Tuesday, September 24, 2013

32 In 32: West Coast Conference

Owner of one of sweetest shots in nation, Kevin Pangos is set for another impressive season as Gonzaga's point guard. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Our second of two "32 In 32" previews tonight breaks down the first of the top four mid-major conferences in the nation, that being the West Coast Conference. Long occupying a spot among our favorite leagues for its unique brand of basketball and midnight tipoffs, at least here at Daly Dose headquarters in New York, the West Coast opens its doors to a tenth member this season, with Pacific making the jump from the Big West Conference, which; coincidentally, received its preview just over an hour ago. Here's what the field looks like after we peered into our crystal ball:

1) Gonzaga - Not surprisingly, the Bulldogs are once again the favorite to emerge from the WCC as the automatic bid owners in March's NCAA Tournament. However, Mark Few's Zags will undergo a personnel makeover of sorts, as Elias Harris has graduated and Kelly Olynyk will star for Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics. Amid all the departures and arrivals, Kevin Pangos is back to run the show at the point guard position, and the Canadian junior will have yet another standout season as Gary Bell returns for his third year alongside Pangos' sweet shooting and pure passing skills. David Stockton, whose father John played for the Bulldogs before starting his Hall of Fame NBA career with the Utah Jazz, returns for his final go-round in Spokane to add depth to the backcourt. Big man Sam Dower will look to finally break out and be the offensive force many predicted he would be as he enters his senior year, and he gets help up front with the addition of Louisville transfer Angel Nunez as he enters his sophomore season. Replacing Harris will be Providence expatriate Gerard Coleman, a left-handed swingman who can score and rebound in equal parts, and a player who will instantly become a fan favorite.

2) Brigham Young - Dave Rose basically gets a new recruit with the return of sophomore swingman Kyle Collinsworth, who spent the last two years on his Mormon mission after spending his freshman season as part of the supporting cast behind Jimmer Fredette while the Cougars went to the Sweet 16. BYU welcomes UCLA castoff Matt Carlino back for his junior year at point guard, and with Matthew Dellavedova having graduated, Carlino will challenge Kevin Pangos for the title of best point guard in the WCC. Tyler Haws will join Collinsworth and Carlino in the backcourt, but size will be a major concern for the Cougars as Utah transfer Josh Sharp and 6-11 junior Nate Austin continue to develop in the paint.

3) Saint Mary's - The aforementioned Matthew Dellavedova finally departs Moraga after spending four years as one of the most prolific passers in the nation. This year, Randy Bennett will likely look to sophomore Jordan Giusti to fill the unenviable task of replacing the Australian legend after Giusti had an assist to turnover ratio of more than 2:1 off the bench as a freshman last season. Seniors Beau Levesque and Stephen Holt will form a potent inside/outside scoring duo for the Gaels, with senior guard James Walker III providing a possible X-factor on the wing after connecting at a 41 percent clip from three-point range a year ago.

4) San Francisco - Best known for being the alma mater of Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, the Dons come back as a solid postseason threat under Rex Walters, most likely in either the NIT or CBI. In terms of guard/forward tandems, seniors Cody Doolin and Cole Dickerson are as good as it gets, and Doolin in particular was responsible for USF's big nonconference win against St. John's last December from the point, while Dickerson just missed averaging a double-double per game. San Francisco is also one of the deadliest long range shooting teams in the nation, as each of the Dons' top six scorers last season shot 40 percent or better from beyond the arc, including sophomore guard Avry Holmes, who connected at a 47 percent clip to lead the team.

5) San Diego - Still looking to return to their 2008 form, when they upset Jim Calhoun and UConn in the NCAA Tournament, the Toreros have perhaps their best postseason hopes since that dramatic upset five years ago. Junior shooting guard Johnny Dee, San Diego's leading scorer last season, brings his fifteen points per game back to Bill Grier's backcourt alongside 5-7 dynamo Chris Anderson, who averaged nearly six assists per game at the point guard position last year. With Chris Manresa no longer around, rebounding becomes a major concern for the Toreros, and one in which 6-11 senior Dennis Kramer hopes to remedy. Casual fans will recognize redshirt freshman Jordan Bickerstaff as soon as they see his name by virtue of longtime NBA coach and general manager Bernie being his grandfather.

6) Loyola Marymount - The Lions are one of many WCC teams with NBA lineage, and like Gonzaga, theirs is in the form of a guard with a Hall of Famer for a father, this being freshman Chris Mullin Jr. In addition to the son of the Golden State Warriors legend, senior shooting guard Anthony Ireland returns after averaging twenty points per game a year ago. The Loyola front line is deceptively strong, with Ayodeji Egbeyemi and Alex Osborne returning to the wing and power forward positions, respectively. Sophomore forward C.J. Blackwell returns as a redshirt sophomore after being limited to just seven games last year.

7) Pacific - Making the jump from the Big West, the Tigers have a new coach in their new conference, as longtime assistant coach Ron Verlin moves one chair over on the bench following the retirement of Bob Thomason. With both of Pacific's leading scorers having graduated, senior guard Sama Taku becomes the center of attention in Stockton, with forwards Ross Rivera and Tony Gill providing some much-needed frontcourt stability.

8) Santa Clara - The alma mater of former NBA MVP Steve Nash, the Broncos must prepare for life without their superstar point guard and power forward now that Kevin Foster and Marc Trasolini have graduated. The good news for coach Kerry Keating is that Evan Roquemore is still around for one more year as Santa Clara's shooting guard and primary option from three-point range. Junior guard Brandon Clark will step into Foster's point guard role after coming off the bench last season, while Cameroon import Yannick Atanga attempts to replace Trasolini.

9) Portland - Burgeoning big man Ryan Nicholas could average a double-double with all the right breaks, but sadly, Eric Reveno only has him for one more year as the Pilots try to move up the ladder in the WCC. Guards Kevin Bailey and Tanner Riley anchor the backcourt for Portland while 6-11 Dutchman Thomas van der Mars joins Nicholas up front as he enters his junior season.

10) Pepperdine - Sophomore forward Stacy Davis will be given the lion's share of touches inside for Marty Wilson and the Waves, with sophomore Jett Raines chipping in on the wing. Guard play will be a major concern for Pepperdine this year, especially with no clear successor to Jordan Baker and Caleb Willis at the point, but sharpshooting Norwegian Nikolas Skouen; who shot threes at a 46 percent clip last season, will try to close the gap one shot at a time.

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