Conference Countdown: No. 10 WCC

1 Comment

Preseason Awards

Player of the Year: Elias Harris, Gonzaga, So.

This
is as easy of a pick as you will come across. Best player on the best
team? Check. Most talented player? Check. Best NBA prospect? Check. At
6’8″, Harris is strong enough to score on the block, athletic enough to
finish above the rim, and skilled enough to knock down a three or
square his defender up and use the dribble to get to the rim. He was a
beast as a freshman, and with another year of development, there is no
reason to think that he won’t continue that trend as he becomes the
focal point of Mark Few’s attack. Harris will likely be a first round
pick, possibly even a lottery pick, by the time he decides to leave
Gonzaga.

And a close second goes too: Vernon Teel, Loyola Marymount, Sr.

Teel
was a first-team all-conference performer in the WCC last season, and
rightfully so. He led Loyola to a surprisingly good season last year,
stuffing the stat sheet with 15 points, 5 boards, 5 assists, 2 steals,
and 40% shooting from deep. Teel is about more than just numbers,
however. He is a floor leader, and a guy with some experience that
knows how to run this team. Loyola showed a great deal of improvement
this season, and they could have been even more successful had the club
not been dealing with injuries throughout the year. But as they got
healthy down the stretch of the season, Loyola started to win games.
They won five of the last seven, and two in the WCC Tournament, a
number of which were close games. A lot of that credit has to go to
Teel. Drew Viney may be the team’s leading scorer, but Teel is the most
important player for a Loyola team that should make a run at the
conference title.

Breakout Star: Matthew Dellavedova, St. Mary’s, So.

Dellavedova
came into the St. Mary’s program with a bit of hype, but with the Gaels
relying so heavily on Omar Samhan inside last year, he became a third
option offensively. This year, St. Mary’s is going to have a much more
perimeter oriented attack as their back court is deep and talented, and
Dellavedova should be one of the focal points. Dellavedova’s game is
centered around his ability to knock down a jumper, but he is so much
more than just a shooter. He’s looks awkward and uncoordinated when he
puts the ball on the floor, but he is more-than-capable at getting by
his man and into the paint. He’s not a great athlete, but he is a
tough, strong kid that has a nice array of floaters and pull-ups. He’s
also an excellent creator, as his 4.5 apg would lead you to believe
(although, many of those assists came running the pick-and-roll with
Samhan). With the paint open this season, and a full summer to work on
his game, I expect Dellavedova to be more aggressive to the rim as the
No. 1 option offensively for Randy Bennett. Don’t be surprised if
Dellavedova follows the footsteps of Samhan and Patty Mills, becoming a
nationally known name at St. Mary’s.

Newcomer of the Year: Kenton Walker, St. Mary’s, Jr.

With
Omar Samhan and Ben Allen graduating, there is going to be a gaping
hole in the middle for the Gaels. Walker may be just the guy to fill
that void. The Creighton transfer, who averaged 5.1 ppg and 3.8 rpg, is
a big-bodied 6’9″ forward that showed the ability to protect the rim
with the Bluejays. And when you consider the minutes he played (15 per
game) and the type of talent that he was playing behind, including
Kenny Lawson inside, Walker was actually fairly productive. Seeing as
he will be the Gaels No. 1 option inside, and given that he has spent
the past season going up against Samhan and Allen in practice, Walker
could end up having a very good season for Randy Bennett’s club.

All-Conference First Team

  • POY – Elias Harris, Gonzaga, So.
  • G – Steven Gray, Gonzaga, Sr.
  • G – Vernon Teel, Loyola Marymount, Sr.
  • G – Matthew Dellavedova, St. Mary’s, So.
  • F – Drew Viney, Loyola Marymount, Jr.
  • F – Marc Trasolini, Santa Clara, Jr.

All-Conference Second Team

  • G – Mickey McConnell, St. Mary’s, Sr.
  • G – Keion Bell, Pepperdine, Jr.
  • G – Kevin Foster, Santa Clara, So.
  • F – Luke Sikma, Portland, Sr.
  • C – Robert Sacre, Gonzaga, Jr.

What Happened?:

  • BYU? BYU… BYU!: Yup, the Cougars are headed to the WCC for basketball. More on this in a bit.
  • The Foreign Influx:
    We all know about the pipeline that Randy Bennett has established
    between Moraga, CA, and Australia. This season, Bennett has four
    Aussies, including star guard Matthew Dellavedova, on his roster. But
    Bennett isn’t alone in tapping the foreign markets for basketball
    talent. Gonzaga will likely have three starters from abroad — star
    sophomore Elias Harris (Germany), center Robert Sacre (Canada), and
    guard Mangisto Arop (Canada) — as well as a key sub in Kelly Olynyk
    (Canada) and two freshmen — Mathis Keita (France) and Mathis
    Monninghoff (Germany). Loyola has two players from Nigeria, a player
    from England (potential starter Ashley Hamilton), and a kid from
    Finland. Santa Clara and San Francisco have four imports apiece, while
    Portland (three) and Pepperdine (two) both have a bit of worldwide
    flavor on their roster.
  • Bye-bye Bol: Perhaps Gonzaga’s most well-known international recruit was Bol Kong, a Sudanese national that had been living in Canada. There was a lot of hype for Kong, who had a lengthy legal process
    before enrolling at Gonzaga, prior to his arrival, and while he had a
    mediocre season, he had a couple of offensive outbursts that led many
    to believe he had the potential to be a very good player at this level.
    Unfortunately, Kong will not be returning to Spokane.

    Kong
    isn’t the only player that is not returning to the Zags. Andy Poling,
    Grant Gibbs, and GJ Villarino (a former Kentucky commit) all decided to
    ply their trade elsewhere.

  • Rob Jones:
    Kong is no where near the most interesting transfer in this league.
    That award would go to Rob Jones, who left San Diego and transferred
    within conference to St. Mary’s. Jones happens to be the grandson of
    Jim Jones, the founder of Jonestown. I strongly suggest you read this ESPN article from 2008 on Rob.
  • Kwame Vaughn transfers too: Perhaps the most surprising transfer
    was Vaughn. Vaughn, a sophomore guard, was going to have a chance to be
    San Francisco’s go to player with Dior Lawhorn graduating.

What’s Next?:

  • BYU’s addition:
    Clearly, adding a basketball program like BYU’s is a good thing for
    this league. With Gonzaga, it gives the WCC two teams that are always
    going to be in and around the NCAA Tournament. With programs like St.
    Mary’s, Loyola Marymount, and even Portland, on the rise, the WCC is
    looking up. The question is, however, does BYU help bring up the WCC’s
    profile, or does the smaller conference hurt BYU’s program? The
    argument is there on both sides. For starters, adding the Salt Lake
    City market to one that includes most of the big markets on the West
    Coast can only aid the deal the WCC has with ESPN. It broadens the area
    that some of the lesser teams in the league can recruit (i.e. San
    Francisco can go after a kid in Ogden, UT, because he will get a
    homecoming game each season) and provides a recruiting tool. But is BYU
    willing to schedule like Gonzaga does in the non-conference, meaning
    they go anywhere to play anyone in November and December? If the
    Cougars aren’t willing to play a tough non-conference schedule, are
    they going to have the profile to be a tournament team?
  • Coaches staying home:
    There are obviously programs on the rise in the WCC. Loyola Marymount
    may contend for the league title this year with St. Mary’s and Gonzaga.
    Portland played their way into the national rankings last season.
    That’s good for the league, but what is better news is that the
    conference is keeping their best coaching talent at home. Eric Reveno
    is still at Portland. Randy Bennett seems to be taking Mark Few’s
    approach at St. Mary’s. Bill Bayno took a medical leave two years ago,
    but his replacement Max Good has kept the program moving in the right
    direction. For a league of the WCC’s stature, this continuity is
    important.
  • Will anyone ever unseat Gonzaga?:
    Last season might have been the best chance, with St. Mary’s being,
    arguably, the league’s best team. Hey, they won a conference
    championship (the tournament, but they beat the Zags in the final) and
    made the Sweet 16, right? Loyola Marymount and St. Mary’s will be the
    teams to do have a chance this season.

Power Rankings:

  1. Gonzaga:
    The Zags are the ideal program when it comes to basketball outside of
    the Big Six conferences. They are well into their second decade of WCC
    dominance, they are a nationally recognized name, they routinely
    schedule one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the
    country, and every year they are a top 25 team, if not higher. This
    year will be no different. Losing Matt Bouldin is going to hurt, more
    due to his playmaking ability than his scoring. But with Steven Gray,
    who is one of the more underappreciated players on the West Coast, back
    for his senior season and Demetri Goodson, a talented guard who has
    struggled at times but will be more of a point guard this season,
    returning for his junior year, Gonzaga still is plenty talented in the
    back court. On the front line, this team looks to be loaded. The first
    name that will come to mind is Elias Harris, who is the hands down
    favorite for conference player of the year. He’s a strong, athletic
    forward that can play in the post and on the perimeter, and has a very
    good shot at being a first round pick whenever he leaves school.
    Seven-footer Robert Sacre will be starting alongside him. Sacre was
    inconsistent last season as he was coming off of a serious foot injury.
    I expect an improvement this year. They also have Kelly Olynyk, who
    showed flashes as a freshman and played well at the World Basketball
    Championships, while redshirt freshman Sam Dower should also see time.

    The
    way I see it, there are going to be two question marks for the Zags.
    The first is filling Matt Bouldin’s spot on the floor. Mangisto Arop
    seems like the natural choice, as he seemed to be a solid spot up
    shooter in his limited minutes as a freshman. JuCo transfer Marquise
    Carter, whose game is similar to Bouldin, is another possibility as
    well. The second issue is a different team make-up. Gonzaga is a team
    with a loaded front court and without a real knock-down shooter on the
    perimeter. Can the Zags win as a team that pounds the ball inside and
    plays aggressive perimeter defense? The Zags, once again, will be the
    favorite for the WCC title and should get another top four seed in the
    NCAA Tournament.

  2. St. Mary’s: The
    Gaels will be a much different team this season than the one that had
    the school’s most successful season in history — which included a run
    to the Sweet 16 — mostly due to the fact that they lose their starting
    front court, particularly Omar Samham. The strength on this year’s team
    will be on the perimeter. Scrappy sophomore Matthew Dellevadova, who
    came into Moraga with a lot of hype and didn’t disappoint, has a chance
    to develop into a star this season. Sharpshooting point guard Mickey
    McConnell is back as well, and will once again be relied upon quite
    heavily to orchestrate Randy Bennett’s offense. Redshirt freshman Tim
    Harris, whose season was cut to one game with a hamstring tear, will
    see heavy minutes, as will Stephen Holt, a freshman point guard that is
    one of Bennett’s most heralded recruits. 6′ sophomore Jorden Page and
    6’7″ junior Clint Steindl will also play heavily into Bennett’s
    perimeter rotation, and Beau Levesque could see minutes as well. The
    front court is a different story. Rob Jones, a tough, rugged 6’6″
    forward and transfer from San Diego, will likely see time at both
    forward spots. He should be a key contributor for this team after
    averaging 9 points and 6 boards in two seasons at San Diego. 6’9″
    Creighton transfer Kenton Walker may end up starting for the Gaels at
    center this season. Three bigs return — Mitchell Young, Phil Benson,
    and Tim Williams. Young was the only one that got consistent minutes
    last season for the Gaels, but with the void left by Samhan and Ben
    Allen, all three of these players will be counted on to produce inside.
    The Gaels are not as good as last year’s team, but this is still a
    squad that will compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament and, if
    things break right, could give Gonzaga a run for the league title.
  3. Loyola Marymount: Just
    two years ago, this Loyola Marymount program was in shambles. Prior to
    the 2009-2010 season, they had won just eight games the previous two
    seasons. But thanks to the addition of some talented transfers and the
    development of a couple of their own players, the Lions won 18 games
    and went 7-7 in the league. Those two records could have been much
    better had Loyola not been battling injuries all season. The best news?
    Essentially everyone is back (the notable exception is 6’8″ Kevin
    Young, who transferred). Loyola may be one of the few teams in the WCC
    that can actually match up with Gonzaga inside. 6’8″ Oregon transfer
    Drew Viney, who averaged 16.7 ppg and 7.1 rpg, is back. His perimeter
    ability makes Viney a tough matchup in the WCC, and he also is a solid
    defender. Edgar Garibay, who was granted a medical redshirt due to a
    torn acl he suffered, is a 6’10” center that started four games before
    his injury. All-freshman team member Ashley Hamilton, an athletic 6’7″
    forward that averaged 8.6 ppg and 4.5 rpg, will also return and could
    turn into a real threat inside. On the perimeter, the Lions are led by
    all-conference performer Vernon Teel, a stat-sheet stuffing combo-guard
    (he averaged 15 points, 5 boards, 5 assists, 2 steals, and shot 40%
    from three) that could blossom into one of the best players on the west
    coast this season. Jared DuBois, who is a solid spot-up shooter, will
    be a nice complement to Teel on the perimeter, while Larry Davis, a
    Seton Hall transfer that has been plagued by injuries (he didn’t travel
    with the team to Europe this summer), will provide a shot of
    athleticism on the perimeter when healthy. Also expect point guard
    Anthony Ireland to see some time in the back court as well. This is a
    very good basketball team, the question will be whether or not they can
    handle being marked this season. The Lions won’t be sneaking up on
    anybody.
  4. Santa Clara:
    The Broncos had a tough season last year, but a lot of that was a
    result of their inability to score after the loss of Kevin Foster six
    games in. With Foster, who was averaging close to 20 ppg when he was
    hurt, and sophomore point guard Robert Smith, who had a very good
    freshman season, both returning, the Broncos have their back court of
    the future, especially if Foster can get into better shape. Throw in
    6’9″ forward Marc Trasolini, who was one of the better big men in the
    conference, back for his junior year, and Santa Clara has a solid core.
    Sophomores Ray Cowels, Niyi Harrison, and Chris Cunningham all had
    solid freshmen campaigns, while senior Michael Santos should also see
    some time in the rotation again. The issue for the Broncos last season
    was rebounding and perimeter shooting. The physical Ben Dowdell
    returning will help their rebounding, as will the addition of John
    McArthur and Yannick Atanga, and unless a couple of the wings turn into
    knock down shooters, Santa Clara doesn’t look like a good bet to
    improve their 29.9% three point shooting. This is a team that likes to
    slash to the rim and relies on Trasolini’s ability in the post, but
    without that shooting, there won’t be much space for them to operate.
  5. Portland:
    After a successful 2008-2009 season, the Pilots had sky-high
    expectations last season. They were legitimately thought to be a
    contender for the conference title in the preseason — even moreso
    after wins over UCLA and Minnesota early on — but the Pilots came back
    to earth after that. While the good news is that head coach Eric
    Reveno, who turned this team into a contender in the league, didn’t
    leave for a bigger school, the Pilots did lose three starters from last
    season, including their two most important players in Nik Raivio and TJ
    Campbell. Returning is Jared Stohl, who may very well be the best
    shooter in the country, and Luke Sikma, Jack’s son and one of the
    better big men in the WCC. Also back are guard Nemanja Mitrovic and big
    man Kramer Knutson, who will be counted on for significant increases in
    production. But beyond that, most of the rest of the Pilot’s minutes
    are going to be played by their seven freshmen. If Reveno can find a
    point guard to replace Campbell, whose value to last year’s team cannot
    be understated, and develop some kind of bench, Portland has a chance
    to be competitive. Reveno’s recruiting class deserves to be noted, but
    this looks like it will be a rebuilding year for the Pilots, one where
    a third straight trip to a postseason tournament seems unlikely.
  6. San Francisco:
    The Dons had a fantastic end to what amounted to a disappointing
    season. They won five of their last eight games, and the three losses
    were competitive losses to the top three teams in the league on the
    road. But carrying that success over to this season will be difficult.
    Star Dior Lawhorn graduated, and second leading scorer Kwame Vaughn
    transferred out of the school. The good news is that the Dons three
    leading returning scorers are all young. Junior Angelo Caloiaro is a
    6’7″ forward and a knock down shooter. Sophomore Perris Blackwell is a
    big-bodied presence in the paint. Junior Rashad Green, as well as
    sophomore Michael Williams, both showed flashes of some promise with
    big scoring outputs, but were inconsistent. That said, with more
    minutes and more opportunities, a bump in their production should be
    expected. With 6’10” Moustapha Diarra returning as well, there is
    potential on this team to maintain some of that success, especially
    considering the praise that the team received from head coach Rex
    Walters for coming together as a group late in the season. With the
    trapping zone they played down the stretch, cohesiveness is quite
    important for this group. Depth and inexperience is going to be an
    issue on the bench, as Walters has brought in nine freshman this season
    including 6’5″ Charles Standifer. The Dons have some potential, but a
    best case scenario seems to be more of the same — middle of the pack
    in the conference.
  7. Pepperdine:
    The good news for the Waves is that they return their entire team, a
    group that has now played together for two full seasons. The bad news
    is that in those two seasons, Pepperdine has won a grand total of eight
    league games, going just 7-24 (3-11) on the season in 2009-2010 and
    losing their last eleven in conference play. The one bright spot for
    Pepperdine the past few seasons has been Keion Bell, who is more than just a dunker.
    Bell put up tremendous numbers last season (18.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.2
    apg), but he also took a lot of shots and played some selfish
    basketball. Part of that is who he is, but part of it is the fact that
    Pepperdine needs him to be selfish. This is not a team loaded with
    talent. Outside of Bell, the only other real scoring threat is Mychal
    Thompson, a 6’7″ forward with range, but he is inconsistent as a
    shooter. Jonathon Dupre’ and Taylor Darby are the two bigs, while Dane
    Sutter should be recovered from the injury that cost him the last seven
    games by the time the season roles around. The biggest question mark is
    at the point Lorne Jackson, who is probably the Waves third best
    player, and Bell both spent time there during the season, but by the
    end of the year freshman Caleb Willis was starting. To get an idea of
    how dire the straits were, Willis went literally 20 games — two whole
    months — without scoring, getting seven DNP-CD’s along the way. This
    is the third year this team has been together, and while they have
    looked competitive at times — in 2008-2009, they won five league
    games, and last season they won their first three followed by a seven
    point loss at Gonzaga — they have a long way to go.
  8. San Diego:
    San Diego went from a team that won a game in the 2008 NCAA Tournament
    to one that won just three WCC games last year. And now, they lose
    their top four scorers, which is not a good thing for a team that
    struggled offensively at times last season. In all likelihood, it is
    going to be a long season for the Toreros. The leading returning scorer
    is shooter Matt Door, a 6’4″ senior that has started much of the last
    two seasons. He has shown signs of potentially being one of the better
    shooters in the league. Devan Ginty also is returns in the back court
    to provide some experience, but much of the production is going to be a
    result of the younger guys. Sophomores Patrick McCollum and Cameron
    Miles got some time at the end of the year, with Ken Rancifer showed
    the potential to be a very good player in the league, ending the year
    with a 20 point outburst against Portland. Also expect freshman Ben
    Vozzola and transfer Darian Norris to see a lot of minutes. Inside, the
    addition of New Mexico State transfer Chris Gabriel will help, as will
    the development of Chris Manresa. Beyond that, however, three freshmen
    bigs will be competing for time. It is going to be a down year once
    again in San Diego.