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CBT Monthly Awards: Duke is Team of the Month, UCLA disappoints

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With November in the books, we have a pretty good sample size to make snap judgments about what we’ve seen. The College Basketball Talk staff got together to share their thoughts on the first month of the college hoops season.

Enjoy.

 

Team of the Month:

David Harten: Duke – You can’t argue with a team that’s beaten THREE top-5 teams in a row. Just can’t. Doesn’t matter if it’s obvious.

Rob Dauster: Duke – There really is no argument here. They’ve beaten three top five teams, plus Minnesota and VCU.

Dan Martin: Duke – As everyone else has said, the Blue Devils came into the month with some doubters, and you can bet most of those have now become believers. Three wins over Top-5 wins are impressive on an NCAA Tournament resume, but to do it in the first month is unmatched.

Raphielle Johnson: Duke – I still think Indiana’s the best team currently but it’s the Blue Devils who have the best resume. They win as a result of that.

Eric Angevine: Indiana – Four years ago, the notion of Indiana being a #1 team again was absurd. Even the preseason No. 1 ranking felt a bit premature this season. But Tom Crean and his team — not just Cody Zeller, but the team — have taken all of the pressure on, played some tough games and made it through November unscathed.

 

Player of the Month:

Terrence Payne: Mason Plumlee, Duke – Plumlee No. 2 showed he can be the headlining act for a national contender. Whether it be he’s aggression on the boards or his improvement from the free throw line, Plumlee has his name in player of the year contention

Rob Dauster: Mason Plumlee, Duke – . He finally went from prospect to player. The most dominant big man in the country is the early player of the year favorite after averaging 20 and 11 through the first month.

Raphielle Johnson: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh – Mason Plumlee will get a lot of love in this category and rightfully so, but McCollum deserves some as well. Nation’s leading scorer and also became the all-time leading scorer in Patriot League history last month.

Dan Martin: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh – For variety’s sake, if it’s not Mason Plumlee, take a look at what McCollum has done: 26.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game. He is showing that he made the right choice in coming back to school and has Lehigh off to a 5-2 start.

David Harten: Jeff Withey, Kansas – The Jayhawks’ 7-footer is averaging 14.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and leading the nation at 6.2 blocks per game in 28.8 minutes per. Not to mention he’s rattled off the second triple-double in program history in a win over San Jose State with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks.

Eric Angevine: Jack Cooley, Notre Dame – Jeff Withey certainly had a stellar month, but for night-in, night-out production, I’m going with Cooley. The Irish always thrive with a spiky-headed brawler in the paint, and Cooley is that guy. One thing I really, really like about Cooley is that he hits his free throws, which is crucial for someone who lives around the basket.

Troy Machir: Jack Taylor, Grinnell College – Think about this: It took Mason Plumlee seven games to score as many points as Jack Taylor scored in one game. Taylor scored 138 points in ONE GAME? This isn’t even a discussion. November belonged to Jack Taylor.

 

Freshman of the Month:

Eric Angevine: Ben McLemore, Kansas – He’s the Jayhawks’ second leading scorer (13.8 ppg), and he may overtake Jeff Withey (14.2) in that department sooner rather than later. He’s also averaging 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and a steal and a block per game. That’s heady stuff for a freshman in Bill Self’s system.

Troy Machir: Ben McLemore, Kansas – Nothing about this kid’s play has been “freshman-like”. Through a month of play, there aren’t many Big-XII players, freshman or not, who are playing better than him.

Terrence Payne: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State – Ask to take a big role with injuries, hasn’t disappointed for the Cowboys.

Rob Dauster: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State – He’s got Oklahoma State ranked despite the fact the lost two players to season ending injuries. Impressive.

Raphielle Johnson: Jahii Carson, Arizona State – Herb Sendek said the Sun Devils would play faster and they have, with Carson being the biggest reason why they’ve been successful. He’ll only get better as the season wears on too.

David Harten: Anthony Bennett, UNLV – He’s averaged 19.5 points and 7.8 rebounds and anchored the front line for the Runnin’ Rebels in the early part of the season. His rise to prominence in college basketball took less time than his announcement ceremony.

Dan Martin: Isaiah Austin, Baylor – Austin is a versatile forward who, even in his first game of the season, showed he can play. He had 22 points in 17 minutes against Lehigh before spraining his ankle and is averaging 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.

 

Game of the Month:

Troy Machir: Indiana 82, Georgetown 72 OT – The best team in the country was pushed to the brink by a then un-ranked team with no seniors on the roster. The ebbs and flows of the game is what made it so special. The final score doesn’t properly reflect the quality of basketball we were treated too.

Eric Angevine: Duke 76, Louisville 71 – The Indiana-Georgetown OT tilt was also on my radar, but Duke vs. Louisville had too many story lines and too much drama to ignore. Imagine how much better it would have been if Dieng had been there to counter Plumlee. Nonetheless, it was the biggest chance at a statement game in the top five that we’ve seen so far, and Duke made the statement, which was”Yeah, we’re still Duke.”

David Harten: New Mexico 86, Davidson 81 – The Lobos survived 86-81 after Wildcats went up early on a bevy of threes — up 25-11 at one point and 45-31 at half — before Tony Snell, who went for 25, went ham and brought them back late in the second half and The Pit was rocking super hard for Marathon Madness.

 

Most Surprising Team:

David Harten: Colorado – Look at the Buffs! A 6-0 start with wins over Baylor and Murray State. Andre Roberson is clocking 10.8 points and 11 rebounds per and they’ve gotten production from Askia Booker (team leader at 16.8 ppg, 3.0 apg), Spencer Dinwiddie (14.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Josh Scott (14.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg).

Raphielle Johnson: SMU – Honestly I thought this team would be on the receiving end of beatings on a regular basis, Larry Brown or not. They’re 7-1, and regardless of what some may say of the opposition that’s a major improvement from last season.

Eric Angevine: Oklahoma State – While we were all waiting around to see if Baylor, West Virginia or some other team was going to rise up and challenge Kansas in the Big 12, it turned out that the Smart money was on the Cowboys.

Rob Dauster: Michigan – We knew the Wolverines were going to be good, but did anyone think they could put together an argument for being the best team in the country? For my money, Trey Burke has been the best point guard in the country.

Dan Martin: Illinois – The Illini were chosen to finish ninth in the Big Ten in the preseason media poll, but new head coach John Groce has his team 8-0 and ranked 22nd in the country. Their first real test, though, comes Dec. 8 against Gonzaga.

 

Least Surprising Team:

Eric Angevine: UCLA – Why did we expect them to be any different? For the past few years, this once-proud program has been on the rocks due to an apparent lack of discipline and a failure to retain top players. Nothing has changed, yet, but I’d be surprised if we see the same head coach in Bruin Blue next season.

Raphielle Johnson: UCLA – Talented but when you’re mixing skilled rookies with vets and no proven leader, things can get interesting. 5-2 isn’t a bad record, but I’m not buying this group as a bonafide contender right now.

Terrence Payne: UCLA – Bruins had potential through the roof entering the season. Without Shabazz Muhammad for the majority of the summer and fall and relying on a core of freshmen, it’s not surprising the Bruins and Ben Howland are off to a rocky start.

David Harten: UCLA – There was so little margin for error that you figured one thing going wrong would deflate the whole thing. Then the nail-biter over James Madison, the UC-Irvine loss and Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb left the team. That margin has been reached.

Dan Martin: Kansas – It never seems to matter what pieces Bill Self has in Kansas. They still end up competing. Even after losing Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor to the pros, Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore lead the Jayhawk attack in 2012-13.

Troy Machir: Indiana – They were the best team in the country before the season began, and after the month, nothing has changed. They are still the best team in the country. I’m not surprised at all.

 

Bandwagon you are jumping on:

Dan Martin: Michigan – The Wolverines won the NIT Tip Off in New York over a solid Pittsburgh team and pesky Kansas State squad, then beat No. 18 NC State. I really like Michigan’s trio of Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Glenn Robinson III. Hardaway, Jr.’s transformation into a full player is key for coach John Beilein’s team.

Terrence Payne: Michigan – Very talented team, led by a stellar backcourt of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Burke is making a strong case to be the best floor general in the county, while Hardaway showing huge confidence in his game.

Rob Dauster: Georgetown – That zone is going to be a nightmare for everyone, and Markel Starks gives them a veteran back court leader.

Raphielle Johnson: Arizona – Wildcats go ten deep without much of a drop off (if any). Sean Miller’s got his best team since arriving in the Old Pueblo, and that includes the Elite 8 team in his second season.

Troy Machir: Cincinnati – Sean Kilpatrick has got to be somewhere near the top of the Wooden Award watch list after a month of play. Bearcats lead the country in rebounding and are seventh in points per game. They’ve also played much better non-conference opposition than in years past.

David Harten: Minnesota – I expected the Golden Gophers to be good, but they’ve been solid without much out of Trevor Mbakwe, who is making his way back from a torn ACL. Besides a loss to (my team of the month) Duke, they’ve rattled off wins over Memphis, Stanford and Florida State and earned a Top 25 ranking.

 

Bandwagon you are jumping off:

Raphielle Johnson: Drexel – Bruiser Flint’s team is tough but not particularly deep. And after losing Chris Fouch for the season it’s difficult to see the Dragons winning the CAA.

Eric Angevine: North Carolina – I know, I just bought them cheap for Cyber Monday, but it wouldn’t be the first time I pulled something disappointing out of the discount bin (I’m looking at you, DVD of Neverending Story 3). Rob’s right – there’s no distributor in Chapel Hill, and you can’t run the system without one.

Rob Dauster: St. Mary’s – Matthew Dellavedova is a stud, but he doesn’t have enough support around him.

David Harten: Baylor – Tons of talent, not a ton of discipline. A loss to Colorado wasn’t too bad, but the loss to College of Charleston was. They could turn it around, but they’ll have to do it in games against Kentucky, Northwestern and BYU.

Dan Martin: Memphis – Many thought this was going to be “The Season” for Memphis, but perhaps they’ll need to iron out some more wrinkles before everything comes together in Tennessee. A disappointing Battle 4 Atlantis now has the Tigers at 4-2 and averaging 14 turnovers per game.

Terrence Payne: Memphis – Tigers were suppose to be a factor this season, hasn’t shown it thus far. Josh Pastner still trying to get it all together, but in the mean time can sell the fans on a highly-touted recruiting class coming in.

 

Stat of the Month:

Raphielle Johnson: Mason Plumlee is now Duke’s all-time leader in dunks with 149. Robert Brickey was the previous record holder with 147.

Terrence Payne: Mason Plumlee is just under 80 percent from the free throw line to start the year. Compare that to 53 percent last year, 44 percent as a sophomore, and 54 percent as a freshman.

David Harten: Siena’s O.D. Anosike averaging almost as many rebounds as points. The 6-8 senior lead the nation in the stat at 12.5 per game last season, but he’s taken it to new heights this year. The Saints’ big man is averaging 14.4 points and 14.1 rebounds through five games.

Eric Angevine: Cal State Fullerton is shooting the lights out. 54.4% from inside the arc, 79.6% from the stripe, and a stunning 50% from deep. If the Titans manage to locate some defense over the next few weeks, they could actually be dangerous.

Dan Martin: Larry Drew II is averaging 8.1 assists and just 1.3 turnovers per game this season for UCLA. With so many bashing coach Ben Howland for announcing Drew II as his point guard, the former UNC guard is producing.

 

Final Four Picks after one month:

Eric Angevine: Indiana, Duke, Louisville, Florida
Rob Dauster: Indiana, Duke, Kansas, Missouri
David Harten: Indiana, Duke, Louisville, Michigan
Raphielle Johnson: Indiana, Duke, Louisville, Gonzaga
Troy Machir: Indiana, Duke, Michigan, Gonzaga
Dan Martin: Indiana, Duke, Kansas, Michigan
Terrence Payne Indiana, Duke, Michigan, Gonzaga

Troy Machir is the Managing Editor of Ballin’ is a Habit and can be found on Twitter at @TroyMachir

NC State waiting on NCAA answer on Yurtseven’s eligibility

TREVISO, ITALY - JUNE 07:  Omer Yurtseven in action during the adidas Eurocamp at La Ghirada sports center on June 7, 2015 in Treviso, Italy.  (Photo by Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images)
Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images
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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) For now, all North Carolina State freshman Omer Yurtseven can do is work on his game and be patient.

With all the attention on possible one-and-done freshman Dennis Smith Jr., the Turkish 7-footer gives the Wolfpack a second five-star prospect on an overhauled and potential-filled roster. But he’s still waiting for the NCAA to clear him as eligible to play as an amateur.

Practice starts Friday and the opener is six weeks away.

“I can’t control it so I’m trying not to think about it,” Yurtseven said Thursday during the team’s preseason media day. “Just think about education and basketball, to control as I said what you can. Because that’s not in your hands, so if you think about it more, all It’s going to get you is frustration. And I don’t want that.”

Yurtseven, a native of Istanbul, had a professional contract offer with a European club team, but opted to play college basketball and committed to the Wolfpack in May. The 18-year-old also has international experience, is considered a potential one-and-done talent himself and even had a 91-point game in a Turkish Under-18 game this spring.

“He played overseas and he grew up playing the game the right way,” junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu said, “so he’s very skilled and has a super high IQ.”

Smith’s debut at the point guard after enrolling in January to rehab a serious knee injury has caused the biggest buzz for the Wolfpack. And sixth-year coach Mark Gottfried isn’t shying away from fueling the hype about Smith, calling him Thursday “the best guard in the country” even while saying he will have a learning curve as he transitions to the college level.

But Yurtseven’s commitment was a big deal, too, and a key reason why the Wolfpack ranks No. 6 nationally in Scout.com’s recruiting rankings.

Gottfried said Thursday that “nothing has happened in a negative way” during the NCAA’s review process of Yurtseven’s amateur status, saying there is plenty of discussion but no timetable for a decision.

“It’s not frustrating because quite honestly for us, there’s really not a whole lot we can do about that,” Gottfried said. “He’s participated in every workout. He’s integrating himself with our team in a really positive way.

“We’re approaching it with the hope he won’t have to miss any games and move right in and play. If he does (have to sit out games), we’ll deal with that, too.”

Yurtseven said he understands the evaluation process takes time.

“You’ve just got to hope for the best,” he said. “I think that they should let me get cleared because I don’t think I have done something wrong. But you know, they’re trying to do their part, so I can’t do nothing but respect them. So that’s what I’m trying to do.”

While N.C. State has plenty of backcourt options, the Wolfpack sure could use Yurtseven up front. Abu (12.9 points, 8.8 rebounds) and 6-9 senior BeeJay Anya are back after offseason flirtations with the NBA draft, but Gottfried is leaning toward redshirting 6-9 senior Lennard Freeman to let him fully heal after an injury-plagued season following surgery to repair a fracture in his lower right leg in summer 2015.

The opportunity is there, assuming Yurtseven suits up as planned.

“It’s a new experience and it’s fun,” he said. “I’m in a place that I’ve never been in, a situation that I don’t know if I’ll live (through) ever again, a different situation than this. I’m just trying to have fun, enjoy and hope for the best.”

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

More than 35 A10 games to be aired on NBCSN

E.C. Matthews
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NBC Sports Networked announced on Thursday that the station will air more than 35 Atlantic 10 basketball games during the course of the 2016-17 season.

The slate includes 25 men’s basketball games and 10 women’s basketball games. In March, during the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Pittsburgh, NBC Sports Network will have exclusive coverage of the second round and quarterfinals.

All of these games will be streamed on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports mobile app.

Rhode Island is expected to be the team to beat this season, with E.C. Matthews returning from injury, while Hassan Martin and Jared Terrell are also back in South Kingstown. The Rams, a team likely ranked in the top-25 to begin the season, will play four nationally-televised games on NBCSN.

Here is the full schedule:

Saturday, January 7

UMass at VCU

1 p.m.

Saturday, January 7

Saint Joseph’s at Fordham

3 p.m.

Saturday, January 7

George Mason at St. Bonaventure

5 p.m.

Sunday, January 8

Richmond at George Washington

Noon

Sunday, January 8

Davidson at Saint Louis

2 p.m.

Wednesday, January 11   

St. Bonaventure at Saint Louis (Women’s)

Noon

Saturday, January 14

Richmond at Saint Joseph’s

12:30 p.m.

Saturday, January 14

Saint Louis at George Mason

2:30 p.m.

Saturday, January 14*

Fordham at St. Bonaventure (Rochester Arena)

4:30 p.m.

Sunday, January 15

UMass at Rhode Island

2:30 p.m.

Sunday, January 15

George Washington at La Salle

4:30 p.m.

Saturday, January 21

Rhode Island at Duquesne

12:30 p.m.

Saturday, January 21

Fordham at UMass

2:30 p.m.

Sunday, January 22

La Salle at VCU

2 p.m.

Saturday, January 28

Davidson at Fordham

Noon

Saturday, January 28

St. Bonaventure at Rhode Island

2 p.m.

Wednesday, February 1

Fordham at George Washington (Women’s)

Noon

Saturday, February 4

Duquesne at Dayton

12:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 4

George Washington at Richmond

2:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 11

UMass at Saint Joseph’s

2:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 11

St. Bonaventure at George Washington

4:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 18

Davidson at UMass

Noon

Saturday, February 18

St. Bonaventure at Dayton

2 p.m.

Saturday, February 18

Rhode Island at George Mason

4 p.m.

Sunday, February 19

George Washington at Duquesne

Noon

Sunday, February 19

Dayton at Fordham (Women’s)

2 p.m.

Saturday, February 25

Richmond at Fordham

2:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 25

Saint Joseph’s at Saint Louis

4:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 9

Atlantic 10 Championship Second Round

Noon

Thursday, March 9

Atlantic 10 Championship Second Round

2:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 9

Atlantic 10 Championship Second Round

6 p.m.

Thursday, March 9

Atlantic 10 Championship Second Round

8:30 p.m.

Friday, March 10

Atlantic 10 Championship Quarterfinals

Noon

Friday, March 10

Atlantic 10 Championship Quarterfinals

2:30 p.m.

Friday, March 10

Atlantic 10 Championship Quarterfinals

6 p.m.

Friday, March 10

Atlantic 10 Championship Quarterfinals

8:30 p.m

The Atlantic 10 Conference schedule begins on December 30.

Hamidou Diallo says “as of now I want to go to college”

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Hamidou Diallo is arguably the most coveted shooting guard in the Class of 2017.

The Putnam Science Academy (Connecticut) product holds offers from the likes of Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, UConn, Arizona, and pretty much every other high-major program you can think of. Of course, the 6-foot-5 high-flyer is also on the radar of NBA franchises.

Diallo, a Queens native, reclassified to the Class of 2017 when he arrived on the prep school campus several years ago. He graduated this past spring and is currently in a postgraduate year at the same institution. This means he is one year removed from his graduating class, which means he could throw his name in to the 2017 NBA Draft.

However, according to Evan Daniels of Scout.com, Diallo’s current plan is to head to college, where he will likely be a one-and-done.

“It’s definitely something that I’m going to look into,” Diallo said when asked about the draft. “It’s my ultimate goal and I don’t feel like it would hurt me looking into. But as of now I want to go to college.”

Diallo’s possibility to go pro this spring have likely gained traction since this past June, when Thon Maker, another postgraduate prep prospect, was selected 10th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. Skal Labissiere was rated as the No. 1 player in the Class of 2015 and pegged as the a potential top pick entering the 2015-16 season. His struggles to adjust to the college game were well-documented, and when draft night came, he fell 18 spots behind Maker.

There draft day tales will likely be intertwined for quite some time, as it ignited a discussion about whether prospects, like those in Diallo’s situation, are better suited to jump right to the NBA instead of avoiding of year of college and potentially failing to live up to the hype.

That’s not to say Diallo wouldn’t excel in what would perhaps be his lone college season. The events of last June’s draft shows that there can be a lucrative option by heading straight to the NBA. However, it could also be just a short-term gain. Thon Maker is repping the financial benefits of being a lottery pick, but let’s wait and see where he is if/when it’s time to re-up a new deal.

Diallo is rated as the 10th best player in the Class of 2017. He spent the spring and summer playing for the New York Rens in the Nike EYBL. He averaged 19.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in 20 appearances.

Pitt and West Virginia to reignite Backyard Brawl

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins gestures to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Marshall in Charleston, W.Va., on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Tyler Evert)
AP Photo/Tyler Evert
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Good news on the college hoops rivalry front, as Pitt and West Virginia announced on Thursday that they will be renewing the Backyard Brawl.

One of the most intense rivalries in college sports, Pitt and West Virginia have not played in hoops since the 2011-12 season. Once Big East rivals, West Virginia left for the Big 12 as Pitt took off for the ACC.

It will be a four-game home-and-home series, with Pitt hosting in 2017 and 2019 and the Mountaineers getting the home games in 2018 and 2020.

I can’t stress this enough: this is great news. The Big East has seen a number of their best rivalries reignited in recent years, namely Syracuse taking on both Georgetown and UConn.

Will this inspire Kansas and Missouri to face off? Well, maybe not:

Anyway, here are the statements from the respective athletic directors.

“We are extremely excited to announce the renewal of this great rivalry,” Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes said in a statement. “Coach Stallings and his staff did an outstanding job working with their counterparts at West Virginia to help make this happen. The Pitt-West Virginia games will serve as marquee non-conference matchups that will garner heavy interest in the area and on the national stage.”

“One of my first goals as athletic director was to reach out to Scott Barnes about renewing the football and basketball series with Pitt because I knew it would be good for both schools,” West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons said in a statement. “I want to thank Scott and coach Stallings as well as [West Virginia] coach [Bob] Huggins and his staff for their efforts in getting the basketball series renewed. The fans are the real winners because whether the game is in the WVU Coliseum or the Petersen Events Center, it will be great for college basketball.”

WCC Preview: ‘Zags favorites once more

Mark Few
AP Photo/Young Kwak
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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the WCC.

Since BYU moved into the conference five years ago, just once has a team outside Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and the Cougars finished inside the league’s top three. This year probably won’t be much different with that trio set to be as strong as ever. There’s change elsewhere around the league that could change the landscape, but not likely for some time.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Gonzaga just reloads: The Bulldogs may have lost a lottery pick in Domantas Sabonis and first-team all-conference contributor in Kyle Wiltjer, but it’s not hard to envision Mark Few’s team being better this season. NBCSports.com preseason All-American Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington) and Johnathan Williams (Missouri) are eligible after transfers, as is Cal graduate transfer Jordan Mathews. The ‘Zags also add a McDonald’s All-American in freshman 7-footer Zach Collins and have Przmek Karnowski healthy after missing most of last season. This program is a well-oiled, winning machine. They’re talented enough that this could actually be the year they get to the Final Four.

2. Coaching turnover: Forty percent of the 10-team league has a new coach this season. Former NBA point guards Damon Stoudamire and Terry Porter took over at Pacific and Portland, respectively, while former Arizona State and N.C. State coach Herb Sendek replaced Kerry Keating at Santa Clara and Kyle Smith took over for Rex Walters at San Francisco.

That’s an astounding percentage, but in a league that’s being dominated by the same programs year-in and year-out, change is probably a good thing to shake up the status quo. The other problem? It’s virtually impossible to crack the top three in the WCC when it’s dominated by Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU, which means that the rest of the league has become filled with dead-end jobs. Can you name the last time a WCC coach left for a better job? Jan Van Breda Kolff left Pepperdine in 2001 for St. Bonaventure.

(AP)
Nigel Williams-Goss (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

3. NBA infusion: Half of those four hires come with incredibly strong NBA credentials. Damon Stoudamire spent time on benches in Memphis (both in the NBA and college) and Arizona following his 13-year NBA career and is now in charge of cleaning up and straightening out Pacific after an academic scandal. Terry Porter spent 17 years in the NBA as a player and had head coaching gigs with the Bucks and Suns, but now returns to the city, Portland, where his retired number hangs in the Moda Center.

4. Can St. Mary’s build its resume: The Gaels won 29 games and defeated Gonzaga twice last year, but a loss in the conference tournament kept them out of the NCAA tournament for the third-straight year due to a poor at-large resume. St. Mary’s returns literally almost every player from that team and has bolstered its non-conference slate with road trips to Dayton and Stanford, plus UAB on a neutral. If the Gaels can’t capture the WCC tournament title, will they have enough to still make the Big Dance? Because talent isn’t the issue with them. Spoiler alert: St. Mary’s will crack our preseason top 25 when it is released.

5. Replacing Collinsworth: Gone is Kyle Collinsworth after posting 12 career triple-doubles and BYU records for rebounds and assists. The Cougars still have plenty of firepower, though, namely Nick Emery, who averaged 16.3 points as a freshman. Back is big man Eric Mika after a two-year mission, and Houston transfer L.J. Rose joins the program as well. That’s a solid core before you factor in the loaded freshmen class of T.J. Haws, Yoeli Childs and Payton Dastrup.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON WCC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga

An NBCSports.com second-team preseason All-American, Williams-Goss sat out last season after transfering from Washington to Spokane, and we’re expecting him to hit the ground rounding after a year away from competition. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds his last season at Washington and will have a huge role in leading a Final Four contending ‘Zags team.

SPOKANE, WA - JANUARY 14:  Josh Perkins #13 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives against defender Nick Emery #4 of the BYU Cougars in the first half of the game at McCarthey Athletic Center on January 14, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
Josh Perkins drives against Nick Emery (William Mancebo/Getty Images)

THE REST OF THE WCC FIRST TEAM:

  • Przmek Karnowski, Gonzaga: If healthy, Karnowski is a devastating big man.
  • Jared Brownridge, Santa Clara: League’s top returning scorer after posting 20.6 ppg last year.
  • Nick Emery, BYU: Known for throwing a punch at a Utah player, but put up big numbers for the Cougars.
  • Emmett Naar, St. Mary’s:Scored 14 points and dished out over 6 assists per game for the 29-win Gaels.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Joe Rahon, St. Mary’s
  • Eric Mika, BYU
  • Josh Perkins, Gonzaga
  • Dane Pineau, St. Mary’s
  • Alec Wintering, Portland

BREAKOUT STAR: Jared Brownridge is going to have the latitude to hoist a ton of shots and if he’s making 40 percent of his 3s, he’s got a chance to put up even bigger numbers than last year. A big year from him could help push Santa Clara into relevance under new coach Herb Sendek.

Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett argues a call, during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Gonzaga in Moraga, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Randy Bennett isn’t on the hot seat or anything, but his team is coming off a disappointing miss of the NCAA tournament last year (for the third-straight season) and has a massive amount of expectation for this year. And Gonzaga somehow looks stronger than ever. That’s pressure.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : that the WCC is a two-bid league with Gonzaga and St. Mary’s.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : Watching the battle for the league championship between the ‘Zags and Gaels.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Dec. 7, Washington vs. Gonzaga
  • Dec. 3, Arizona vs. Gonzaga
  • Nov. 19, St. Mary’s vs. Dayton
  • Dec. 3, BYU vs. USC
  • Dec. 22, Valparaiso vs. Santa Clara

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @slipperstillfit

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Gonzaga: The top-tier talent will be enough to stave off the challengers.
2. St. Mary’s: They won’t knock off Gonzaga, but the Gaels should still be dancing.
3. BYU: Dave Rose has a solid core that will grow into a contender with time. They’re probably a year away from truly contending.
4. Santa Clara: Predicting a big year for Jared Brownridge means Santa Clara will be the best of the rest in the WCC.
5. Pepperdine: A strong core of returnees plus stability on the bench will propel the Waves to the top half of the conference.
6. Portland: Terry Porter will be leaning heavily on senior Alec Wintering to produce in his first year.
7. Loyola Marymount: LMU lost Adom Jacko to the pros but welcomes Stefan Jovanovic (Hawaii) and Trevor Manuel (Oregon) as transfers
8. San Francisco: New coach Kyle Smith inherits a roster without much stability.
9. Pacific: Expect a bumpy ride for first-year head coach Damon Stoudamire.
10. San Diego: After finishing in the basement last year, the Toreros lost their leading scorer and best interior presence, so there’s not a lot of expectation.

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 08:  Emmett Naar #3 of the Saint Mary's Gaels brings the ball up the court against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the championship game of the West Coast Conference Basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on March 8, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Gonzaga won 85-75.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Emmett Naar (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)