in steals and 303rd in field goal defense.
7. Pepperdine (10–19, 4–12)
Coach Marty Wilson enters his second season at his alma mater no closer to breaking into the top echelon of the league than when he took over last year. The Waves struggled offensively in 2011-12, finishing last in the WCC in points (59.3 ppg), field goal percentage (.396) and 3-pointers made per game (5.0). With the top two scorers departing plus another starter who averaged 8.7 points per game, Pepperdine figures to struggle once again putting points on the board. If there is a reason for optimism, it comes in the form of senior Lorne Jackson, a 6-2 guard who missed last season with a knee injury. Jackson averaged 13.2 points as a junior in 2010-11 and, along with returning starters Jordan Baker (9.0 ppg) and Caleb Willis (sixth in WCC in assists), will head a solid three-guard starting lineup. Up front, without Corbin Moore at center, it could be a challenge. UCLA transfer Brendan Lane and sophomore Jan Maehlen will see minutes, but neither has a track record of production.
8. San Francisco (20–14, 8–8)
Rex Walters appears headed for a tough rebuilding job after six players — including starters Perris Blackwell and Mikey Williams — transferred during the offseason. With two other starters graduating, Walters has little experience to lean on. Point guard Cody Doolin started all 34 games and averaged 9.3 points and 3.8 assists. Walters’ top two players off the bench are back in Dominique O’Connor and Cole Dickerson, plus transfer De’End Parker (UCLA) should find time right away. After winning 11, 12, 19 and 20 games in his first four years, Walters can expect to see a significant decline this season.
9. Portland (7–24, 3–13)
Portland took a big step backward in 2011-12, a step that would have been even bigger without Santa Clara, who the Pilots beat three times. Three starters return, including top player Ryan Nicholas. The 6-7 junior averaged 11.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game and will be counted on to carry an even larger load this season. Kevin Bailey, the team’s second-leading scorer (9.5 ppg) is also back, as is 6-11 sophomore Thomas van der Mars (7.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg). The point guard will be senior Derrick Rodgers, who is in his second year with Portland after transferring from junior college. Rodgers split starts last year with Tim Douglas, who transferred to Portland State. Douglas was the more productive of the two, averaging 8.5 points and 3.0 assists, so his loss will be felt. Rodgers made just one 3-pointer all season while averaging over 17 minutes per game.
More previews for the 2012-13 season can be found in the Athlon Sports College Basketball annual available in the online store
Athlon College Basketball Countdown:
8. Ohio State
10. Michigan State
11. NC State
14. North Carolina
15. San Diego State
19. Notre Dame
More from the 2012-13 College Basketball Preview:
Top 10 Freshmen for 2012-13
Impact Transfers for 2012-13
Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2012-13
10 Players Returning from Injury
Gonzaga leads International Dream Team