Everyone is talking about what GU lost, and what St. Mary’s has coming back. However, the Zags played well vs. a tough non-conference schedule. Scary for the rest of the WCC is the 90 ppg. they are averaging. Their challenge will be finding some depth in the big games and whether or not Josh Perkins can become a leader, not just a scorer, at the point guard position. While his assists have gone up, so have his turnovers. Zach Norvell Jr. is the kid to watch. He is averaging 17 ppg in his last seven including 22 vs. Villanova. He is the kind of player to make a difference while teams focus on the more notable Zags, like senior Johnathan Williams. This group may not may not make a repeat trip to the Final Four, but Mark Few’s Bulldogs will win another WCC regular season crown.
The more things change; the more they stay the same. I thought just like the WCC coaches who picked Randy Bennett’s team to win the conference. Then, the Gaels, with another light non-league schedule, made winning the WCC almost mandatory after losing to Wazzou and Georgia on a neutral court and failing to notch any notable win for their NCAA tourney resume. This is a very talented team with the return of Jock Landale, and the backcourt of Emmett Naar and Calvin Hermanson that could be enough to lead St. Mary’s to the top of the conference, but they’re likely to fall short.
Dave Rose is working on getting his team to play better defense. Last year, they gave up 75 ppg, and while they really have not been tested heading into conference play, they are holding opponents under 68 a game. If they want to have a chance in making things interesting for the Zags and Gaels, the Cougs will have to slow the WCC’s two best offensive teams. As it usually is in Provo, the younger guys get better and play prominent roles in their junior and senior years. This year, it’s Yoeli Childs and Elijah Bryant’s turn. Both are averaging 16 ppg. Had BYU not lost Nick Emery to an NCAA investigation, they might have enough offense to make it interesting with GU and SMC. While they are the 3rd best team, expect 6-7 losses just like a year ago, and the possibility someone else could trip them up.
Kyle Smith wasted no time in making the Dons relevant when he got the job on the Hilltop one year ago, taking them to a 4th place finish. Things looked promising for the 2017-18, before preseason All-WCC performer Charles Minlend got hurt, and USF has struggled early on UNTIL a noteworthy win over Nevada to close the non-conference schedule. Freshman Souley Boum is leading the way for an offense that doesn’t have much firepower, but the Dons are giving up just 66 ppg, so defense will be their calling card. The schedule is both favorable and unfavorable early – USF doesn’t play GU or St. Mary’s until the sixth conference game BUT their first four of five are on the road. Their WCC story might be written fairly early in league play.
With nine wins before the start of the WCC slate, USD has gotten everyone’s attention. It isn’t a strong 9-3, but Lamont Smith’s squad does have road victories over New Mexico St. and Colorado. This team finally has some pieces around Olin Carter III, a preseason All-WCC pick. Isaiah Pineiro and Isaiah Wright landed in San Diego from Portland St. and Utah respectively to lead the team in scoring. More importantly, the Toreros have held opponents to 61 ppg, 23% on three-point shooting, and 37% shooting overall. With the Zags and Gaels seemingly shooting up a storm, USD isn’t likely to slow them down, but the rest of the conference may find it difficult to score against the Toreros.
There is no team more perplexing than Herb Sendek’s Broncos. Statistically, they are in the middle of the pack in many categories which is not translating into a lot of wins. They also don’t hurt themselves with a lot of turnovers. What is missing then? The biggest void for Santa Clara is the lack of a productive big man as a scorer, rebounder, and rim protector. This is not news for Bronco fans. Kerry Keating didn’t have one either. The WCC, once a league of bigs, has moved to having some of the best guards in the country. KJ Feagin is certainly is a leader, but he will need some help with consistent offensive efforts from guys like Henry Caruso, the grad transfer from Princeton.
The highlight of Portland’s non-conference season was playing in the inaugural PK80 Tournament at turkey time. Although the Pilots were stuffed by both North Carolina and Oklahoma during a stretch of five losses in six games, it seems they are ready for league after a 3-1 mark heading into their opener at BYU. Terry Porter’s team does two things statistically well, leading the WCC in 3-point shooting (41%) and blocked shots (4.5 per game). A little better defense and continued strengths in those areas could propel UP into the upper half of the conference race, and they will rely on Josh McSwiggan and 7-2 senior Phillipp Hartwich to carry the load.
It is year 4 for Mike Dunlap, and the coaches have picked the LMU to finish last in the WCC. After another set of departures, Dunlap brought in 8 new faces, so the program is starting over again. Because his team is still getting used to playing together, LMU is averaging a league-leading 16+ turnovers a game. The team has improved its offense, led by JR James Batemon at 19.2 ppg, but defensively, LMU is giving up 77.5 ppg. In the WCC, that will keep you finishing near the bottom which all signs point to again. The Lions need newcomer Eli Scott to become consistent and bring his energy to help this team be competitive. In order for the Lions to stay out of the cellar, Dunlap needs to develop this group and not tinker too much with his rotations which he is prone to do.
When Pacific joined the WCC in 2013, it was really an afterthought. Nobody knew much about their athletic programs, and subsequently, men’s basketball has yet to become relevant which is one of the reasons Damon Stoudamire was hired last year. Unfortunately, Stoudamire is still trying to recruit better players to improve his program. This won’t be the year the Tigers move into the upper half, but they will win more than the four conference games of a year ago. Pacific has a lot of juniors led by Roberto Gallinat, who need this year to begin bringing prominence back to a once proud Pacific program.
The Waves did not have a good pre-conference season and Kameron Edwards has missed the last three games due to a concussion. They are also without Matthew Atewe their starting center. Marty Wilson’s team becomes young again in having to start two freshmen, and they are unlikely to win without the two vets. Pep has not defended well in giving up 80 ppg., and they are shooting under 30% from behind the arc. Those are the two stats that must improve if they are going to be competitive and keep Wilson in Malibu for another year.