West Coast Conference Catchup: Gonzaga has top 10 talent

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Half of the West Coast Conference qualified for a postseason play this past season with Gonzaga and BYU returning to the NCAA tournament field. Heading into next year, the focus will once again be on Gonzaga. The Bulldogs were one-victory shy of a 30-win season, though, a blowout loss in the Round of 32 and a lack of marquee wins gave critics more than enough ammunition to label the 2013-2014 season as a disappointment.

However, the Zags could find themselves in the top 10 when the preseason is poll is released. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. anchor a back court joined by USC graduate transfer Byron Wesley. Przemek Karnowski had a breakout sophomore season with newcomers such as Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer and Arvydas Sabonis’ son, Domantas, filling out the frontline.

RELATEDRead through all of our Conference Catchups here

Gonzaga has also beefed up its non-conference schedule with matchups on the road against Arizona and UCLA to go along with a highly-anticipated non-conference tilt with SMU, as part of the 24-hour marathon.

While Gonzaga is the clear-cut favorite, the rest of the conference is far less certain. BYU has questions to address, as the Cougars look to make a fourth tournament appearance in five seasons. San Francisco has plenty of returners, but will the loss of several top scorers keep the Dons from surpassing BYU in the standings? Saint Mary’s adds new pieces around its all-conference forward, Pepperdine has some talent and Portland could be the darkhorse with a long list of players coming back.

THREE UP

Gonzaga: The conference’s powerhouse is in for a big 2014-2015 season. Gonzaga has returning talent, adds two impact transfers and welcomes in a recruiting class that includes a pair of four-star commits. Even before Mark Few landed Wesley late last week, his team was projected as a top 20 team.

Portland: The Pilots lost five straight games to end this past season, but did pick up a huge conference win over Gonzaga a month prior to the losing skid. Portland is bringing back most of its rotation, including leading scorer Kevin Bailey and 6-foot-11 big man Thomas van der Mars.

San Francisco: Cole Dickerson, the team’s top scorer, exhausted his eligibility, and last month lost second leading scorer Avry Holmes to transfer. On paper that looks bad, but Rex Walters can combat those losses with core pieces left at his disposal. Kruize Pinkins, Mark Tollefson, Tim Derksen and Matt Glover all logged an average of more than 25 minutes per game last season. In the case of Derksen and Glover, they’ll have the opportunity to step up and fill a void as Holmes did when Cody Doolin left the program after four games.

THREE DOWN

BYU: Tyler Haws is back on campus, giving the Cougars one of the nation’s top scorers. However, guard Matt Carlino transferred to Marquette for his final season, center Eric Mika has left for his LDS mission and Kyle Collingsworth is recovering from an ACL tear he suffered in March. BYU brings in several transfers and adds Jordan Chatman, who has returned from his mission.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels could very well take a step back this upcoming season. Stephen Holt is gone, leaving the back court in the hands of Kerry Carter and two eligible transfers. Brad Waldow does return on the frontline for the Saint Mary’s.

Loyola Marymount: The Lions are coming off a last place finish, and despite the return of Evan Payne it likely won’t get much better in the first year under Mike Dunlap. Anthony Ireland has graduated, and Gabe Levin, who along with Payne made was named to All-WCC freshmen team, transferred out after the season. Also, four-star commit Elijah Stewart was released from his National Letter of Intent. Long-term, LMU is on the upswing, you just might not see it this season.

FIVE NEW FACES

Kyle Wiltjer and Byron Wesley, Gonzaga: The former Kentucky Wildcat joins Przemek Karnowski in the front court while the ex-USC Trojan gives the Zags a scoring option on the wing. Wiltjer is a former McDonald’s All American and a member of Kentucky’s National Title team. Wesley averaged 17.8 points per game as a junior.

Mike Dunlap, Loyola Marymount: Not a new face to LMU, as the alum is returning to the school he played at and served as assistant for five years. He last coached the Charlotte Bobcats during the 2012-2013 season, and was let go after one year . His previous stops as an assistant include Arizona, Oregon, Iowa and St. John’s.

Chase Fischer, BYU: During his sophomore season with Wake Forest in 2012-2013, he shot 42 percent from behind the arc. The transfer guard resumes his career this season in the back court with Tyler Haws. Jamal Aytes can be another impact transfer when he becomes eligible after the fall semester.

Aaron Bright, Saint Mary’s: The graduate transfer rule will allow the former Stanford guard to finish his career without interruption at Saint Mary’s. Bright was the 2012 postseason NIT MVP. He and former Golden Gopher Joe Coleman will be additions to the Gaels back court.

Domantas Sabonis and Josh Perkins, Gonzaga: The two four-star recruits headline a strong recruiting class to add to the returning talent Gonzaga has next season. Sabonis, son of the Hall of Famer Arvydas, is 6-foot-10 power forward who should make an impact on the offensive end. Perkins will add depth to a senior-laden perimeter.

Way-Too-Early Power Rankings

1. Gonzaga
2. San Francisco
3. BYU
4. Portland
5. Saint Mary’s
6. Pepperdine
7. Santa Clara
8. San Diego
9. Loyola Marymount
10. Pacific

Osun Osunniyi picks St. Bonaventure over Syracuse, Georgetown

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St. Bonaventure has made something of a late splash on the recruiting trail.

Osun Osunniyi, a 6-foot-10 from Putnam (Conn.) Science Academy, signed with the Bonnies, the school announced Monday.

It’s a bit of a recruiting coup for coach Mark Schmidt, who won the services of Osunniyi over offers from Syracuse and Georgetown, both of whom hosted the prospect on official visits this spring.

“Osun oozes with potential. His ceiling is extremely high. He has so much God-given ability,” Schmidt said in a statement. “And, he’s a great kid, a character kid who is level-headed. He has a great wingspan, he runs well, he has a natural talent for blocking shots and is a very good rebounder. He can score around the basket.

“Osun wants to get better, like all of our players. We saw how he developed at Putnam, which is a credit to coach Espinosa and the staff there. He’s come a long way to become a kid who was highly recruited. We’re thrilled to have him come to St. Bonaventure.”

Osunniyi, who previously committed to La Salle before taking a prep year, becomes the fourth member of the Bonnies’ 2018 freshman class. He averaged 10 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots per game while Putnam won a national prep championship.

The Bonnies made the NCAA tournament as an 11 seed last year after going 26-8.

Christian Vital going back to UConn for junior season

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Dan Hurley is keeping his roster intact at the top.

Christian Vital, UConn’s second-leading scorer a season ago, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, he announced Monday via social media.

“Great Talk Today Coach! Appreciate The Wisdom You Have Let Me In On!” Vital wrote “I Think It’s Time To Get Back To Winning Ways In Storrs! I’m Going To Need That #1 Back ASAP! WE GOT (UNFINISHED) BUSINESS!”

The 6-foot-2 junior-to-be Vital joins Jalen Adams, who was the Huskies’ top-returning scorer, back in Storrs in Hurley’s first year. Vital averaged 14.9 points on 38.3 percent shooting. Adams previously announced he would return to school without declaring for the draft.

The return of UConn’s top two scorers underscores an even bigger trend under Hurley as the Huskies appear to have avoided any major defections from last year’s roster despite the coaching change.

UConn is coming off a 14-18 season that proved to be the last of coach Kevin Ollie’s six years with the Huskies that included a national championship but also back-to-back losing seasons.

Chris Silva returning to South Carolina for senior season

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South Carolina is getting an first-team all-SEC performer back.

Chris Silva, who led the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounding last season, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, the school announced Monday.

“I’m thankful for the experience of going through the draft process,” Silva said in a statement. “I want to thank all of the teams that gave me the opportunity to workout for their organization. I’m excited to announce that I’m returning to South Carolina for my senior season. I can’t wait to get back on the court with my brothers and continue to work on my game.”

The 6-foot-9 Silva, who did not get an NBA draft combine invite, averaged 14.3 points and 8 rebounds per game as a junior.  He shot 46.7 percent from the floor.

“Going through the evaluation process was an unbelievable experience for Chris and us,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said in a statement. “He comes back to a place he loves with some knowledge on some of the things that we have to help him improve on in his efforts to one day fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.”

In addition to being South Carolina’s leading scorer, he was the SEC co-defensive player of the year last season after averaging 1.4 blocks per game. His return to Columbia gives the Gamecocks a potential contender for SEC player of the year in 2018-19.

Kansas fires athletic director Sheahon Zenger

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Kansas has fired athletic director Sheahon Zenger, effective immediately, citing a lack of progress in key areas within the athletic department.

“Sheahon has been a loyal Jayhawk, and our athletics department has improved in many areas under his leadership,” Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod wrote in an email to KU faculty and staff. “But athletics continues to face a number of challenges, and progress in key areas has been elusive. To achieve the level of success we need and expect, I have determined a change in leadership is necessary.”

Zenger had been in the role of AD since 2011.

The issue, of course, is not the play of the Kansas basketball program. The Jayhawks have won every Big 12 regular season title since 2004, and head coach Bill Self has taken the program to two Final Fours since Zenger was hired.

The football team is still a disaster, but one can’t help but wonder whether or not the real issue at hand here is Kansas’ getting tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball.

The Jayhawks were not mentioned in the initial indictments that were handed down, but Kansas was a central figure in the superseding indictments that were dropped after the national title game. The mother of Billy Preston, who did not play for the Jayhawks this season, was alleged to have been funneled $90,000 by Adidas, while Silvio De Sousa’s status is currently in question after the FBI alleged his guardian was paid at least $20,000 to help offset money that the family had already accepted from a rival shoe company.

All of that came in the aftermath of dealing with Cheick Diallo and Cliff Alexander, both of whom had their one season in Lawrence reduced due to off the court issues.

“Since becoming chancellor, I have spent countless hours with higher education peers and Jayhawks to hear their perspective on KU,” Girod wrote. “A common thread in these conversations is that, as a major public university with national aspirations, we must continue to strive for excellence in all areas — including athletics. As I have said many times, a successful athletics department is inextricably linked to our broader mission as a flagship research university.”

Louisville, ex-AD Tom Jurich reach $4.5M settlement

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The University of Louisville has reached a $4.5 million settlement with former athletic director Tom Jurich, who was fired in the wake of a national federal corruption investigation of college basketball.

Jurich disputed his Oct. 18 firing for cause after nearly 20 years as AD and had considered suing the school. The University of Louisville Athletic Association and Board of Trustees on Friday approved the settlement. Jurich’s employment ended “without cause” as a result of his resignation, also described in the settlement as “retirement.”

He’ll also receive another $2.6 million in accrued employment benefits, along with home game tickets and parking for Louisville football and basketball for 20 years.

An audit of the University of Louisville Foundation released last June showed that Jurich averaged annual compensation of more than $2.76 million from 2010-16, including more than $5.35 million in 2016.

Then-interim president Greg Postel had placed Jurich on paid administrative leave in September after the school’s acknowledgement of its involvement in the investigation. Trustees voted 10-3 to fire Jurich, two days after the ULAA unanimously fired Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino.

The former AD said in a joint statement that he “spent the better part of my career” working with dedicated athletes, coaches and staff to elevate Louisville. He added, “I am proud of what we accomplished, which is well documented.”

Jurich’s legal team had stressed that the ex-AD did nothing illegal and hadn’t violated NCAA rules.

Trustee chairman J. David Grissom said in the statement that “Everyone is pleased that this matter has been successfully resolved. All parties can move forward to begin the next chapter.”

Jurich played a major role in Louisville’s success on the field and how the school handled issues off it. He led the school’s 2014 entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference and oversaw numerous program and facility upgrades, including a $63 million expansion of the football stadium due for completion by fall.

He also hired several successful coaches including Pitino, who guided the Cardinals to the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball championship. Louisville ultimately vacated that title in February as part of NCAA penalties for a sex scandal after an escort’s book allegations that former basketball staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits.

Pitino has filed a $38.7 million federal lawsuit against Louisville, alleging breach of contract.