WCC SEASON PREVIEW: GONZAGA THE FAVORITE IN COMPETETIVE LEAGUE
By Raphielle Johnson
The 2011-12 season was a good one for the West Coast Conference, as the arrival of BYU gave the conference a three-headed monster at the top. Saint Mary’s, led by Player of the Year Matthew Dellavedova, won the regular season and tournament titles while Gonzaga and BYU were factors in the race all season long. But to assume it was just those three who made waves would be a mistake, as Max Good’s LMU Lions won seven of their eight conference road games and reached postseason play thanks in large part to Drew Viney and Anthony Ireland.
The question entering 2012-13 is what contenders will do to account for key personnel losses. Saint Mary’s lost forward Rob Jones, who despite his size was the WCC’s best rebounder with an average of 10.8 caroms per game. Gonzaga moves on without the services of Robert Sacré, but the addition of 7-footer Przemek Karnowski is expected to make the Bulldogs a national contender. And BYU not only loses Noah Hartsock but they’ve also had two players have to end their college careers due to injury. The good news for the Cougars is that Tyler Haws is back from his two-year LDS mission, giving Dave Rose a talented wing to call on.
So who’s the favorite? That would be Gonzaga, which returns two All-WCC players in sophomore point guard Kevin Pangos and senior forward Elias Harris. Pangos was the best freshman in the conference, and when combined with classmate Gary Bell Jr. this is a tandem that will give opponents fits. If Harris can stay healthy he’ll be able to approach the numbers he produced as a freshman. However he wasn’t as disappointing as some pundits believed in 2011-12, finishing with averages of 13.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Along with Harris, Mark Few has players such as Sam Dower, Karnowski and Guy Landri Edi to call on in the front court. The Bulldogs are loaded and capable of reclaiming the top spot in the WCC.
As for the Gaels, while they have a big hole to fill with Jones graduating they’ve got a very good backcourt with Dellavedova leading the way. He’ll be joined by players such as Jorden Page, Stephen Holt and Citrus College transfer James Walker III. The key will be how Saint Mary’s accounts for the loss of Jones inside, with redshirt sophomore Brad Waldow being the player they’ll lean on. Saint Mary’s has bodies in the post, and if Waldow and other can take care of business on the glass the Gaels will once again be a threat to win the WCC.
BYU welcomes back Brandon Davies, one of the conference’s best front court players, and Matt Carlino and should make yet another NCAA tournament appearance. Carlino had a tough finish to the season, as match-ups against Iona’s Scott Machado and Marquette’s deep backcourt led to him pressing some. Players like Anson Winder and Brock Zylstra will also factor into the perimeter rotation, and the return of Haws gives BYU a versatile wing that will be one of the best players in the WCC. But do they have enough depth to win a regular season title? That remains to be seen.
After the Cougars things get interesting, with San Diego, Santa Clara and LMU all having the talent needed to make a claim that they’re the best option for fourth. The Lions are the team most will go with for that spot due in large part to the return of Ireland, one of the best point guards in the country. And the addition of freshman forward Nick Stover is one that will pay off for LMU both this season and down the line; he’s got WCC Player of the Year potential. But the loss of Viney is a tough one, and could open the door for both the Toreros and the Broncos.
Guard Johnny Dee leads five returning starters for Bill Grier, and could provide a much-needed boost for a program that’s struggled since getting to the NCAA tournament in 2008. As for Santa Clara, while they went 0-16 in league play it’s important to not that the Broncos were without two key figures. Forward Marc Trasolini tore his ACL during the team’s preseason trip to Canada, and guard Kevin Foster was suspended for WCC play. Both are back, and as a result Santa Clara becomes a team that can make a major turnaround under Kerry Keating.
At the bottom of the standings in some order are Portland, Pepperdine and San Francisco. The Dons won 20 games last season, but with Angelo Caloiaro and Danny Green graduating and other key contributors transferring Rex Walters has a tough task on his hands. The good news is that senior point guard Cody Doolin is back, and he’ll be joined by transfer De’End Parker on the perimeter. Portland was young last season and took their lumps, but forward Ryan Nicholas is a player who can work his way into the All-WCC conversation. And Pepperdine has a young nucleus with just two starters returning, but they do regain the services of guard Lorne Jackson (missed 2011-12 with a torn ACL) and freshman Stacy Davis has the potential to be pretty good.
2. Saint Mary’s
4. San Diego
5. Santa Clara
6. Loyola Marymount
9. San Francisco
All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)
G Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga)
G Matthew Dellavedova (Saint Mary’s)
G Anthony Ireland (Loyola Marymount)
F Elias Harris (Gonzaga)*
F Brandon Davies (BYU)
All-Rookie Team (* denotes Rookie of the Year)
G De’End Parker (San Francisco)
G James Walker III (Saint Mary’s)
F Nick Stover (Loyola Marymount)
F Stacy Davis (Pepperdine)
C Przemek Karnowski (Gonzaga)*
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