By Kevin Sweeney
We have reached the final conference in the 32-part preview series, and while the West Coast Conference may be last, it is certainly not the least exciting. The yearly battles between Gonzaga and St. Mary’s for the WCC title have become must-see TV, as the two former mid-majors have become perennial national powerhouses. The addition of BYU in 2011 has made the league even more exciting, with the Cougars turning the WCC into a 3-horse race. The next challenge for the WCC is getting the rest of the conference to a higher level. The lack of depth in the conference has caused borderline NCAA Tournament teams, like St. Mary’s last season, to miss the tournament due to weak schedules. The conference is getting better every year, and I expect more growth this season.
- St. Mary’s
- Santa Clara
- Loyola Marymount
- San Francisco
- San Diego
Champions: St. Mary’s- St. Mary’s is not as talented as Gonzaga. However, they have one thing that the Zags don’t: experience. They return their top 9 scorers, including all 5 starters, from last season’s team that went 29-6 and just missed the NCAA Tournament. The Gaels will slow the game down, ranking 349th out 351 teams in possessions per game last season, but are one of the most efficient offenses in all of college basketball, ranking third in offensive efficiency. They also play excellent defense, allowing just over 60 points per game. Point guard Emmett Naar is the engine that makes the Gaels go, averaging more than 14 points and 6 assists per game last season. He will be playing with a chip on his shoulder, as he has flown under the radar thanks to the arrival of Nigel Williams-Goss at Gonzaga. Williams-Goss is an excellent player in his own right, but I think Naar is the perfect fit for the offense that the Gaels run and will put up even better numbers than he did a season ago. Expect the Gaels to get back to the NCAA Tournament this season and potentially be one of the top 15 teams in all of college basketball.
Dark Horse: Santa Clara- I don’t expect anyone to crack the top 3 other than BYU, Gonzaga, and St. Mary’s, but if one team can, it’s Santa Clara. First, they have the conference’s leading scorer from a season ago in Jared Brownridge, who put up over 20 points per game. Surrouding Brownridge is a returning core that includes K.J. Feagin, who averaged double figures in scoring as a freshman, and Nate Kratch, a veteran forward who contributed 8.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game last season. Feagin’s health will be a big question mark, as he is out indefinitely with a foot injury. Losing Feagin for the season would be a huge blow for the Broncos. The key will be surviving a 6-game conference stretch in late January during which the Broncos have games against BYU, Gonzaga, and two with Gonzaga. If they win 2 out of those 4 games, we will know that Santa Clara is for real.
Preseason First Team:
- F: Eric Mika-BYU
- G: Nigel-Wiliams-Goss-Gonzaga
- G: Emmett Naar-St. Mary’s
- G: Jared Brownridge-Santa Clara
- G: Nick Emery-BYU
Player of the Year: Nigel Williams-Goss- Williams-Goss sent shockwaves through college basketball 2 years ago when he elected to transfer from Washington after averaging 15.6 points and 5.9 assists per game in his sophomore campaign. The scariest part is that Williams-Goss put up those numbers despite making just 26% of his 3’s, a number he will likely improve thanks to work done during his redshirt year. At Gonzaga, he will look to do something he didn’t do in his first 2 seasons of college basketball: reach the NCAA Tournament. He certainly has more talent around him at Gonzaga than he did at Washington, with players like grad transfer guard Jordan Matthews (Cal), as well as former Missouri forward Jonathan Williams and McDonald’s All-American center Zach Collins joining returners like Przemek Karnowski and Josh Perkins. If Gonzaga is to reach their lofty expectations for this season, Williams-Goss must have a huge season.
Newcomer of the Year: Nigel Williams-Goss