Turk’s Take: 2018-2019 WCC Preview

Predicted order of finish

GONZAGA

High expectations have been the norm in Spokane for years.  It used to be, how will the Zags compete for a West Coast Conference title?  Now, it’s all about, how deep can Mark Few take his team in the NCAA Tournament?  Gonzaga is loaded, and although they’ve dealt with injuries to Killian Tillie and Geno Crandall, which has exposed their lack of depth in the short term, they are still the class of the conference… and nobody is even close.  The Bulldogs will roll through the conference because Rui Hachimura is improving, but GU’s overall success will depend on Josh Perkins and whether or not he can finally be a true floor leader and not a scorer.  Zach Norvell Jr. and transfers Brandon Clarke and Crandall are very capable of putting the ball in the basket like Hachimura and Tillie, so look for some big offensive numbers. 

Impact Conference Game:  NONE – Zags could run the table and go undefeated in WCC play for the first time since
2012-2013.

Is there any team who can challenge GU for the top spot in the standings?  No, no, and absolutely not.

BYU

The WCC’s better teams have great guards, and this season BYU returns one of the better point guards in the conference in Nick Emery. Emery is back after getting into trouble last year and taking the year off.  He is what Dave Rose’s team needs to be the second WCC team to get a bid in the NCAA tournament.  Surprisingly though, the team is only 9-7 as conference play begins.  More importantly, where Coach Rose emphasized defense last year, the Cougs are giving up way too many points again this year.  Emery has been slow to become the floor general they desperately need, but TJ Haws is scoring a ton and Yoeli Childs, one of the best post players in the league, is averaging a double-double, so the pieces are in place offensively. 

Impact Conference Games:  BYU opens with four of their first six games on the road before hosting St. Mary’s and Gonzaga.  Beware, the Cougars could be under .500 halfway through the conference slate.

Is Dave Rose feeling a little heat by missing the NCAA Tournament the past three years?  The Cougar fans might be supplying some, but Rose has two years left after this season following a contract extension given to him in November. 

USF

Kyle Smith has had 20-win seasons in each of his two seasons on the Hilltop, including a trip to the finals of the CBI postseason tournament last year.  At 12-2, the Dons are well on their way to another 20 wins.  Their non-conference schedule wasn’t daunting, but a win over Stanford and a close loss to Buffalo have raised eyebrows.  USF has Charles Minlend back from injury, and he has been their leading scorer.  However, it is Frankie Ferrari’s team, and he could carry the Dons to a second-place finish.   The solid frontline with Matt McCarthy and Jimbo Lull should not be overlooked.  There is one huge weakness for Coach Smith though.  His team is shooting just 67% at the free throw line.  They must fix this in order to be a WCC contender.

Impact Conference Game:  USF hosts St. Mary’s on ESPN in the conference opener.  This is the game where everyone will start talking about the Dons if they win.

What could have been?  The Dons were supposed to host nationally-ranked Arizona State in November, but the game was cancelled due to poor air quality from the fires.  A win would have been tremendous for their tournament resume.

ST. MARY’S

The more things change, the more they could certainly stay the same.  But, with so many important pieces for Randy Bennett’s squad lost to graduation and the rest of the conference getting better, this might be the year St. Mary’s, which is off to a 9-6 start, falls in the standings and has to regroup. Jordan Ford and Tanner Krebs are the lone returning starters with Ford moving into the point guard role for the first time. He leads the offense with over 23 points. but is not the distributor the Gaels are used to having at that position.  The challenge for Bennett has been to find replacements among five freshmen and getting the Gaels to gel quickly.  Transfer Malik Fitts has been a nice addition, averaging nearly 15 points and 8 rebounds a game.

Impact Conference Games:  Along with the opener at USF, the finale at home vs. Gonzaga might be for a top 4 seed and the opportunity not to see the Zags until the tournament championship game. 

Could the Gaels really have a subpar season (for them)?  Yes, but if they mesh sooner, rather than later, St. Mary’s will be a second or third place team.

SAN DIEGO

The Toreros really are a wild card in this conference race which has no clear-cut pick to finish 2nd.  Former interim coach Sam Scholl, who was hired permanently at the end of last season, returns a veteran squad led by the senior trio of Isaiah Pineiro, Isaiah Wright, and Olin Carter III.  They are averaging a combined 50 points a game.  There are no notable wins in their 11-4 start, but in scoring nearly 79 points with 17 assists a game, USD is showing its ability to score and play unselfishly. What they are lacking is consistent post play and depth.  Pineiro, Wright, and Carter, along with Tyler Williams, are playing over 33 minutes a game.  

Impact Conference Games:  The Toreros open at Santa Clara, before hosting Pacific and Pep and then visit Portland and St. Mary’s.  They could start the conference 5-0 and be in a very good position for a second or third place finish.

With the impending graduation of Pineiro, Wright, Carter, and Williams, who have the Toreros signed for next season?  Coach Scholl has gone outside the states to bring in a Norwegian shooter and a high-flyer from Canada.

PACIFIC

Damon Stoudamire and his Tigers have a chip on their shoulder.  After surprising many people by finishing in a tie for 4th place a year ago and doing it with just eight scholarship players, Stoudamire is expecting to finish in the top three this year.  They might have more bodies, but they are not quite talented enough even though a 10-5 non-conference mark should be the lead for another improvement in overall wins.  Roberto Gallinat and Anthony Townes, their senior leaders, are carrying the offensive load, but the Tigers need more from guys like Lafayette Dorsey and Jahlil Tripp to make a run to the upper half of the WCC and do better on the defensive end.  Pacific is likely a year away though.

Impact Conference Games:  The Tigers go on the road to USD, Portland, and Gonzaga for their first three games before hosting USF, Santa Clara, and Portland.  A 4-2 stretch is necessary for them to have any chance for a top 4 finish. 

Has the big name of Damon Stoudamire helped recruiting?  Next year, Pacific will get Georgia Tech transfer Justin Moore and the #2-ranked Nor Cal prospect Isaiah Hawthorne, as well as St. John Bosco forward Jonathan Salazar.

LMU

At 12-2, LMU has certainly gotten the attention of their conference foes.  The non-league schedule had a couple of noteworthy wins against UNLV and Georgetown, but the Lions were routed by UCLA and played their worst game of the year in a loss at UC Riverside.  Coach Mike Dunlap has James Batemon, undoubtedly one of the best guards on the West Coast.  The challenge for the Lions will be getting consistency, especially offensive production, from rest of the squad.  LMU is at or near the bottom of every offensive category in the WCC.  In his 5th season, Dunlap should be ascending in the conference standings, not languishing near the bottom where he has finished .500 just once and not higher than 6th place.  Regardless, Dunlap’s players have had difficulty finding roles because his rotation tends to change from game-to-game.  There are players on this roster like 7-2 Mattias Markusson and freshman Dameane Douglas who can be good complimentary players with Batemon and make the Lions contenders.

Impact Conference Games:  Opening at Pep and then hosting Portland are must-wins to validate the 12-2 start. 

Is it possible the Lions are for real and could finish in the WCC’s top 4?  Yes. This season, the conference has shifted to a 16-game WCC schedule.  LMU will only play USF and St. Mary’s once – hosting St. Mary’s and getting USF on the road.  This combined with opening 2-0, and LMU could very well find a way there.

PEPPERDINE

Pepperdine made a necessary coaching change, and Lorenzo Romar has returned to lead the Waves which immediately has brought a new energy to Malibu.  At 7-7. this year’s team has already exceeded last year’s win total and is much better offensively.  Five players are averaging double-digits led by Colbey Ross who is also dishing out nearly seven assists.  The key to Pep’s success may be in keeping Kameron Edwards healthy.  The junior forward has yet to reach his potential due to injuries both last year and already this year.  The Waves must also get better defensively as they have given up too many points to lesser teams.  This squad is young with nine freshmen, among them is highly-regarded Kessler Edwards, Kameron’s younger brother, and they will make their mistakes, but should get a few surprising wins along the conference schedule.

Impact Conference Games:  Pep hosts LMU in their opener and are 18-1 vs. the Lions over the last 19 games in Malibu. 

What is Pepperdine’s biggest weakness?  The Waves are not very big, and therefore, not a good rebounding team.  If Kameron Edwards stays healthy expect that to change and perhaps move them up a spot or two in the standings.

SANTA CLARA

The Broncos have had to battle injuries to their better players for the majority of Herb Sendek’s coaching tenure.  This year, two-time All-WCC selection KJ Feagin is out indefinitely with a broken hand.  Yet somehow, Santa Clara is 8-6 and on a five-game winning streak that includes victories over USC and Washington St. in the last two weeks.  The improved play of sophomores Tahj Eaddy and Josip Vrankic has given the Broncos’ offense a lift, while Cal Poly grad transfer Josh Martin is averaging nearly 10 rebounds a game.  Freshman Trey Wertz also is filling the void left by Feagin at point guard and has had games of 33 and 28 points already.  Santa Clara is lacking depth and together with this young roster is due to finish in the bottom part of the conference.

Impact Conference Games:  Santa Clara has a four-game stretch in the middle of February where they play at USF and then host St. Mary’s, Pacific, and USF.  At that point in the conference season, the Broncos could be a pest to those three teams looking for a top 4 finish or simply roll over to get their season over with.

This is Herb Sendek’s third season, and it is probable this team will not win as many games as either of his first two seasons.  Is he likely to keep his job?  Yes, only if the Broncos continue to play hard for their coach at the level they did in winning those two Pac-12 games.

PORTLAND

With no seniors on their roster, the Portland Pilots are the most inexperienced team in the West Coast Conference and statistically it shows.  Coach Terry Porter’s team is near the bottom in most offensive and defensive categories even though he has managed to coax them to a 6-7 non-conference record.  Winning some early games is a good foundation, but the Pilots won’t win if they can’t score or defend.  Guards Marcus Shaver Jr. and Josh McSwiggan are the team’s leading scorers as they were a year ago, yet Portland is still looking for someone to be any kind of presence in the frontcourt.  Until they do, the Pilots will struggle to win games in the WCC.

Impact Conference Games:  A three-game homestand in early-February against BYU, LMU, and USF may tell a lot about how the program is progressing under Coach Porter.

Will Terry Porter tire of this job or lose it first?  If UP decides it needs basketball to be a marquee sport for fundraising purposes, but continues to win few games, Porter will lose it first.  Currently, UP athletics gets a lot of attention for their soccer programs and recently invested in a new facility.

ALL-WCC SELECTIONS

James Batemon            SR       Loyola Marymount

Yoeli Childs                  JR        BYU

Brandon Clarke             JR        Gonzaga

Frankie Ferrari              SR       San Francisco

Jordan Ford                  JR        St. Mary’s

Rui Hachimura              JR        Gonzaga

Charles Minlend            SO       San Francisco

Zach Norvell, Jr.           SO       Gonzaga

Josh Perkins                 SR       Gonzaga

Isaiah Pineiro                SR       San Diego

Player of the Year                    Rui Hachimura              JR        Gonzaga

Defender of the Year               Brandon Clarke             JR        Gonzaga

Newcomer of the Year             Brandon Clarke             JR        Gonzaga

Coach of the Year                    Kyle Smith                    San Francisco

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