WCC Preview 2015-16

1.      Gonzaga
     St. Mary‘s
     Santa Clara
     Loyola Marymount
     San Diego
   San Francisco

All Conference:

POY: Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
Coach of the Year: Mark Few, Gonzaga
Newcomer of the Year: Joe Rahon, St. Mary‘s

First team
G – Kyle Collinsworth, Senior, BYU
G – Jared Brownridge, Junior, Santa Clara
F – Stacy Davis, Senior, Pepperdine
F – Kyle Wiltjer, Senior, Gonzaga
C – Przemek Karnowski, Senior, Gonzaga

Second team
G – Alec Wintering, Junior, Portland
G – Joe Rahon, R-Junior, St. Mary‘s
G – TJ Wallace, Junior, Pacific
G – Emmett Naar, Sophomore, Saint Mary‘s
F – Corbin Kaufusi, Sophomore, BYU

Third team
G – Josh Perkins, Sophomore, Gonzaga
G – Chase Fischer, Senior, BYU
F – Jita Kok, Senior, San Diego
F – Jett Raines, Senior, Pepperdine
F – Domantas Sabonis, Sophomore, Gonzaga

1.      Gonzaga

C – Przemek Karnowski, 7’1, Senior
PF – Kyle Wiltjer, 6’10, Senior
SF – Kyle Dranginis, 6’5, Senior
SG – Silas Melson, 6’4, Sophomore
PG –.Josh Perkins, 6’3, Sophomore

Reserves: Domantas Sabonis, 6’11, So.; Eric McClellan, 6’3, Sr.; Bryan Alberts, 6’3, R-Fr.; Ryan Edwards, 7’1, R-So.

Postseason Prediction: 3 seed
Before discussing this year, the Zags would like help finding Kevin Pangos – he’s been missing ever since he vanished near the start of their Elite 8 matchup with Duke last year. So if you see him, tell him Mark Few says he can come out of hiding now.

A big reason Few is not as worried about last year’s disappointing loss is that his frontcourt this year might be the best in the entire country. Domantas Sabonis would start for almost every team, but he will back up likely league player of the year and possible First-Team All-American Kyle Wiltjer, the smooth-shooting former Kentucky benchwarmer, and the mammoth Przemek Karnowski, a surprisingly skilled lefty post player. It will be interesting to see if Few can find a way to get all 3 on the floor at the same time – Wiltjer can definitely space the floor well enough for the offense to survive, and Sabonis and Karnowski are willing passers, but the big question is whether Wiltjer (or Sabonis?) has the footspeed to keep up with a perimeter player. Few is an ardent supporter of man-to-man defense, but a zone defense with two guards flying around and these three behemoths clogging the baseline/lane area might be a decent change of pace. Wiltjer also has the post game and ball skills to punish any smaller defender in that scenario.

On the perimeter, Gonzaga has to replace nearly all of their guard minutes. Kyle Dranginis returns to play small forward and will play hardnosed defense while hitting a three here and there, but nearly all other perimeter minutes have graduated with poor Pangos, Gary Bell, and Byron Wesley. Sophomores Josh Perkins and Silas Melson will take the reins, and both have the talent and pedigree to be highly effective. Perkins is the ballhandler, ESPN’s #10-ranked point guard in the class of 2014, a lanky slasher-type who excels at finding the open man in transition (hello Wiltjer trail threes and Sabonis dunks!). He’ll have the keys to the team from the day practices start, and he should be able to find a way to keep all of his talented big men options happy. Melson found the floor slightly more last year, flashing potential as a shooter/scorer who should hopefully be able to give the team some dynamic ability on the wing. Gonzaga also brings back Eric McClellan, a former Vanderbilt guard who struggled to get on the court last year with the team’s experienced starters. He will be a steady but unspectacular option. The only incoming recruit is point guard Jesse Wade, who will miss the next two years while on a Mormon mission, so reinforcements will not come from the high school ranks.

The Bulldogs will be fueled by their elite frontcourt, but in a guard-driven game like college basketball, they will need Perkins and Melson to grow up quickly despite their major lack of experience. I myself am a believer in Perkins (and the mentoring of Coach Few), and I will not be surprised to see Gonzaga in the top 10 or 15 all year. BYU will present a challenge in the conference, but the Zags should win yet another WCC title and breeze into the NCAA Tournament as a protected seed (allowing them to essentially play home games in Spokane in the first two rounds – from there, who knows).

2.      BYU

C – Corbin Kaufusi, 6’10, Sophomore
PF – Kyle Davis, 6’7, R-Junior
SF – Nick Emery, 6’2, R-Freshman
SG – Chase Fischer, 6’3, R-Senior
PG –.Kyle Collinsworth, 6’6, R-Senior

Reserves: Jakob Hartsock, 6’7, R-Fr.; Jamaal Aytes, 6’6, R-So.; Cory Calvert, 6’3, R-So.; Zac Seljaas, 6’7, Fr.; Jake Toolson, 6’5, So.

Postseason Prediction: 8 seed
Just to start, an aside – figuring out who is going to actually be on this team is a real chore. Most teams have a few transfers in and out, but few other teams have to deal with the constant turnover that results from BYU players coming from and going on two year missions for the Church of Latter Day Saints. It took a little more digging than normal to figure out who would round out the Cougars roster, but after finally getting it nailed down (I hope), it looks like a pretty bright year for them.

Gonzaga may have the league’s best frontcourt and player of the year front-runner, but BYU probably has the league’s best backcourt and a player of the year dark horse.  Kyle Collinsworth, the masterful 6‘6 point guard with the massive knee brace, does it all – 15th in the country in assist rate; 384th and 75th in the country in offensive and defensive rebound rate, respectively; 158th in the country in steal rate. Collinsworth set a national record for triple-doubles last year, and his versatility makes him a relatively unique talent in college basketball. Fun fact on Collinsworth – he was a freshman in 2010-11, the same year Kemba Walker carried his team to a championship and Watch the Throne had just been released.  Two years of a Mormon mission and a torn ACL later, and his career will span 7 calendar years. Alongside him in the backcourt will be gunner Chase Fischer, who hit 93 threes at a 40% rate last year, and 20-year-old freshman Nick Emery, younger brother of former BYU star Jackson Emery (a senior teammate of Collinsworth’s in 2010-11!), a highly-regarded perimeter scorer who chose to go on his mission prior to starting his BYU career. BYU also returns Cory Calvert from a two-year mission as well as sophomore Jake Toolson for backcourt depth.

BYU also has a strong presence in the frontcourt, if slightly less dynamic. Sophomore Corbin Kaufusi came on strong towards the end of last year after not playing much early on, eventually settling into the starting lineup as an effective offensive rebounder and shotblocker. The team would like to see him expand his offensive game a little beyond just finishing easy dunks and put-backs, though. Candidates to start alongside Kaufusi include Utah St. transfer Kyle Davis, another great rebounder and solid shotblocker, redshirt freshmen Jakob Hartsock (younger brother of longtime BYU player, Noah Hartsock) and Braiden Shaw, both returning from their LDS missions, and UNLV transfer Jamal Aytes, a little-used player in Vegas who nevertheless might give BYU a little more scoring ability in the frontcourt.

As evidenced by their #12-ranked offense and #160-ranked defense last year, BYU was a team that thrived on efficient offense to help outscore opponents. BYU has been in the top 10 in the country in adjusted tempo ever since entering the WCC in 2011-12, and this year should be no different. I had in my head that BYU has always had such large offensive and defensive splits, but Rose’s teams from 2008-2012 were all top-50 squads in defensive efficiency (including the first year of WCC play). Re-discovering that defensive identity would go along way towards moving the Cougars more comfortably into the field and away from the precarious bubble (where they’ve been the last four years).

Overall, this BYU team should be pretty similar to last year’s – extremely explosive on the offensive end with a good amount of shooting and a great distributor while playing at a top-10 tempo, but lacking a lot of perimeter defense and athleticism to truly lock down opponents. Coach Dave Rose should see his way to 9th NCAA tournament appearance in the last 10 years, though.

3.      Pepperdine

C – Stacy Davis, 6’6, Senior
PF – Jett Raines, 6’7, Senior
SF – Lamond Murray Jr., 6’5, Junior
SG – Shawn Olden, 6’3, Sophomore
PG –.Amadi Udenyi, 6’0, Junior

Reserves: Jeremy Major, 5’10, Jr.; Atif Russell, 6’5, Sr.; AJ John, 6’8, So.; AJ Lapray, 6’5, So.; Kameron Edwards, 6’6, Fr.

Postseason Prediction: NIT
First bold prediction of the conference! I’m looking for Pepperdine to become just the second team besides BYU, Gonzaga, and Saint Mary’s to crack the conference’s top 3 since BYU joined in 2011-2012 (the other was San Francisco, who edged out Saint Mary’s for third in 2013-14). After finishing fourth in the WCC last year at 10-8, Pepperdine has the horses returning to overtake the Gaels (who, as you’ll see below, lose quite a lot) for third. The Waves return everyone of significance from last year’s squad, including the impressive frontcourt of Stacy Davis (a likely first-team all-conference player) and Jett Raines (possibly the best name in the conference – it would only be better if he actually rained threes). Davis was particularly prolific, ranking in the kenpom top-500 in a plethora of categories, most impressive (to me) being his ability to hit free throws at an 81% rate. Combining his ability to draw myriad fouls with excellent foul shooting (and high usage) makes him a large threat in the post. Raines, on the other hand, will need to be more stout on the boards; Pepperdine’s biggest weakness last year was its rebounding, and Raines’s board rates were pretty soft for a 6‘7 power forward. Perhaps more playing time for sophomore AJ John – who is the same size as Raines, but is a significantly better per minute rebounder – would be conducive towards easing the team’s woes.

One other area that the entire team needs to improve is outside shooting. The team’s offensive efficiency (a paltry 272nd in the country) was severely hampered by its inability to hit threes in large quantities or at an effective rate. No player hit more than 34 threes on the season, and the team’s most efficent outside shooter, junior point guard Amadi Udenyi, missed 11 games due to injury. Udenyi was also the team leader in assist rate, and the team will be glad to have his table-setting and shooting back in the lineup, despite fellow guard Jeremy Major’s efforts to fill in for him. Major is a decent player, but it will likely help his efficiency to have Udenyi back on the floor. In the final seven games of the year (which Udenyi missed all of, after a brief absence in the middle of the season as well), Major’s o-ratings by game were: 51, 59, 61, 97, 76, 105, 74. Those numbers suggest that he struggled in his role as the full-time primary ballhandler, unsure of how to weigh the tasks of getting others involved and creating for himself. Udenyi’s return should also help wings Atif Russell and Shawn Olden, both of whom showed small flashes of wing shooting last year. Hopefully with more consistency at point guard, they’ll be able to grow into larger roles.  The team’s x-factor is probably Lamond Murray, Jr., son of former NBA player Lamond Murray. A wing tweener, Murray has shown flashes in his first two years, but him blossoming into more of a scorer would do wonders to help the team’s offense.

The WCC often vascillates between being a two- and three-bid league. Usually, though, that means Gonzaga and BYU are in and depends if Saint Mary’s is good enough that year to earn the league an extra bid. This year, though, Pepperdine hopes to thrust its name into that conversation. To do so, Pepperdine might need to win at UCLA early in the year – the rest of the non-conference slate doesn’t offer any chances at real marquee wins, unless an opponent has a surprising year. The most likely scenario, though, finds the Waves on the outside sadly looking in at the NCAA tourney field.

4.      Saint Mary’s

C – Jock Landale, 6’11, Sophomore
PF – Dane Pineau, 6’9, Junior
SF – Joe Coleman, 6’4, R-Junior
SG – Joe Rahon, 6’2, R-Junior
PG –.Emmett Naar, 6’1, Sophomore

Reserves: Calvin Hermanson, 6’6, So.; Evan Fitzner, 6’10, R-Fr.; Treavan Duffy, 6’2, Jr.; Stefan Gonzalez, 6’2, Fr.

Postseason Prediction: NIT
Roster turnover leaves the Gaels with a lot of questions coming into 2015-16. The team’s anchor down low, Brad Waldow, graduated, taking with him is 1,743 career points and 900 career rebounds, both 4th all-time in Saint Mary’s history. Also departed are fellow starters Kerry Carter, Aaron Bright, and Desmond Simmons. Left behind is sophomore point guard Emmett Naar, another in the long line of Australian point guards at the school – Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova blazed quite a trail – who will lead the team after a quietly effective freshman year. Like most freshmen point guards, he turned the ball over too much, but look for that to improve this year. As usual, Saint Mary’s should have a good supply of wing shooters, most notable among these being Joe Rahon, a transfer from Boston College. As a sophomore at BC, Rahon hit 45 threes while also showing some playmaking skills (21.5% assist rate, very solid for a wing shooter). Redshirt sophomore Calvin Hermanson should also provide some range, as he shot 46% from deep last year in limited minutes (albeit on only 33 attempts). He was a well-regarded recruit two years ago, and it would not be surprising to see him blossom with more opportunity. To get prime minutes, though, he will need to beat out redshirt junior Joe Coleman, a transfer from Minnesota who has missed two consecutive years (one due to transfer rules, last year due to injury). Coleman was solid for the Gophers in 2012-13 when he last played, particularly defensively. It will be interesting to see if he’s added any elements to his game during his extended absence (a three-point shot, perhaps?).

Replacing Waldow down low will not be easy. Junior forward Dane Pineau will see an expanded role, and the team hopes he can maintain his sky high efficiency with the bump in minutes. Continuing to shoot 67% from 2-point range seems fairly unlikely, though. Sophomore Jock Londale and redshirt freshman Evan Fitzner will attempt to fill the center spot by committee, but neither is close to the go-to post threat that Waldow was. With neither Londale nor Fitzner drawing any double teams, the Gaels will need to be a bit more creative in getting their perimeter players into open space. Coach Randy Bennett’s teams have been pretty good passing teams over the past six years, and swift ball movement will be paramount to the team’s offensive success.

One other thing Bennett’s teams have been consistently phenomenal at throughout his tenure is perimeter defense. In the 14 years kenpom.com has stats for, Gaels‘ opponents have been in the bottom 17 in three pointers attempted 12 of those years. Similarly, opponents have been in the bottom 12 in assist rate in 10 of those years. Last year’s Saint Mary’s team did not meet either of those criteria, however, and the team unsurprisingly missed the NCAA tournament. If Bennett can tighten up the defensive screws to where his standards usually are, it could help the team back into the NCAA tournament picture.

5.      Portland

C – Phillipp Hartwich, 7’1, Sopomore
PF – Gabe Taylor, 6’8, Sophomore
SF – Jason Todd, 6’5, Sophomore
SG – Bryce Pressley, 6’3, Senior
PG –.Alec Wintering, 5’11, Junior

Reserves: D’Marques Tyson, 6’5, So.; Ray Barreno, 6’10, Jr.; Jarrell Marshall; 6’6, Jr.; Jazz Johnson, 5’11, Fr.; Colin Russell, 6’7, Fr.

Postseason Prediction: CBI/CIT
The Pilots will likely have a very different identity this year when compared to last year. They lose both starting post men, Thomas van der Mars and Volodymyr Gerun (they sound like bad guys in a Bond movie), to graduation, two 6‘10+ behemoths who blocked shots and beasted the offensive glass; without them, Portland will likely be much more perimeter-centric this year. Led by stud junior point guard Alec Wintering (12.3 points, 5.7 assists) and senior wing Bryce Pressley (8.2 points, 44% from 3) provide a very good foundation for that. Wintering is great – he hit some huge shots for them last year, including two buzzer-beating game-winners in conference play. He was good all around – 46% from 3, got to the line a ton and shot 80% from there, and he even had a solid 2.7% steal rate, but without van der Mars, Gerun, and graduated leading scorer Kevin Bailey, he will need to find some new targets to maintain his elite 36.1% assist rate (21nd in the country).

Pressley should be one of those primary targets. He was effective in a middling usage role last year, and with more shots available this year, should see a bump in his overall numbers. Two big breakout candidates for coach Eric Reveno’s club are sophomores D’Marques Tyson and Gabe Taylor. Tyson was extremely efficient (115.8 o-rating) with high usage (34.3% of shots when he was on the floor! – would have been top 10 in the country if he qualified) – while playing limited minutes in 23 games. If he can maintain anywhere near those levels with a significant bump in minutes, he could average 12-14 points per game after putting up 5.8 per game in just 9.9 minutes. Taylor was also efficient in his limited minutes, but at a far lower usage rate. He’ll need to bump up his rebounding numbers as he takes over a larger role in the post, though. Another sophomore, wing Jason Todd, should continue in his role as a low-usage defender and quietly effective shooter (21/49 on threes, 43%).

Replacing Gerun and van der Mars will likely prove to be a challenge in the middle. Sophomore Phillipp Hartwich, a 7-footer from Germany, barely saw the floor behind the starting bigs, but he will be pressed into more minutes this year. The only other real candidate to play minutes at center is junior college transfer Ray Barreno from Mexico (why are none of this team’s big men American?). Barreno is 6’10, but he only averaged 6 points and 3.6 rebounds at New Mexico Junior College (though it was, admittedly, a very talented JuCo team). Finding the right combination between Hartwich and Barreno will be crucial.

One advantage that should come from having more speed on the floor should be forcing more turnovers, one of the team’s primary weak spots last year (the defense in general needs some work). Portland will hopefully be able to rotate and switch more on defense as well. Behind Wintering’s stellar PG play, Portland could make a push to be in the top 3 in the conference, but will likely settle in the middle.

6.      Santa Clara

C – Matt Hubbard, 6’9, Sophomore
PF – Nate Kratch, 6’6, Junior
SF – Jarvis Pugh, 6’6, Sophomore
SG – Matt Hauser, 6’0, Freshman
PG –.Jared Brownridge, 6’2, Junior

Reserves: Brendyn Taylor, 6’3, Sr.; Emmanuel Ndumanya, 6’9, So.; Evan Wardlow, 6’4, So.; Ke’Jhan Feagin, 5’11, Fr.; Kai Healy, 6’5, So.

Postseason Prediction: CBI/CIT
I weirdly like this team, and it’s almost exclusively because of Jared Brownridge. With the graduation of Brandon Clark, Brownridge will take over lead ballhandling duties (as well as take more shots), and that could be a boon to the Broncos 154th-ranked offense due to his oustanding efficiency (119.0 o-rating). He was already using 26% of shots, but without Clark taking 32.2% of his own, Brownridge should bump up his usage even more. He was a fantastic 88/200 from three, only 71 of which were assisted – not bad for someone whose numbers read like that of a standstill shooter at first glance. He will likely have to increase his shot creation this year.

As good as Brownridge is, he won’t have many great options to pass to, which could limit the team’s offensive growth. Sophomore stretch big man Matt Hubbard should improve after what was a passable freshman year (almost a three per game, average rebounding numbers, too many turnovers). The rebounding (and some shotblocking) will come more from burly junior Nate Kratch, an especially high level offensive rebounder (62nd in the country). Additionally, sophomore Emmanuel Ndumanya was an excellent rebounder in limited minutes, and he will be very useful as a defensive third big. His offense consists of “grab ball, dunk ball“ though.

Possible perimeter help may come from sophomores Kai Healy and Jarvis Pugh. Pugh played signficant minutes last year, starting as a small ball power forward as Hubbard lost some minutes. He should be able to slide up to the 3 to start alongside Kratch and Hubbard, defending and cutting off the ball while continuing his near-invisible usage (10.5% of shots). Besides Brownridge (and a little bit of Hubbard), there’s not a lot of shooting here to space the floor – Coach Kerry Keating will hope for some shooting from the freshman class, with guard Matt Hauser likely getting minutes right away for that skill.  

Defensively, this team was atrocious last year. Despite the meager shotblocking of Kratch and Ndumanya, the team didn’t do much well defensively – defending without fouling and defensive rebounding were major culprits. More minutes for Ndumanya should help with the rebounding, but the rest of the team will need to buckle down and help out. It’s not like they’re all rushing off to fast break, as the team was 309th in adjusted tempo last year.

Overall, I think Brownridge will be one of the most fun players to watch this year as he tries to bring his fantastic efficiency to a 30%+ usage rate. Scoring 20ppg is a real possibility for him (15.9 last year). He likely won’t be able to drag the team to much success, though.

7.      Pacific

C – Eric Thompson, 6’8, Senior
PF – Jacob Lampkin, 6’9, Sophomore
SF – Ray Bowles, 6’5, Sophomore
SG – David Taylor, 6’3, Junior
PG –.TJ Wallace, 6’3, Junior

Reserves: Alec Kobre, 6’2, Sr.; Sami Eleraky, 7’0, Jr.; Anthony Townes, 6’5, Fr.; Ilias Theodorou, 6’7, So.; Maleke Haynes, 5’10, So.

Postseason Prediction: None
This team is perfectly set up to be in the middle this year. They bring back a lot from a 4-14 team, and with the losses from teams around them (San Fran, Loyola Marymount), Pacific should be able to climb up the standings a little bit. They bring back 3 of their 5 starters (should have been 4, but point guard Dulani Robinson transferred to Texas Southern) and their top 3 bench guys. Robinson should be replaced relatively easily by the team’s best player, TJ Wallace, who will play even more minutes at PG this year after splitting time between there and the wing last year. He turns the ball over a little too much for a true PG, but he’s easily the team’s most dynamic player and needs the ball in his hands.

The Tigers also bring back two strong rebounders to start down low, senior Eric Thompson and sophomore Jacob Lampkin. Neither was particularly efficient offensively, they are two big bodies that can contend with most opponent lineups. Shotblocking will come from Danish backup center Sami Eleraky, who put up a strong block rate of 7.9% in limited minutes last year. He should be able to play with either Lampkin or Thompson, depending on what’s needed.

The wing rotation also features three returnees, including likely starters junior David Taylor and sophomore Ray Bowles.  Taylor provides some outside shooting, along with third wing Alec Kobre, a 6‘2 senior. Bowles is more of a slasher and defender, posting a decent steal rate for a freshman. The perimeter depth will be bolstered by junior college transfer point guard Maleke Haynes and true freshman Anthony Townes, and coach Ron Verlin will attempt to use Haynes some to allow Wallace to play off the ball some, similar to how he did last year alongside Robinson.

As a team, neither the offense nor the defense were terribly strong last year. Their biggest strength was rebounding, and more minutes for Lampkin and Thompson should really allow them to secure that part of the game (Eleraky was a quality boarder as well). More strides need to be made on defense – they didn’t force any turnovers, but still managed to foul a ton. They played a decent amount of zone, and if they can’t tighten up fundamentally on that end, the most likely scenario is that the defense continues to struggle. I’ll predict enough improvement from the younger guys to pull Pacific up into the middle portion of the league standings.

8. San Diego

C – Jita Kok, 6’9, Senior
PF – Brandon Perry, 6’7, Junior
SF – Duda Sanadze, 6’5, Senior
SG – Tyler Williams, 6’4, Freshman
PG –.Marcus Harris, 6’0, Sophomore

Reserves: Brett Bailey, 6’6, Jr.; Cameron Neubauer, 6’7, So.; Khalil Bedart-Ghani, 6’2, Fr.; Vasa Pusica, 6’5, So.; Alex Floresca, 6’7, Fr.

Postseason Prediction: None
Like a lot of the schools in this conference (especially Pepperdine), I don’t totally understand how people go here and attend class/practice when they could just be going to the beach. Sea World is literally right down the road!

Somehow, first year coach Lamont Smith will get this team in the gym, but the forecast for the year isn‘t terribly sunny. The strongest part of this team should be its defense, anchored by shotblocking extraordinaire Jita Kok. Kok, a senior from the Netherlands (the first Dutch basketball player I’ve heard of beyond the Schaftenaar brothers at Oregon State and BIG DAN Gadzuric), was a rock in the paint, blocking 11.6% of shots – good for 16th in the entire country. He managed to not foul TOO much, allowing him to play a good amount of minutes. He is, however, a rather large liability on the offensive end – per hoop-math.com, he scored 39 baskets at the rim – of these, 30 were assisted and 9 were putbacks. In other words, he has no postgame whatsoever. Fellow postman Brandon Perry will take up a far higher percentage of possessions (28.9% vs Kok’s 15.2%), using his large bulk to create space down low, but he fouls at a ludicrous rate (7.6 per 40 minutes), causing him to spend a lot of unnecessary time on the bench. .

Where San Diego will really struggle is on the perimeter. Gone are 5‘7 point guard Christopher Anderson (#4 assist rate in the country and 58th in steal percentage) and shooting guard Johnny Dee (118.1 offensive rating, 4th in the country in free throw percentage - 92%); taking their places are massive question marks. The likely starter at point guard is sophomore Marcus Harris, a bit player last year (11 minutes per game) who was kind of a terrible passer. Part of that could be attributed to how much Anderson handled the ball, but Harris really needs to show true PG skills for this team’s offense to have a chance of improving from its 202nd rank last year. On the wing, options include Georgian (the country) senior Duda Sanadze (leading returning scorer at only 6.6 ppg), junior Brett Bailey (more of a three/four tweener), Serbian sophomore Vasa Pusica, and, perhaps most intriguing, true freshman Tyler Williams. A highly-regarded WCC recruit, Williams is a 6‘5 guard with a high basketball IQ and versatile skills who could start right away.

The Toreros should be a strong defensive squad again, though it remains to be seen if Coach Smith will play a different style than previous head man Bill Grier. This is Smith’s first fulltime gig, coming from Craig Neal’s staff at New Mexico after six years on Randy Bennett’s staff at St. Mary’s. Bennett and Neal have some conflicting stylistic elements, but I would assume Smith takes more from his time under coach Bennett and understands the value of taking away the three pointer. Smith was a defensive stalwart in his playing days at San Diego, as well, so I would expect to see them be near the top-50 this year on that end (63rd last year). Overall, though, the lack of dynamic perimeter players or one-on-one post scorers will limit the offense enough to keep this team in the lower half of the WCC.  

9. Loyola Marymount

C – Petr Herman, 6’10, Sophomore
PF – Marin Mornar, 6’9, Senior
SF – David Humphries, 6’4, Senior
SG – Matt Hayes, 6’1, Junior
PG –.Brandon Brown, 5’11, Junior

Reserves: Buay Tach, 6’6, Jr.; Shamar Johnson, 6’7, Jr.; Adom Jocko, 6’8, Jr.; Jeffrey McClendon, 6’2, Fr.

Postseason Prediction: None
I was all ready to predict a little jump up the standings for Loyola Marymount this year behind coach Mike Dunlap (yes, the one who coached the Bobcats), but then I saw junior-to-be Evan Payne had transferred. Payne was huge for them, averaging 18.0ppg while using 33.2% of his team’s possessions (4th in the entire country).  Now, my best guess is that the Lions battle to stay out of the league cellar again.

The biggest issue for LMU is its atrocious defense. Surprisingly for a former NBA coach, Dunlap played mostly zone last year, and holy hell do the numbers scream that. Their defense didn’t force many turnovers, struggled to clean the glass, and, most notably, gave up tons of threes (and opponents knocked them down at an elite rate). Part of the explanation for this is the ease with which opponents moved the ball around – 68% of all baskets against LMU were assisted, good for 350th (second last) in the entire country. The numbers show that Dunlap’s soft zone gave up repeated easy, open looks, and even the lower WCC teams easily took advantage. LMU will need to find a way to extend its defense and apply a little more pressure, or opponents will continue to pour it in from deep.

Offensively, the team will rely on forward Marin Mornar, a Croatian and the team’s best player (extended aside – it’s remarkable how many of the best players in this conference are foreign. WCC teams have really created some impressive European and Australian/New Zealander pipelines over the years), to make a leap. He was highly efficient as a junior and will need to maintain that as he steps into a larger role. He can score one-on-one a little bit with nice range to his jumper, and the team will hope he can draw a few double teams to get open shots for everyone else. Czech center Petr Herman was a disaster in limited minutes last year, but he was only a freshman, and he should be a little closer to average this year.

On the perimeter, David Humphries (Australian) and Matt Hayes (Californian!!!) will play a lot, with help from juco transfers Brandon Brown (likely the starter at PG and last year’s NJCAA player of the year) and Buay Toch (originally from Sudan), as well as freshmen Jeffrey McClendon and Munis Tutu (Egyptian-Canadian). The new backcourt should give Dunlap a little more athleticism and the freedom to extend the defense a little bit.

All that said, with the lack of a lot of returning talent and the team’s clear defensive scheme issues, I would be very surprised if they climb out of the bottom 3 in the league.

10.   San Francisco

C – Matthew McCarthy, 6’9, Freshman
PF – Uche Ofoegbu, 6’4, Junior
SF – Ronnie Boyce, 6’6, Junior
SG – Tim Derksen, 6’4, Senior
PG –.Devin Watson, 6’1, Sophomore

Reserves: Don’te Reynolds, 6’7, Jr.; Nate Renfro, 6’7, Fr.; Marquill Smith, 6’4, Fr.; Mladen Djordjevic, 6’3, Fr.; Montray Clemons, 6’7, Sr.

Postseason Prediction: None
Hoo boy. After a year where they sat right in the middling mud of the WCC, the Dons bring back very little in the way of productio, they are likely to struggle this year due to the heavy personnel losses to both graduation and transfers.

By default, the strength of this team is the backcourt – San Francisco returns two starters in junior point guard Devin Watson and senior Tim Derksen, the only players who played any signficant minutes at all last year. Watson is a pretty inefficient lead guard who doesn’t have much range to his jumper. He was a decent passer last year, but his options will be sorely limited this year. His prime target should be Derksen, a very good shooter who also showed a surprising ability to get to the line at a high rate last year. For an excellent 40% three-point shooter, though, his 67% free throw shooting on 139 attempts is relatively disappointing. Derksen and Watson will both need to continue to attack the basket this year as they attempt to compensate for the inexperience on the rest of the team.

Two forwards – Montray Clemons and Uche Ofoegbu – played extremely limited minutes last year, and both will be counted on to provide massive leaps in production this year. Ofoegbu was an SMU recruit before they had Larry Brown (aka before they were good), and he should be able to give the team a little more wing athleticism. Clemons is a sturdy 6‘7, 235, and will be counted on as a rock on the boards.

The large batch of newcomers is highlighted by junior college wing Ronnie Boyce III, Australian Matthew McCarthy, and two Floridians who for some reason traveled cross-country to be on this squad, Cedric Wright and Marquill Smith. Any and all recruits will be given chances at playing time, but I can’t imagine any of them will be very efficient.

San Francisco is going to struggle mightily this year unless the newcomers are far better than anticipated. Coach Rex Walters has kept the team respectable during his tenure, but this year may hearken back to his first in 2008-09, when the team stumbled to a poor 11-19 (3-15) record.