- by Ky McKeon
- Saint Mary‘s
- Santa Clara
- Loyola Marymount
- San Francisco
- San Diego
All Conference Awards
POY: Emmett Naar, Saint Mary‘s
Coach of the Year: Herb Sendek, Santa Clara
Newcomer of the Year: Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga
***EDITOR'S NOTE: Adom Jacko left LMU back in May to pursue a pro career overseas. I feel silly for not catching this...
1. Saint Mary’s
Key Returners: Emmett Naar, Joe Rahon, Calvin Hermanson, Evan Fitzner, Dave Pineau
Key Losses: None
Key Newcomers: Jordan Ford, Elijah Thomas, Jock Perry
Postseason Projection: 4 - 8 Seed
The Gaels shocked everyone last season with their 29-win performance and West Coast regular season title. St. Mary’s was one of the least experienced teams in the country, but that didn’t stop them from being one of the most dominant offensive units (as my colleague Jim Root beautifully articulated in his “Gunning Gaels” article last year). Despite the 29 wins and the sweep of Gonzaga in the regular season, St. Mary’s fell short of a Tourney bid, one that I thought they should have been granted. Their downfall ended up being their plush schedule. Outside of the WCC (which was not a good conference last season), the Gaels played only one team of notoriety when they traveled to Berkeley to square off against Cal. St. Mary’s lost that game by four – if they come away victorious, they make the field. We haven’t seen the full Gaels non-con schedule as of this write-up, but they do travel to Dayton in November and will play against Nevada, so already it’s shaping up to be stronger than prior year.
Unlike last year, St. Mary’s will be a known entity in 2016-17 – most syndicates have the Gaels ranked in their pre-season top 25. The reason is pretty simple – the Gaels literally return everyone from last year’s 29-6 squad. This includes a backcourt duo that’s as good as any in the conference in senior Joe Rahon and junior Emmett Naar. These two guys are absolute workhorses; Naar played the 12th most minutes in the country last season (1st in the WCC) and Rahon played the 15th most minutes in the country last season (2nd in the WCC). The tandem was both in the top ten in assist rates in the conference (St. Mary’s as a team was one of the best at moving the ball and scoring off a pass) and neither turned the ball over often (the Gaels were 24th last season in TO% as a squad). Naar is a legitimate WCC POY candidate; he shot a blistering slash of .523/.398/.870 while posting an O-rating of 121.6 (87th nationally). Rahon, too, shot the crap out of the ball from deep (37% on 119 attempts) and doubled as the Gaels’ best perimeter defender. Expect to see similar numbers from Naar and Rahon this season in terms of PT and efficiency. Freshman point guard Jordan Ford and sophomore Stefan Gonzalez will see some time in the backcourt, but majority of the minutes will continue to be given to the two workhorses.
The other three starters from last year return as well for the Gaels, they are junior wing Calvin Hermanson (6’6’’), sophomore forward Evan Fitzner (6’10’’), and senior big Dane Pineau (6’9’’). Hermanson and Fitzner both shot over 41% from deep last season, Hermanson on 178 attempts and Fitzner on 131 attempts. The Gaels as a team last year shot a ton of threes (four guys in the starting lineup can all stroke) and converted at a ridiculous 41%, good for 6th in the nation – I honestly don’t know how that’s 6th; 41% as team is insanity. Inside, players don’t get much more efficient than Dane Pineau. Pineau shot 68% from the field last year (9th nationally), which aided his 7th-ranked effective FG%. Pineau was also a top three rebounder and shot blocker in the WCC last season. On a team full of shooters, Randy Bennett is lucky to have a central cog in the middle with Pineau to even things out.
As far as new blood and bench support are concerned, the Gaels pretty much have that figured out as well. St. Mary’s add a 7th Aussie to the squad with big man Jock Perry (also, weirdly, their second “Jock”). Perry is a 7’1’’ rim protector who should provide some nice backup for Pineau and fellow Jock, Jock Landale. Landale, a junior this season, was pretty terrific in limited minutes last year. He shot over 60% from the floor and over 76% from the line while proving to be a solid glass eater. Gonzalez, one of the reserve guards mentioned earlier, shot 55.1% from downtown last season on 69 attempts, which makes me giggle like a schoolgirl. He’s probably a bit peeved to not see more time behind the two horses. Elijah Thomas, a 6’6’’ froshie, represents an asset that St. Mary’s isn’t really used to having. Thomas is a big wing that specializes in attacking the rim. He really could add a nice dose of versatility to the Gael lineup – putting him at the three with shooters surrounding him and Pineau in the paint almost seems unfair.
All in all, we should expect to see a similar Gaels team as the 2015-16 version – just with one more year of experience. St. Mary’s will play slow, methodical basketball in the half-court, they will not get out in transition, they’ll shoot a ton of open threes, they will not cough up the rock, and Dane Pineau will dominate the paint. On defense, they really weren’t that bad last year, they just didn’t create enough pressure to turn opponents over. We’ll see another Bennett team focused on running shooters off the three-point line and boxing out once a shot goes up. The WCC is a two-team race this season with the Gaels and the Zags – my money is on the Gaels repeating as conference champs (and this time making the Field of 68).
Key Returners: Josh Perkins, Przemek Karnowski, Silas Melson
Key Losses: Kyle Wiltjer, Domantas Sabonis, Eric McClellan, Kyle Dranginis
Key Newcomers: Nigel Williams-Goss, Johnathan Williams III, Zach Collins, Zach Norvell, Jordan Matthews
Postseason Projection: 4 - 7 Seed
Picking the Zags to finish second in the WCC is probably ill advised given the ridiculous depth of this squad and Mark Few’s unholy track record. Since Few came to Spokane in 1999-2000, the Zags have finished 2nd only two times (they’ve finished 1st or tied for 1st every other year) and have never missed an NCAA Tournament. The Zags lose four starters from last year’s Sweet 16 squad, but project to be even better this season with the influx of three big name transfers and the return of their giant, Przemek Karnowski.
Gonzaga historically hasn’t been a major player in the transfer market, but after Kyle Wiltjer came over from Kentucky a few years back, Spokane has all of a sudden become a popular destination for college “free agents”. This season the Zags welcome three key newbies, all of which should hear their names announced in the starting lineup on opening day. Nigel Williams-Goss, a 6’3’’ guard, comes by way of Washington. Williams-Goss was the Huskies’ best player as a sophomore in 2014-15, earning 2nd Team All-Conference in the Pac-12. The guard played nearly every minute for Washington and was the primary ball handler of the team, posting an assist rate of 35.9 (good for 23rd in the country, 3rd best in the Pac-12). He was very much a volume scorer for Washington, shooting underwhelming percentages of 49% from two and 25.6% from three, but he was a terrific point guard and will give Gonzaga a deadly two-PG dynamic with rising sophomore Josh Perkins. Johnanthan Williams III, a 6’9’’ forward, is a Missouri product. Like Williams-Goss, Williams III was the best player on his former team leading the Tigers in scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots. Williams III was not an efficient scorer as a Tiger, but the junior has so much potential. He’s athletic and super long, a great rebounder, and can step out from behind the arc. Also, Williams III will benefit greatly from not being the #1 option anymore. The final transfer is Jordan Matthews, who recently came over from Cal. Matthews was extremely efficient on the offensive side of the ball in Berkeley – he posted a 117.1 O-rating and converted 41.6% of his 214 three-point attempts. He was primarily a spot-up shooter for the Bears and should play a similar role in the Zags offense with Perkins and Williams-Goss creating open looks off penetration.
The Zags return two key cogs to coincide with their three mega-transfers. Josh Perkins ran the offense last season as a freshman. He was a little inconsistent, especially after a rough start to the season, but as the year progressed Perkins really started to shine. He ranked 12th in the WCC in assist rate and converted 38% of his three-point attempts (46% in conference play) – solid numbers for anyone, let alone a frosh. Perkins’ greatest value comes on the defensive end where he represents the Zags’ best perimeter defender – he led Gonzaga in steals last season and ranked 14th in the conference in steal percentage. Przemek Karnowski, the 7’1’’ 300 pound behemoth, also returns to the Zag lineup after his 2015-16 season was cut short due to injury. Karnowski is an absolute animal on both ends of the floor, as a junior in 2014-15 he led the conference in effective field goal percentage, ranked in the top 16 of both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, and was 7th in block percentage. With Sabonis gone, the paint now belongs exclusively to Karnowski – we should see a dramatic spike in his usage and board numbers.
So the Zags have the most talented starting five in the league…. and they also have the best bench. Returning role players Silas Melson and Bryan Alberts will provide support for the scary Matthews-Williams-Goss-Perkins guard tandem, while Ryan Edwards, another 7’1’’ giant will spell Karnowski off the pine. Gonzaga also adds a slew of exciting freshmen. Zach Collins, a 4-star prospect, is the crown jewel of Few’s recruiting class – he’s a 7-foot monster capable of scoring from just about anywhere on the floor. Teams will get no relief from Karnowski sitting on the pine, as Few will throw another 7-footer (Collins or Edwards) out there to wreak havoc. For some reason, Gonzaga added two more frosh over 6’10’’ in Jacob Larsen and Killian Tillie – one of these guys probably redshirts as Few already has plenty of 7-footers in his rotation. Two new guards, Zach Norvell (4-star recruit) and Rui Hachimura (a 6’6’’ Beninese-Japanese wing) could also see some time in the crowded Zags backcourt. Norvell is a deadly outside shooter with a smooth lefty stroke. Hachimura has a lot of hype surrounding him and he admittedly looked dominant in the Japanese league videos I perused – but that competition was BRUTAL, so it’s very tough to tell just how good Hachimura will be. Again, one of these guys may take a redshirt.
So why am I picking the Zags second in the WCC? That’s a damn good question. Mark Few is a top ten coach in the country, he has 13 guys who can all contribute, he has the most talented starting five, the most athletic roster, the deepest bench, etc. I really have no answer to that question – call it a hunch. Either way, the Zags will be very good this year, easily a top 20 team and will represent the WCC along with St. Mary’s in March.
Key Returners: Nick Emery, Kyle Davis
Key Losses: Chase Fischer, Kyle Collinsworth, Zac Seljaas (LDS Mission)
Key Newcomers: Elijah Bryant, Yoeli Childs, Steven Beo, Payton Dastrup, T.J. Haws
Postseason Projection: 9 Seed - NIT
Dave Rose submitted yet another 20+ win season in Provo last season, narrowly missing the tournament due to a relatively soft schedule and key losses to Long Beach, Portland, Pacific, and Harvard. In Rose’s 11 seasons at the helm of BYU, he has NEVER won fewer than 20 games in a season, nor has he won fewer than 10 conference games (that includes both the MWC and WCC). This season figures to be more of the same for the Cougars as Rose looks to lead BYU to their 9th Tourney in his storied career. They’ll have work to do without triple-double extraordinaire Kyle Collinsworth, but BYU returns a plethora of talent and brings in plenty of gifted youngsters (some of which come in fresh off Mission trips – as is the BYU way).
The Cougars played at the 8th fastest pace last season per KenPom and ranked 12th in initial FGA % in transition. A key driver in these statistics was returning guard, and rising sophomore, Nick Emery. Don’t let Emery’s unassuming stature or long sleeves fool you – this kid can flat out ball. Emery’s game is all about getting out in transition and shooting quick shots, whether it be pulling up from three, or taking it all the way to the rim. Even off opponent misses, he’s liable to jack up another three seconds after his teammate pulls in an offensive carom. Amazingly, Emery was ridiculously efficient considering his roadrunner-esque pace of play, shooting 38.5% from deep and 45.6% from inside the arc. He’ll be given more of a primary ball-handling role this season with the absence of Collinsworth, but will have help in that regard with the influx of highly touted freshman T.J. Haws and Elon transfer Elijah Bryant.
If T.J. Haws’s name sounds familiar it’s because he is the younger brother of BYU all-time leading scorer Tyler Haws, who played for the Cougars back in ’09-10 and then again in ’12-15. Haws was a 4-star recruit back in 2014 (he participated in an LDS Mission trip) and was ranked #67 overall by ESPN. Haws is stick-skinny but is so crafty with the basketball and is a threat to launch it from deep when he steps on the floor. Expect Haws to flirt with a double-digit scoring average in his inaugural season. Bryant was arguably Elon’s best player as a freshman back in 2014-15. The guard used 35.5% of his team’s possessions, which ranked 3rd in the nation. He was very much a volume shooter, but his relatively low percentages were most likely a consequence of shot selection given the talent (or lack thereof) surrounding him at Elon. He will not come close to that type of usage at BYU, but will bring a specific skill the Cougar offense – attacking the basket. As a frosh for the Phoenix, Bryant drew the 17th most fouls per 40 minutes in the country and finished from the stripe at a respectable 75.4%. He should fit nicely next to two outstanding shooters in Emery and Haws.
Inside the Cougars feature two returning starters in Kyle Davis (6’8” R Sr.) and Corbin Kaufusi (6’10” Jr.). Collinsworth garnered most of the attention in the area of rebounding (he led the team in average), but Davis actually has a higher DR% and OR% than Collinsworth last season. Kaufusi was also a strong rebounder, posting the highest OR% on the team. BYU ranked 17th in defensive rebounding last season; while they may fall off slightly with the departure of Collinsworth, the Davis/Kaufusi combination keeps them in the top 30 conversation. Davis is the definition of a “glue guy”, someone who does all the dirty work without displaying an ego. He’s an active boarder, strong finisher, and very good post defender. Kaufusi plays on the defensive line for BYU’s football program – so it’s safe to say he’s one tough individual. Not many guys are going to be able to push him out of the paint. Kaufusi may lose his starting gig to Eric Mika, a sophomore returning from a mission trip that started 29 games for BYU and averaged nearly 12 points per contest as a frosh, but the big brute will still play an important role inside for Rose.
The Cougar bench features a myriad of true freshmen, redshirt guys, and LDS Mission returnees. The real strength of the Cougar bench is their frontcourt depth featuring Yoeli Childs (6’8” Fr.), Payton Dastrup (6’10” R Fr.), and aforementioned Eric Mika (6’10” R So.). All three of these guys were highly recruited coming out of high school – Childs, a 4-star, is ranked #53 in the 2016 class by ESPN (13th overall power forward); Dastrup, a 4-star, was ranked #98 in the 2014 class (12th overall center); Mika, a 4-star, was ranked #28 in the 2013 class (3rd overall center). That’s some strong recruiting accolades, and the fact that two of those guys are a bit older could prove beneficial on the court in the realm of decision-making and overall maturity. Mika, as mentioned above, actually has a season in Provo under his belt. He was a beast on the boards as a frosh (particularly on offense), and has a keen ability of drawing fouls in the paint and getting to the line. The depth of this frontline should allow BYU to at least hold their own against the giants of Gonzaga.
What should we expect from BYU this year? The same thing Dave Rose has given us the past decade – 20+ wins, 10+ conference wins, and a top three WCC finish. With Gonzaga and St. Mary’s both likely to be included in the top 25 this season, BYU could end up making the WCC a 3-bid league – something that hasn’t happened since 2012.
4. Santa Clara
Key Returners: Jared Brownridge, K.J. Feagin, Nate Kratch, Kai Healy, Matt Hubbard
Key Losses: None
Key Newcomers: Akil Douglas, Julian Roche
Postseason Projection: NIT/CBI/CIT
No offense to Kerry Keating, the former Santa Clara head coach of nine years, but the hiring of Herb Sendek is more than just a little bit of an upgrade. Sendek has coached three schools in his career, Miami, NC State, and Arizona State. At Miami, Sendek led the Canes to a 70.8% win percentage and two NCAA Tournaments in three seasons. At NC State, Sendek reached five straight Tourneys from 2002 – 2006 and amassed a 59.1% winning percentage over ten years. Most recently, Sendek took the Sun Devils to two Tournaments in nine years. While Sendek’s welcome may have been growing a bit worn in Tempe, Santa Clara is sure to greet the veteran coach with open arms.
The Broncos stumbled to an 11-20 record last season (7-11 in the WCC), but there’s much to be optimistic about in Santa Clara with the return of every significant piece from last year’s team. Chief amongst the returners is high-scoring guard Jared Brownridge, a two time 1st Team All-WCC performer. Brownridge has been the life force of the Broncos since he stepped on campus, ranking in the top five in minutes played in the WCC each of the last three seasons, and in the top five two out of the last three years in percentage of his team’s shots taken. The guard has stayed remarkably consistent over the past three seasons, posting the following shooting slashes: .467/.428/.861 (’13-14); .433/.440/.867 (’14-15); .402/.384/.827 (’15-16). Breaking down his percentages, we see Brownridge’s efficiency tail off slightly last season with a severe uptick in usage (23.5% to 29.3%), but he still is a major weapon from beyond the arc and the from the charity stripe, a place where he gets to at a torrid rate. Where the rising senior stud struggles a little is finishing inside the arc, primarily due to forced shot selection – a common symptom amongst star players trying to do too much.
Brownridge needs help on the offensive side of the ball, and luckily K.J. Feagin is an apt suitor to be the Robin to his Batman. Feagin had a terrific freshman season turning in a shooting slash of .492/.362/.795 while putting up the 6th best assist rate in the WCC. The point guard is a strong ball handler and, like Brownridge, has the ability to take over games with his scoring – Feagin’s three games in Europe this summer show promising potential. Palling along with Brownridge and Feagin in the backcourt will be a combination of junior wing Kai Healy and sophomore 2-guard Matt Hauser. Hauser, like Feagin, had a fantastic summer session over in Italy and promises to see a fair share of minutes off the pine. Sendek is also liable to go small with Feagin/Brownridge/Hauser all together in the backcourt. Healy serves as a spot-up deep threat; he shot 37.9% from downtown a year ago. While these four guards make up an imposing offensive backcourt, it’s important to remember basketball is a two-sided sport. The Broncos’ defense last year was dead last in the WCC, and its guards, whether in zone or man, did not do anything to help that metric. Sendek teams are historically ranked in the top 100 nationally so his coaching style/philosophy could help at least partially solve the defensive issue.
Up front the Broncos will feature 6’8’’ senior Nate Kratch, 6’9’’ junior Matt Hubbard, 6’6’’ junior Jarvis Pugh, 6’10’’ junior Emmanuel Ndumanya, and 6’10’’ junior Akil Douglas. Kratch is one of the best rebounders in the conference and tallied double-digit boards in two of the three summer contest in Italy. He has a solid post-up game, shooting 55.1% from the field last year, and also serves as a decent rim protector. Hubbard’s 2015-16 season was short prematurely by injury, an injury that has lingered through the summer. Hubbard showed great potential as a stretch four his freshman season, making the WCC All-Freshman squad, but tailed off considerably as a sophomore. His contribution to the squad is as a finesse offensive big – given this, Sendek may go a different direction with his starting five. Douglas is a JUCO transfer that projects as an excellent rebounder, inside/outside scorer, and shot blocker. I would not be shocked to see him starting in the frontcourt on day one. Pugh was injured almost all of last season, but submitted a successful freshman campaign in 2014-15. He’s a tough rebounder and defender capable of playing both forward spots. Sendek often used Pugh at the four in lineups in Italy. Ndumanya was Santa Clara’s most efficient rebounder in limited minutes last year, but he’s still raw offensively. He’ll see similar minutes to last year (about 13 minutes per game) solely for his shot-blocking and rebounding ability. Sophomore Henrik Jadersten and freshman Julian Roche, both 6’11’’ brutes, likely don’t see a whole lot of floor time in the current season.
My bullishness on Santa Clara this season hinges on their experience and star power. They could be a real sleeper in the WCC this season, but must improve on the defensive end. It will be interesting to see what Sendek does scheme-wise. Santa Clara was one of the slowest teams last season, and Sendek teams usually are as well, but he showed he’s capable of playing up-tempo with his last two Arizona State squads.
Key Returners: Lamond Murray, Jr., Jeremy Major, Kameron Edwards, Amadi Udenyi
Key Losses: Stacy Davis, Jett Raines
Key Newcomers: Chris Reyes, Craig LeCesne, Elijah Lee, Knox Hellums, Nolan Taylor, Kaijae Yee-Stephens
Postseason Projection: CBI/CIT
Marty Wilson has done an admirable job bringing the Pepperdine basketball program back to relevance. The Waves have improved every season under Wilson, achieving finishes in conference not seen since the early 2000s when Paul Westphal was running the show. This season, Wilson brings back an experienced starting group, but will be heavily reliant on freshmen to make up the Wave reserve corps.
Pepperdine has one of the best players in the WCC in Lamond Murray, Jr. The wing broke out last season, earning 2nd Team All-Conference honors while leading the Waves in scoring and finishing second in rebounding. Murray’s game is smooth – he has a fluid-looking jumper and effortlessly glides into the paint on drives. Pepperdine’s offense last season was heavily reliant on penetration and getting to the foul line. With Stacy Davis and Jett Raines gone, their style may change significantly. Murray will be relied upon even more for offensive production, both from the three-point line (39% shooter last year), and driving to the cup – something Murray will need to improve focus on as he often settled for mid-range pull-ups versus taking the ball all the way to the rack.
The backcourt in will be a source of intrigue in Malibu. Wilson will likely start two point guards in Jeremy Major, 5’11” Sr., and Amadi Udenyi, 6’1 Sr. Both guards are among the all-time assist leaders in Waves history entering their senior seasons, and are among the best distributors in the country. Pepperdine ranked 43rd in TO% last year thanks to the efforts of Major and Udenyi. Major is the better shooter out of the duo; he connected on 41.3% of his threes last year and led the Waves in 3PM with 43 (Pepperdine did not shoot a lot of threes). Oddly, Major shot only 55.7% from the foul line, which I honestly cannot figure out, given his shooting form and three-point success. Udenyi is purely a pass-first point guard; he offers very little in the realm of scoring. The dual point guard system and three senior backcourt pieces gives Pepperdine one of the most experienced and sure-handed guard tandems in the conference.
Davis and Raines are big pieces to replace up front. Both players averaged double figures in scoring, and Davis averaged nearly a double-double with 9.1 boards per contest. Kameron Edwards, a sophomore forward, is probably more of a natural three-man, but he’ll likely start at the four in Pepperdine’s lineup. Edwards has good range on his jumper, which makes his 1/10 three-point performance last season a bit perplexing. I’d wager to see a big jump in deep attempts for the rising soph. Utah grad transfer Chris Reyes will likely occupy the other forward spot. Reyes is only 6’7’’, but he’s a load at 235 pounds and plays big in the post. He is an excellent rebounder, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. The Edwards/Reyes combo gives Pepperdine one of the smallest front lines in the conference, which could be a liability in their attempts at conference competitiveness.
As stated above, the Waves are going to be heavily dependent on youth off the bench. While Pepperdine starts four seniors, their entire bench unit (aside from redshirt sophomore Nate Gehring) is all freshmen. Out of the stable of frosh at Wilson’s disposal, 6’9’’ forward Craig Lecesne, 6’5’’ wing Knox Hellums, and 6’1’’ guard Kaijae Yee-Stephens figure to make the biggest impact (in my humble opinion). Lecesne is a Swedish product that boasts a wide array of skills on offense. He has a unique combination of size, shooting, and ball handling ability not often seen at this level. Lecesne gives the Waves a potentially potent offensive weapon off the bench. Hellums is a sharpshooting wing that should be able to provide aid to the severely deep threat lacking Waves offense. He’s also a capable transition threat with his relatively strong speed and athleticism. Yee-Stephens is a big-time scoring guard. He has a beautiful pull-up and fade-away jumper and is money from behind the arc. Additionally, his ability to handle the basketball will make him a valuable substitute for the Udenyi/Major combo in the backcourt. Redshirt soph. Gehring and 6’7’’ wide-body Nolan Taylor also likely earn a few minutes this year given the thin nature of the Wave frontcourt.
Pepperdine likely takes a small step back from last season, but they’ll still be a competitive middle-of-the-pack WCC squad. Murray is a potential conference POY, and the dual PG system could turn out to be a major advantage. The lack of size, however, prevents this team from being a true contender for the conference crown.
6. Loyola Marymount
Key Returners: Adom Jocko, Brandon Brown, Steven Haney
Key Losses: Marin Morn ar
Key Newcomers: Donald Gipson, Stefan Jovanovic, Mattias Markusson
***EDITOR'S NOTE: Adom Jacko left LMU back in May to pursue a pro career overseas. I feel silly for not catching this...
EDIT: Kelvin Amayo's stats at Iona in '14-15: 7.9/5.0/2.7/1.0/0.4
Postseason Projection: CBI/CIT/None
Loyola Marymount has fallen on hard times since the great 1990 Elite Eight squad that featured Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers. In fact, that was the last Lions team to participate in the NCAA Tournament. Since then, LMU has earned one postseason appearance – a CIT berth in 2012. The Lions struggled last season, but have some really good pieces in place coming into Mike Dunlap’s third year at the helm. The LMU offense last season did a lot of things right – they had the 28th highest assist/FGM ratio in the country, they were excellent at protecting the rock, and they were a strong free-throw shooting team. On D, LMU acted more like a sieve and less like a wall, ranking 264th overall in defensive efficiency, however the Lions were very good at forcing turnovers via the steal. With nearly everyone if relevance returning from last year’s squad, a major jump in the WCC standings could be in the cards for the Lions this season.
Starting in the backcourt, Brandon Brown, the 2015 NJCAA Player of the Year, was a major reason LMU was so strong at moving the ball without turning it over last season. Brown led the WCC in assist rate and ranked 15th in the country in the stat last season, while sporting a solid 17.1 TO rate. Despite Brown’s prowess as a great distributor however, he was very much a volume shooter. Brown shot the 10th highest percentage of his team’s shots in the conference but only connected on 39.7% of his twos and 28.6% of his threes. The biggest reason for Brown’s struggles was his shot selection – too often Brown would cross over three or four times, only to end up forcing a tough, quick mid-range jumper over the outstretched hand of his defender. He has options around him – hopefully Dunlap will be able to reign him in a bit, because he really is a good point guard.
One of those options surrounding Brown on offense is Adom Jocko, a player who actually shot a higher percentage of LMU’s shots than Brown (4th in the conference). Jocko, though, had good reason to shoot the ball a lot – he was extremely efficient doing it. Jocko shot 55.4% from the field and ranked 3rd in the WCC in FG% as junior. Jocko is primarily a post scorer, but he’s not limited to simple back-down and hook shot moves. His quickness allows him to face up to his defender and blow-by or spin into a nice look – and his dreads make him look really cool while he does it. Jocko also can step out to about 17 feet – he has a real nice jumper from out there and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him develop a three-pointer this season. He is certainly LMU’s most consistent option on offense and is also their best rebounder (top 12 rebounder in the conference).
It’ll be interesting to see who Dunlap throws on the floor to complement Brown and Jocko in the starting lineup. Steven Haney will almost certainly start at the 3, he’s a sharpshooting wing who averaged double figures last season. Haney shot 200 three-pointers last season (35.5%), no one else shot over 100 on LMU last year, so that’s basically what he brings to this squad. Dunlap can go one of two ways in the frontcourt. He can start Shamar Johnson, a 6’7’’ post player who started nearly every contest a season ago, or (more likely) he can go with Hawaii import Stefan Jovanovic. I like Johnson’s toughness and he’s certainly a load inside and a tough rebounder at 255 pounds, but Jovanovic, at 6’11’’, gives LMU a greater post presence. With Jovanovic, who out-rebounded Johnson on the defensive side and provided far greater rim protection, LMU can play Jocko at the 4, a position that more naturally suits his versatility. The trio of Jocko, Johnson, and Jovanovic gives LMU quite the formidable frontcourt. In the backcourt, the options include Iona grad transfer Kelvin Amayo or backup point guard Munis Tutu. Again, I think Dunlap goes with the transfer here. Amayo is a very strong, physical guard who specializes in barreling to the rim, drawing fouls at a high rate. With Haney out there already Amayo doesn’t necessarily need to be a three-point threat. Tutu is a natural point guard, which could cause problems if he lined up with Brown, who constantly needs the ball in his hands. Tutu will get plenty of run though, he ranked 4th in the WCC in assist rate and 2nd in steal percentage as a freshman.
Like several other squads in the WCC, LMU is quite deep. We already discussed Johnson and Tutu coming off the pine, but Dunlap will also have Petr Herman, a big man, Buay Tuach, another wing sharpshooter, and a few promising freshman at his disposal. Donald Gipson, a 6’4” 2-star recruit, could make an immediate impact from the 2 or 3 spot – he’s got a smooth stroke and solid athletic ability. Mattias Markusson is a giant 7’1’’ Swede who will provide extra depth up front. He’s very skinny and a bit raw, but he could be an asset down the road. Additionally, Dunlap adds Trevor Manuel, a 6’10’’ forward from Oregon, who will be eligible at the start of the second semester. He should see time in the crowded frontcourt this year.
I’m bullish on LMU this season. They have a couple All-Conference level players in Jocko and Brown and have one of the deeper frontcourts in the conference. This team should be miles ahead of where they finished last year. A winning record and a top 6 finish should be the goal for Dunlap and crew.
Key Returners: Alec Wintering, D’Marques Tyson, Jarrel Marshall, Gabe Taylor
Key Losses: Bryce Pressley
Key Newcomers: Joseph Smoyer, Andre Ferguson, Chier Maker, Alec Monson
Postseason Projection: None
The Eric Reveno era is over in Portland. Reveno amassed a paltry 140-173 record in his 10 seasons as the Pilot of the Pilots, resulting in the school parting ways with its long-tenured coach in March following the end of season. Enter Terry Porter, a former NBA point guard with zero college head coaching experience. Porter joins Damon Stoudamire of Pacific as a WCC first-year head coach with NBA point guard chops. A new coach usually implies a new playing style, but with Portland’s roster consistency from last season (lost only one starter from 2015-16), the Pilots likely play similarly to last year. This means the Pilots should once again be a run-n-gun offense focused on getting the ball out of the basket off opponent scores and racing down the hardwood before their opponents’ defenses have time to set up. Portland played the 35th fastest pace in the land last season, ranked 11th in percentage of initial FGA in transition, and 6th in percentage of initial FGA in the first 10 seconds following an opponents’ score. Portland’s offense wasn’t bad last season – they ranked 4th in the WCC – but their defense was atrocious. If Porter can bring anything of value to the Pilots, it’ll hopefully be on the defensive side of the basketball.
Alec Wintering will once again be the focal point of the Pilots’ offense this season. Wintering, a 2nd Team All-Conference selection last season, ranked 30th in the country in usage (30.2%) and was extremely efficient despite the sheer volume of shots for which he was responsible. The guard shot 40.6% from downtown on 106 attempts (Portland shot the 54th most threes in the country last year), 46% from two, and 78.2% from the line. Wintering’s game is all about attacking the basket whether it be on the fast break or off an isolation set in the half-court. He’s a small guard at 6’0’’, but he’s unbelievably good at getting to the rim. Wintering occasionally forces the issue (hence his below average 46% 2PFG%), but he drew the 14th most fouls per 40 minutes in the country last year and had the 5th highest FT rate in the conference. Wintering is also great at protecting the ball and driving-and-kicking; he posted a 30.7 assist rate last year (77th nationally, 7th in WCC) while turning the ball over only 18.8% of the time (a good metric considering his sky-high usage). Porter will rely on Wintering to run the Pilot offense and produce points and open looks for shooters.
Joining Wintering in the backcourt will be 6’5’’ junior D’Marques Tyson and 5’10’’ sophomore Jazz Johnson, who steps into the vacant slot left by the graduation of Bryce Pressley. Tyson is exclusively a spot-up shooter, but he spots up A TON. Tyson attempted 205 three-pointers last season compared to just 48 twos, and hit a scorching 41.5% of them. He has a very high-arcing shot and lives off Wintering drive-and-kicks. He also is Portland’s best defender on the other end – which means very little considering the strength of this defense. Johnson offers another shooting option for Wintering to kick to; the guard shot 36.5% from deep as a freshman last season but struggled to offer much else. Johnson was objectively one of the worst defenders on the team, which could be (in part) a consequence of him forced to defend bigger off-guards. He’ll need to improve on that end of the ball and add a little more versatility on the offensive side, as he’ll be looked upon to help fill Pressley’s production in his second season.
The frontcourt will consist of 6’8’’ junior Gabe Taylor, 6’10’’ senior Ray Barreno, and (off the pine) 6’6’’ senior Jarrel Marshall. Taylor is a hard-working power forward with plus rebounding ability. His offense wasn’t much to write home about last season (.491/.200/.726), but his game suggests potential is there for a mini-breakout season in 2016-17. Barreno is an absolute beast of a boarder – he posted very high rebounding rates (11.2 OR%; 23.8 DR%), but he simply has trouble staying on the floor. The center started 26 of 31 games last year for Portland, but averaged just under 15 minutes per contest (averaging nearly 5 boards a game in under 15 minutes is pretty impressive). Barreno is a hacking machine – he averaged 7.1 fouls per 40 minutes last year, which is likely a result of his inability to defend the post effectively. His rebounding is valuable, so Porter will hope the big man can give him a little more court time season. Marshall didn’t start a game last season as a frosh, but the forward played more than Barreno and gave his team good minutes. Marshall is a very good defender, able to guard the 3 or 4 spot, and he’s also the team’s best shot-blocker at only 6’6’’. On offense, Marshall struggled with his shot, but I love his length and potential as a wing scorer. His shot looks much better than his pedestrian percentages suggest. Another player to watch in the Pilot frontcourt is German junior Phillip Hartwich. Hartwich is a 7’1’’ behemoth able to eat up space in the middle on defense and provide an offensive rebounding threat on the other end. His minutes should increase this season, especially against bigger teams like Gonzaga.
Porter brings in a slew of newcomers (including both his sons), but two in particular that figure to make an impact are Andre Ferguson, a 6-foot point guard, and Chier Maker, a 6’7’’ redshirt frosh and Thon’s cousin. Ferguson is a natural point guard, capable of seeing the floor at an elite level. He can shoot the rock, he can drive, and he can handle the ball. With Wintering likely to play 80% of the game, Ferguson may not be given too many opportunities right away, but he’s a future difference maker in Portland. Maker gives the Pilots an athletic wing option off the bench. He can guard multiple spots with his wingspan and quickness and projects as a solid offensive weapon as well. A redshirt season in 2015-16 likely will pay dividends this year.
Portland will be a good offensive team this season, but their defense will hold the key to any potential success in the WCC. The Pilots are an improved team last year, capable of finishing anywhere from 4th to 7th in the conference.
Key Returners: Ray Bowles, T.J. Wallace
Key Losses: Alec Kobre, Eric Thompson
Key Newcomers: Keshon Montague, Jack Williams
Postseason Projection: None
The Pacific Tigers look to start fresh in 2016-17 after cutting ties with former head coach Ron Verlin following an NCAA investigation into academic fraud that resulted in a self-imposed postseason ban last year. This season, the school welcomes Damon Stoudamire, famed Arizona point guard and former NBA Rookie of the Year. Stoudamire has held various assistant coaching positions over the past 8 years or so, including stints with Memphis and his alma mater, but this marks his first head coaching gig. Pacific basketball fans have to be overjoyed by this hire – a big name, former NBA player will do wonders for a school who struggles getting top talent. Stoudamire already has a slew of transfers lined up for next year, giving the Tigers, a once fairly dominant Big West team, hope in the top heavy WCC.
Pacific had a brutal 8-20 record last season, and certainly by no means was a good-looking team numbers-wise. But, the Tigers actually were competitive in majority of their contests, losing several games by less than 5 points. This is a deep squad; Verlin played a 9 to 10 man rotation consistently last season. It’s yet to be seen if Stoudamire keeps a similar philosophy, but at least he will have a plethora of guys with game experience at his disposal. On offense, Pacific will rely heavily once again on T.J. Wallace and Ray Bowles. Wallace is Pacific’s undisputed floor leader and handles the ball the majority of the time he’s on the floor. He’s got a pretty good looking lefty stroke, but only shot 28.6% from deep on 105 attempts last season – a major dip from his 34% average over his first two seasons. Wallace likes to push the tempo (which is contrary to how his team played overall) in transition, but often attacks the basket a little out of control. He is consistently in the top 20 of the conference in fouls drawn, so perhaps there is method to the madness. Bowles was one of Pacific’s better post-up options last year despite his relatively pedestrian 6’5’’ stature. He’s capable of bullying smaller wings inside and also improved his outside shot last year, adding another layer to his quickly blossoming game. Bowles was 8th in conference in free throw rate, and does a nice job from the strip when he gets there, converting on 73.6% of his throws last year.
Bowles and Wallace are shoe-ins to start every contest this season for the Tigers, but the rest of the lineup could be ever-changing – nine different players started a game last season (seven on the current roster). Stoudamire will decide between senior David Taylor and rising junior Maleke Haynes to join Wallace in the backcourt. Turnovers and shooting were major issues for these two guards last season (and the entire Pacific team), but Haynes is the better distributor and more natural point guard. For reference, Haynes’ shooting slash was .326/.216/.595 (29.8% TO Rate) while Taylor’s slash was .370/.265/.588 (20.2% TO Rate). Those are both disgusting. Haynes was often used in lineups with Wallace last year, allowing Wallace to play off the ball more. Freshman Keshon Montague, a pass-first point guard, and junior guard D.J. Ursery represent the other viable backcourt options – neither of which project to provide a significant impact on the lineup. I’m penciling Taylor at the vacant starting slot for now, but my intuition tells me Haynes overtakes him eventually this season.
Pacific’s frontcourt is a bit more “stable” (if that’s the correct word to use) with Bowles, senior Tonko Vuko (excellent name – Tonko Truck is the nickname I’ll bestow upon him), and junior Jacob Lampkin likely the starting trio. Tonk Truck played a lot of minutes last year, but you’d never know he was even on the floor – he used only 15.6% of his team’s possessions. Vuko shot 53.4% from inside the arc last year, but his post game leaves something to be desired – mostly weak fade-away hooks, kind of gross to watch. Also, he shot 31 threes last season but only made 5 of them (16.1%). Lampkin is Pacific’s best returning rebounder, making him the best rebounder on a poor rebounding team. He’s a long post-player, strictly limited to the paint. 7-footer Sami Eleraky will compete for a starting spot as well; he started almost every game two seasons ago, but was limited last year due to injury. Eleraky is a fairly good rim protector and rebounder, but usually can’t stay on the floor for long periods of time (fouls / fatigue). Ilias Theodorou, the Tigers’ best three-point shooter, offers as a nice stretch four / wing option off the bench.
Despite losing Alec Kobre, the leading scorer last season and one of the best shooters in the country, Pacific projects to improve on their performance last year. Outside of Wallace and Bowles, this just simply isn’t a very talented team, but they’ll stay competitive in most WCC games thanks to their deep bench and experience. I think 10-11 wins and 4-5 wins in conference is a realistic outcome this season. Next year, look for the Tigers to make a jump in the conference standings in Stoudamire’s second season.
9. San Francisco
Key Returners: Ronnie Boyce III
Key Losses: Devin Watson, Tim Derkson, Uche Ofoegbu, Dont’e Reynolds
Key Newcomers: Jordan Ratinho, Jimbo Lull, Remu Raitanen, Charles Minlend
Postseason Projection: None
The Dons won 21 games in 2014, ranked 90th at season’s end per KenPom, and finished tied for second in the WCC. These were all significant achievements for a San Francisco program that has struggled to stay relevant in the modern era. The two seasons following 2014 under Rex Walters were major disappointments as the Dons finished well below their projected rank. This offseason, USF said goodbye to Walters, their coach for past 8 years, and said hello to former Columbia coach Kyle Smith. Smith inherits an inexperienced team, one that projects to finish in the bottom tier of the WCC in 2016-17. San Fran loses four starters from last year’s squad making Smith’s first year in the Bay Area a potentially rough one.
The only true impact player returning for the Dons is Ronnie Boyce, a 6’3’’ senior guard. Boyce is the definition of a gunner – he is every bit a volume shooter. Boyce attempted the 20th highest percentage of his team’s shots while on the floor last season, and his shot selection left much to be desired. More than once it was easy to see the frustration painted on Boyce’s teammates’ faces as the guard chucked up yet another ill-advised shot. Boyce shot 33% from downtown last year (he has awful form) and 43.9% from inside the arc – neither are good numbers, but he was good at protecting the rock and was a key driver in USF’s blazing tempo last season. The Dons were in the top 50 in initial FGA in transition thanks to graduated guard Devin Watson and Boyce. With a new point guard this year and a new philosophy under Kyle Smith (Columbia finished in the bottom 50 in the country in adjusted tempo the last four years). One thing’s for sure though, Boyce will shoot the ball a lot.
Watson averaged 20 points per game last season, played nearly every minute of every contest, and served as the team’s point guard. Replacing him will not be an easy task. If the Dons’ trip to Europe is any indication, sophomore point guard Frankie Ferrari (yes that’s somehow a real name) will be given the first opportunity at filling Watson’s shoes. Ferrari left USF last year to play ball at a Canadian college, but quickly transferred back. He was a big-time scorer and playmaker in high school and has a kickass name, so maybe he’ll be a serviceable PG in the WCC – if not maybe a porn star or something. Joining Ferrari and Boyce in the backcourt will be freshman Charles Minlend and returning junior wing Chase Foster. Like Ferrari, Minlend had a good stint over in Europe, and he was highly recruited coming out of high school. Minlend is a big, athletic shooting guard with a solid jumper and an arsenal of moves. He has a D1 ready body and could be USF’s best player before the year is over. Foster played about 18 minutes per game last year and was one of the Dons’ better outside shooting threats, converting on 35.5% of his 71 three-point attempts.
Up front, the Dons bring back skinny power forward Nate Renfro and add 7-footer Jimbo Lull. Renfro wasn’t really strong enough last season to make a huge impact as a freshman, but he’s added a few pounds this offseason, which is a step in the right direction. Despite being named Jimbo Lull, which is like the opposite of Frankie Ferrari, the 7-foot frosh has a ton of potential. He’ll serve as a traditional postman for Smith, and his height won’t hurt on the defensive end. Other impact freshmen to watch are 6’5’’ guard Jordan Ratinho, who could end up starting a few games this year, and 6’9’’ Swedish import Remu Raitanen. Mladen Djordjevic, a 6’3’’ sharpshooter, should also see a significant jump in minutes this season in the Don backcourt.
The Dons will be heavily reliant on freshmen and inexperienced sophomores this season, and there’s bound to be some growing pains as Smith implements his methodical offense to a squad that played up-and-down just a year ago. USF could be a strong program in a few seasons, but for now they’re a bottom tier squad in Gonzaga’s conference.
10. San Diego
Key Returners: Olin Carter III, Brett Bailey
Key Losses: Duda Sanadze, Vasa Pusica, Jito Kok, Marcus Harris
Key Newcomers: Jose Martinez, Nassir Barrino, Frank Ryder, Juwan Gray, Mark Carbone
Postseason Projection: None
San Diego was not a very good basketball last year folks. Despite pulling an absolutely shocking upset of cross-town rival San Diego State, the Toreros finished the year at a lowly 9-21 mark (4-14 in conference) and placed dead last in the WCC standings. USD’s putridness was due almost entirely to its lackadaisical offense, which ranked (by far) dead last in the conference and 331st overall in the country (that’s 20th worst). On defense, the Toreros were actually pretty decent, finishing 6th in the WCC in defensive efficiency. But again, offense – not so good. USD shot the 49th highest ratio of three-pointers in the country last season, but converted at only 29.2% (340th nationally). They were awful rebounding the ball on offense, they did not get to the free throw line, and they coughed up the ball consistently. All in all, the Toreros did literally nothing well on offense. Last season was Lamont Smith’s first as a head coach, and maybe the tough year was part of the growing pains. It probably didn’t help that USD’s best player, Duda Sanadze, shot 35% of their shots (7th in the country), but posted a horrid O-rating of 90.9 (he was a brick). With four major players (including Sanadze) gone from last year’s squad, five newcomers, and two more transfers set to take the court in 2017-18, Smith will look to prove he’s capable of improving this once solid program.
This will be a far different team offensively from last year with Sanadze, Vasa Pusica, and Jito Kok gone. Sophomore point guard Olin Carter III and senior forward Brett Bailey will be given the keys to the offense. Both guys were objectively awful on the offensive end last season, posting O-ratings below 90.0. Carter was actually the third best three-point shooter on the team with his 31.6% clip, but that still is not a number to strive for – nor is his 37.2% 2P%. In his freshman campaign, Carter played off the ball a lot, deferring to Pusica for most of the ball handling duties. This season should see Carter heavily involved in the ball handling area, with support from freshman Nassir Barrino and sophomore off-guard Tyler Williams. Bailey was a serviceable rebounder inside last year for the Toreros, but his attempts at being an outside wing threat fell flat – he shot 18.6% from downtown last season on 70 attempts. He actually has a really nice-looking stroke from outside, so that percentage is a bit of a head scratcher to me – his drives though are wild and out of control; he’ll need to reign in those types of attempts if the Toreros hope to improve on offense this season.
Two guys really flying under the radar who I think will both see a big jump in production are forwards Alex Floresca (6’8, So.) and Cameron Neubauer (6’7, Jr.). Floresca didn’t see a whole lot of time last season in the frontcourt, but he has major potential on the glass, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Now will he be able to compete with Gonzaga bigs? Hell no. But he’s a serviceable 6’8” forward due for a spike in minutes. Neubauer could be one of USD’s leading scorers this year. He’s the only Torero who finished with an O-rating over 100.0, and he’s BY FAR USD’s best shooter – converted 20/50 (40%) of his three-point attempts last year. He’s not a great defender, hence (probably) his lack of playing time – but my God, how bad does your offense have to be do get this guy on the floor? He’s a real nice option as a stretch four on the offensive side, perhaps he can tighten up his defense in 2016-17.
Coach Smith’s bench is literally all made up of freshman. Smith’s bench played the 33rd most minutes of any bench in the country last year, which may dip given the youth of this squad, but at least we know he’s capable of platooning shifts. USD has five frosh this season – I’m circling two in particular that could have a major impact on this roster. The first is Nassir Barrino, who by every account is one of the best leader’s you’ll find on a basketball court. Highlights of Barrino’s actual game were difficult to find, but I’ll take “strong floor leader” from my point guard, especially at USD, if I’m Coach Smith. Carter may end up playing 30 minutes a game, but expect Barrino to see some chances. The second big impact frosh is Juwan Gray, a 6’8’’ athletic wing out of Delaware. Gray is already the best athlete on this roster, he’s capable of dunking on anyone in traffic, and he has a nice jumper to go along with that verticality. He could start a few games for Smith this season at the 3. The other three newbies include two 6’10’’ posts in Frank Ryder and Jose Martinez, and a cocky young gunner named Mark Carbone. Ryder’s highlights are almost entirely him doing the “Shawn Bradley dunk” from Space Jam when the players get their powers back (that’s a barely jumping, not cool, two hand stuff). He’s strictly a post player, which USD actually could use off the pine. Martinez is actually the highest rated recruit of the bunch, but he’s still a very raw and skinny prospect. The big man is a stretch four/five capable of stepping out from distance. He may see some time, but figures to truly make an impact down the road. Finally, Carbone is a good shooter from the off-guard spot, but I don’t see how he contributes anything else at the D1 level with his size, strength, and speed combination.
The Toreros figure to be a basement dweller in the WCC once again this season. Smith did a good job on the defensive side of the ball last year with his team (interesting fact – USD allowed the 25th least amount of threes, but opponents hit a very high 36% of them), but the offense was dud-tastic. With this personnel, the offense likely improves ever so slightly, while the defense may fall off a tad with the loss of Kok, USD’s best defender.