Once again, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and BYU should finish at the top of the West Coast Conference standings. After that trio of teams, it could be anybody who fills spots 4-8. In fact, I changed the order of finish about six times. The first part of the schedule is favorable to a couple of those teams, and a few early wins could breed some unexpected confidence and propel one of those teams to a top-5 finish in what we know to be yet another poor year for the WCC past the top 3 spots.
Gonzaga: This is Mark Few’s best team ever. The Zags are talented and, more importantly have solid depth. I am not sure they have a real backcourt leader or can lock down anyone defensively, but that won’t matter through WCC play.
St. Mary’s: The ’16-17 conference season will be about offense, as the standings will indicate. The teams who can score will finish higher than the teams that can’t. Unfortunately, there are a handful of teams who can’t. SMC though has plenty of ways to score and have some size to match GU. However, they are just not as talented to wrestle the top spot away from Gonzaga, but I do expect the Gaels to get at least one win during the three anticipated times these two teams matchup.
BYU: Dave Rose’s team is not the offensive juggernaut of year’s past, but regardless, they still can’t guard anybody. It would have been fun to see Tyler Haws and Kyle Collinsworth team with Eric Mika in the post, but instead Mika has the younger Haws and Nick Emery who are lesser scorers. Look for the Cougs to put up some big numbers on nights when the other team is offensively challenged. On the other hand, there will be some shootouts when the BYU D is invisible, and that might be often. Because their D is lacking, BYU will find themselves a distant 3rd.
USF: Getting 10 nonconference wins under a new coach is impressive – regardless of who you are or who you are playing. Kyle Smith obviously has his team playing with confidence which will be tested early as they open at home with USD and at SCU before taking on the big 3. Of the four teams who have new coaches, only the Dons seem to know who they are already and are serving notice to their conference foes.
Portland: The Pilots have the firepower to shoot with anybody. I would have put them in the 4th spot, but they dropped their last two vs. Portland State and Cal State Fullerton. Alec Wintering is the best point guard in the conference and having Jazz Johnson shooting over 50% means teams can’t just shut down Wintering. They are not a good passing team, so dropping the ball into the post a little bit more might help them get a few more wins.
Pepperdine: Beware that this team is really struggling. With Amadi Udenyi down for the season (torn right Achilles after tearing the left one two seasons ago) and Kameron Edwards hurt, they now have two freshmen in the starting lineup with three seniors – Lamond Murray, Jeremy Major, and Chris Reyes. Not a bad set of veteran guys, but this team is simply not jelling yet, and they may not, as evidenced by their current six-game losing streak. Those seniors could get them to a #6 or higher finish, especially when Edwards comes back, so don’t count out Marty Wilson’s Waves yet.
SCU: Tthe Broncos have shown they are a well-coached group after Herb Sendek coaxed a road win at Valpo last week and when you consider the Donks only see BYU without SMC or GU in their first seven games, this squad’s confidence has a chance to grow pretty quickly if they get a couple of wins in the first weeks of WCC play. Obviously, Jared Brownridge is not a secret, so it will be interesting to see how Sendek uses his best player. Brownridge will certainly have to carry them.
LMU: While you play your last 2-3 non-conference games to get ready for conference – i.e., shorten the bench, better regulate minutes and player rotations, etc. – it doesn’t appear we know much about the Lions despite a 7-4 record. There are simply too many question marks that Mike Dunlap has, and like in his first two years in Westchester, it concerns personnel. Three transfers – Stefan Jovanovic, Trevor Manuel and Kelvin Amayo – were supposed to make an immediate impact, but while Jovanovic has been steady, Manuel hasn’t yet been the huge talent in the short time back on the court and Amayo has already left the team (been kicked off?) and come back. This is an important year 3 for the Lions under Dunlap, and even with Brandon Brown and the explosive talent of Buay Tuach, Dunlap continues to manage an unsteady ship. LMU can certainly ride the tide, but are certainly capable of sinking to the lower depths of the conference standings.
USD: Lamont Smith has his team playing better after a horrendous start, and they have been scoring the basketball. Not against great competition, but the ball going in the basket for this group is important. It is worth pointing out that USD has managed to win seven games after just nine victories last year, so there is progress. The Toreros have three guys averaging double figures, but they are shooting less than 43% as a team, and that will probably be the reason they languish near the bottom of the standings.
PAC: Damon Stoudamire did not inherit much talent, and it’s obvious he hasn’t been able to improve his team, particularly when the Tigers have the ball as they rank near the bottom in each offensive category, including 39% from the field. Their non-conference schedule was very weak, and now they get GU and BYU among their first four conference games. The WCC Coach of the Year Award will not be landing in Stockton this year even though the team should improve on their eight wins from last year.