WCC basketball preview: Team by team rundown
Oct 24th, 2011
WCC BASKETBALL PREVIEW –
Here is our complete rundown of all nine basketball teams in the West Coast Conference, which now includes BYU.
Predicted order of finish: 1. Gonzaga, 2. St. Mary’s, 3. BYU, 4. San Francisco, 5. Santa Clara, 6. Loyola Marymount, 7. Portland, 8. San Diego, 9. Pepperdine.
Gonzaga had to hit rock bottom last season before making a late run – aided by St. Mary’s slump — to earn a share of its 11th straight conference title.
And despite the loss of its best player (Steven Gray) and the addition of BYU to the WCC, the Zags are favored to win it again.
It’s getting more and more difficult for Gonzaga to dominate the WCC, what with St. Mary’s having established itself as a perennial contender, and San Francisco and Santa Clara becoming threats, not to mention the added competition from BYU.
But if the Zags could manage to keep their streak of consecutive titles alive last season, despite being 2½ game out of the lead with four games left, there should be no doubters that they can do it again.
Gonzaga returns three starters, and its talented five-man freshman class, featuring guards Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos, is by far the best recruiting class in the conference.
And that does not include the fact that redshirt sophomore G David Stockton, senior G Marquise Carter and sophomore F Sam Dower all played much better toward the end of their first season of college competition last year.
Despite the losses of Gray, the leading scorer at 13.9 ppg, and Demetri Goodson, who transferred to Baylor to play football, there is every reason to believe the Zags will be better than last season.
C Robert Sacre is the best big man in the conference, and Elias Harris, who looked like an NBA first-rounder as a freshman, figures to have a bounce back junior season after a disappointing sophomore year.
Stockton seems primed to take over the point guard spot, and there is more than enough talent to fill in every conceivable void.
Other than Harris, the Zags don’t have outstanding athletes blowing by everyone, but you can count on them being an outstanding defensive team, as they are every year, and, despite the loss of Gray, they should be a good outside shooting team once again.
As usual, the brutal nonconference schedule will toughened them for whatever they’ll meet in the WCC and give them some national exposure.
Anything less than a 14th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament will be a major disappointment.
–Gonzaga’s streak of 13 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances is the fourth longest active streak, behind Kansas (22), Duke (16) and Michigan State (14).
Its streak of 11 straight conference titles is the longest current such streak and the second longest in history, behind only UCLA’s 13 in a row from 1967 to 1979.
– Gonzaga was just 3-3 in the WCC at one point last season, having lost three straight conference games for the first time since 1996 after its home loss to St. Mary’s, which was unbeaten in the WCC at the time.
The Zags’ run of WCC titles and NCAA Tournament berths seemed to be at an end. But they rallied to tie for the regular-season title, win the conference tournament and upset No. 6 seed St. John’s in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
—The annual rumors that Mark Few would be headed elsewhere have quieted in recent years. He enters his 13th season at Gonzaga, and he seems settled there for the long haul. At this point, it’s difficult to imagine a program he would leave Gonzaga for.
— The Zags were ranked No. 23 in the coaches preseason poll, and their schedule again is brutal, with nonconference games against Xavier, Michigan State, Arizona, Butler, Illinois and Notre Dame
LAST YEAR: 25-10 overall, 11-3 in the WCC
HEAD COACH: Mark Few, 13th year as head coach (315-83 at Gonzaga 315-83 career)
QUOTE: “When it’s all said and done, I think it’ll be the highest-rated schedule we’ve ever had.” – Gonzaga coach Mark Few, to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, despite having some very tough nonconference schedules in the past.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG David Stockton, SG Marquise Carter, SF Elias Harris, PF Sam Dower, C Robert Sacre
The starting five might not have quite the star power and scoring potential of some Gonzaga teams of the past, but they are solid, and should get better as Stockton, Carter and Dower all improved late last season.
Dower and Sacre provide an almost unstoppable low-post presence, and Harris has a chance to be the best player in the conference after an so-so sophomore season.
Gonzaga will have more depth than it has had in recent years with 7-foot Kelly Olynyk and a slew of freshmen – most notably Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos – coming off the bench. One or two of those freshmen could even break into the starting five.
The key is Stockton. If he continues the improvement he showed late last season and shows he can hit the outside shot, the Zags will have something special.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS
The Bulldogs have six newcomers, including five true freshmen, and all of them could see playing time, although it seems inevitable that at least one or two of them will redshirt.
G Gary Bell Jr., who can do virtually anything on the court, is a good bet to be WCC freshman of the year, although Kevin Pangos, already a solid point guard who seldom makes a mistake, may challenge him.
Kyle Drainginis is a good shooter who figures to play too, while Chris Sarbaugh and Ryan Spangler may have to wait their turn.
The wild card is junior college transfer Guy Landry Edi.
–Freshman Chris Sarbaugh had knee surgery in July that kept him off the court awhile, and although he is practicing, he’s a candidate to redshirt.
—Junior Guy Landry Edi was working through knee problems as preseason practice began. It did not require surgery but limited his participation in practice.
—Manny Arop, who received significant playing time last season, transferred to Indiana State in the offseason.
— C Robert Sacre shaved his head during the early part of preseason practice, giving him a distinctive bald look.
St. Mary’s most important offseason activity was to sign Randy Bennett to a 10-year contract extension, which should mean continued success for the small school in Moraga, Calif.
That may have helped him get over being passed over for an NCAA Tournament berth for the second time in three years despite having 26 wins in 2009 and 25 wins and a share of the regular-season conference title in 2011.
To successfully defend their 2011 WCC regular-season title – and perhaps finish alone in first rather than sharing the crown with Gonzaga as they did last season – the Gaels must make up for the loss of just one starter.
However, that one starter was the WCC player of the year, Mickey McConnell. Plus, he occupied the most important position on the floor – point guard – and he directed so much of what the Gaels did on the floor, his loss cannot be minimized.
It means Bennett will have to alter some players’ roles, specifically the role of Matthew Dellavedova. An off-guard the past two seasons, Dellavedova is expected to take over the point-guard duties as a junior. That should not be too difficult for Dellavedova, because, late last season, he and McConnell both performed point-guard chores – with one handling the ball out front on one possession and the other running the team on the next.
Like McConnell, Dellavedova (13.4 ppg, 5.3 apg) has the ability to drive the lane and hit three-pointers. However, he is more inclined to try to score than McConnell, who was equally adepts at finishing himself or passing to a teammate. Plus, Dellavedova cannot match McConnell accuracy on three-pointers.
Otherwise, things should look much the same for the Gaels, with all-conference forward Rob Jones (13.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg) returning along with Dellavedova and two other starters from last season.
That does not include F/C Mitchell Young, who did not start any games last season but plays starter minutes and is clearly the team’s third best player. Bennett would prefer to have Young continue to come off the bench, but it remains to be seen whether he can afford to do that with the loss of his leading scorer, McConnell.
It also does not include sophomore G Stephen Holt, who became a starter for the final few games and could become a star this season on both ends of the court.
A perimeter-oriented team last season, the Gaels may be more balanced with the addition of 7-foot transfer Kyle Rowley and 6-9 redshirt freshman Brad Waldow.
The return of G Jorden Page, who missed last season with a knee injury, should help as well, as the Gaels have every reason to believe they can challenge for the WCC title again, despite the addition of BYU and Gonzaga’s strong returning cast.
— Coach Randy Bennett signed a 10-year contract extension, which means he is under contract through the 2020-2021 season. Although this will not prevent the annual rumors that Bennett could leave and go elsewhere, it seems Bennett is likely to stay. Bennett is not the kind of person who would make or accept such a commitment unless he planned to honor it. The rumors that he might leave have subsided in recent years anyway, as Bennett has shown a reluctance to leave. The only school that seriously pursued Bennett was Oregon State before Craig Robinson took the job, although Bennett was considered a serious candidate for the Cal job before Mike Montgomery came out of nowhere to get the job.
— St. Mary’s had a serious collapse at the end of last season that prevented the Gaels from winning the regular-season title outright and prevented it from getting to the NCAA Tournament. The Gaels had a 2½-game lead on Gonzaga with three conference games left, and they had already beaten Gonzaga on the road. But the Gaels lost to last-place San Diego, dropped a nonconference game at home to Utah State, then lost at home to Gonzaga before winning their final regular-season game to salvage a tie for the title. But St. Mary’s then lost rather decisively to Gonzaga in the WCC tournament finals. Mickey McConnell’s level of play dropped precipitously during that stretch.
— For the fourth straight year, St. Mary’s will host a game in ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon, and for the fourth straight year that game will start at 11 p.m. West Coast time. The Gaels have won all three of the previous late-night games, beating St. John’s a year ago. This season St. Mary’s will host Northern Iowa in its 11 p.m. game on Nov. 15.
LAST YEAR: 25-9 overall, 11-3 in the WCC.
HEAD COACH: Randy Bennett, 11th year as head coach (208-112 at St. Mary’s; 208-112 career)
QUOTE: “The longer you’re there, the more equity you have in the program and the more it means to you. It’s a good match.” – St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett, to the Oakland Tribune, after signing a 10-year contract extension in August 2011.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Matthew Dellavedova, SG Stephen Holt, SF Clint Steindl, PF Rob Jones, C Tim Williams.
St. Mary’s has always relied on outside shooting and getting scoring from all five positions. That should be the case again this season whenever Mitchell Young replaces Tim Williams or Kenton Walker III at the center spot.
Matthew Dellavedova’s ability to handle the point with be critical, and Clint Steindl must recover from the shooting slump he had much of last season. If he is not shooting well, his usefulness declines. That is why Stephen Holt replaced him in the starting lineup late in the season, and Holt looks like a budding star, both at the offensive and defensive ends.
It will be interesting to see how prominent Holt becomes as a scorer and how Randy Bennett will use Jorden Page after he missed most of last season.
G Paul McCoy, a transfer from SMU, could help in the backcourt as well.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS:
The Gaels brought in just one freshman this season, but they have three redshirt freshmen and two transfers that may make impacts.
Kyle Rowley, a 7-footer, started 28 games as a freshman at Northwestern and five more as a sophomore before transferring and sitting out last season. He should help up front, as should 6-9 redshirt freshman Brad Waldow.
G Paul McCoy may see action after sitting out last season following two seasons at SMU. He started 16 games at SMU as a sophomore before a knee injury ended his season.
Redshirt freshmen wing player 6-7 Eividas Petrulis of Lithuania may see some time, and redshirt freshman G Zach Sanchez is a walk-on.
The one true freshman is Jordan Giusti, who would have to show a lot in preseason or early in the regular season to get significant playing time.
–Junior G Matthew Dellavedova was a member of Australian national team that beat New Zealand in a best-of-three series in September to earn a berth in the 2012 Olympics. Dellavedova played more than 18 minutes in all three games, but did not shoot well, hitting just 1 of 12 shots for the series and totaling 10 points.
—Former St. Mary’s G Patty Mills signed a contract during the summer to play with the Melbourne Tigers in Australia’s professional basketball league.
— Former Gaels G Mickey McConnell was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Major League Baseball draft in June even though he had not played baseball in four years. However, McConnell signed to play professional basketball in Italy.
— Junior G Jorden Page had knee surgery last winter for an injury that caused him to miss all but seven games last season, but he has returned an seems to be a full strength.
There’s a chance the glory may return for San Francisco basketball this season.
The Dons won’t be the favorite for the WCC title. They won’t even be picked second. But they have a chance – albeit a tenuous one – to challenge Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and BYU for the regular season title.
While Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and BYU each lost its best player, the Dons return all five starters from a team that finished just one game out of first place last season.
The steady progression the Dons have made under Rex Walters suggests they may be ready to break through to elite status in Walters’ fourth season.
“We have a chance to be pretty darn good this year, and I’d like to think we’re capable of winning the title,” Walters said.
But the question is whether USF can handle the high expectations. Loyola Marymount couldn’t do it last season when it was expected to challenge the elite teams, and San Diego finished 6-8 in the conference when it returned all five starters from a team that beat Connecticut in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and BYU are used to high expectations; USF isn’t, and it’s a different kind of pressure.
But the pieces are there, including all-conference players Mikey Williams and Rashad Green on the wings, improving low-post presence Perris Blackwell, reliable F Angelo Caloiaro, and Cody Doolin, a small, but bold point guard, who proved his ability to perform in clutch situations last season as a true freshman.
The Dons also have G Dominique O’Connor, who missed virtually all of his first two season with knee injuries. He provides additional quickness in the backcourt.
The margin for error is small for USF, though. They relied heavily on taking care of the ball on offense and consistently strong, physical play on defense, and they don’t have the talent to overcome any lapses in those categories.
–The only players of significance that San Francisco lost from last season’s team were F Moustapha Diarra, who started 11 games and was fifth on the team in scoring at 7.8 ppg, and Marko Petrovic, who averaged about 18 minutes a game but left school to play professionally in Europe.
— The health of Dominique O’Connor and is a key issue for the Dons. O’Connor was penciled in a starter as a freshman but missed the entire season with a knee injury. He was a starter for the first two games last season before injuring his knee again and missing the rest of the season. O’Connor seems to be moving well and has not lost any of his quickness.
– The Dons are trying to reach the NCAA Tournament for only the second time since 1982, which was USF’s final season before the program was shut down for three years because of repeated NCAA violations. Their one trip to the NCAA Tournament since then was in 1998, when USF finished 7-7 in the WCC regular season but won the conference tournament. That was when the conference was much weaker, before Gonzaga and St. Mary’s reached national prominence, and obviously before BYU joined the WCC.
– San Francisco won two postseason games last season in the CollegeInsider.com postseason event before losing at home to WCC rival Santa Clara.
LAST YEAR: 19-15 overall, 10-4 in the WCC
HEAD COACH: Rex Walters, 4th year as head coach (42-53 at USF; 73-85 career)
QUOTE: “We felt we were as good as Gonzaga at the end of last year.” – San Francisco coach Rex Walters, whose team split two regular-season games with Gonzaga and played the Zags virtually even in the WCC semifinals before losing by four points.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Cody Doolin, SG Michael Williams, SG Rashard Green, PF Angelo Caloiaro, C Perris Blackwell.
The Dons don’t have a lot of size, but 6-8 forwards Angelo Caloiaro and 6-8 Perris Blackwell give them a nice pair of rebounders, and Blackwell is an animal in the post.
Michael Williams, the team’s top scorer last season, is one of the fastest players in the WCC, and Rashard Green does a little bit of everything. PG Cody Doolin provides a hard-nosed scrappy mentality, and Dominique O’Connor provides speed off the bench, although he could conceivably become a starter.
Charles Standifer has a chance to be an outstanding wingman after missing most of last season with a foot injury, and Avery Johnson provides defensive help off the bench.
The Dons are not a great outside shooting team, so they depend heavily on ball movement and penetration. They lack a standout player who can carry a team in times of trouble, something Gonzaga and St. Mary’s have.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS:
Dominique O’Connor is a third-year player, but he is a newcomer in many ways because he has played only two games for USF. If he has sufficiently recovered from his two knee surgeries – and it appears he has – he could be a big factor.
Sophomore Charles Standifer played only seven games last season before being shut down because of ankle and foot problems, but he is an athletic player with potential.
The Dons added three freshmen –- F Mark Tollefsen, G Chris Adams and G Gavin Hoffmann – but they may not see much action unless there are injuries.
–Sophomore F Charles Standifer is trying to get a medical redshirt after playing just seven games last season. USF is saying the injury was originally misdiagnosed and that he would have been shut down earlier if the appropriate diagnosis had been made.
— Marko Petrovic left after his freshman season to play professionally in Europe.
— Freshman G Chris Adams did not sign with San Francisco until May of last spring.