By Kevin Sweeney
Today concludes our 32×32 preview series! 32 conferences, 353 teams, and over 50,000 words later, on the pages of this site is all you need to know to get ready for the season! Thanks to all who have supported my work this month, and I can’t wait to get things underway this season!
We wrap things up with the WCC, which features arguably the best team in college basketball. However, the bigger storyline for me is the improving depth of the conference, which continues to develop itself to be more than just Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, and BYU.
Even with the Killian Tillie injury, the Zags are legit national title contenders. Adding Geno Crandall solidifies the point guard position next to Josh Perkins, and the Bulldogs are so deep up front. Tillie’s injury and a tough non-conference schedule probably makes an undefeated season not in the cards, but the talent this team has is limitless.
#2. Saint Mary’s
This is a new-look SMC club in the post-Jock Landale era. The Gaels will now rely much more on their backcourt, chiefly Jordan Ford. Ford exploded onto the scene late last season, and is poised to averaged 20+ points per game in 2018-19. Add in South Florida transfer Malik Fitts in the frontcourt with Seattle grad transfer Aaron Menzies and highly-touted freshman Matthias Tass, and this team should be strong again.
Elijah Bryant was one of the most underrated players in the country last season, a hyper-efficient 3-level scorer who flirted with a 50/40/90 season last season. Losing him early to the pro ranks was a crusher for a BYU program that could have contended for an at-large bid otherwise, but this team still has the pieces to make noise. Dave Rose gets Nick Emery back to pair with TJ Haws in the backcourt, and the Cougars still have an elite big in Yoeli Childs.
#4. San Francisco
I’m bullish on this USF team this season, as Kyle Smith gets high-level guard Charles Minlend back into the mix with Frankie Ferrari and Jordan Ratinho already in the mix. Smith also adds in Belarusian big man Dmitry Ryuny, who posted absurd numbers in the FIBA U18 Euros this summer. The Dons can shoot the ball, and slowly keep adding talent to the mix. This is definitely a program on the rise in the WCC.
Adding Jahlil Tripp to the mix changed the game for Damon Stoudamire’s group, a versatile combo-wing who rebounds like a big man and passes like a point guard. Tripp is deployed as a small-ball 4 in most lineups for Stoudamire, paired with 3 guards who can really score the basketball. NDSU transfer Khy Kabellis provides more shooting and scoring punch for the Tigers. JUCO big man Amari McCray could change the game for this group– if he can live up to his recruiting billing the Tigers could be in the mix for an NIT berth.
#6. San Diego
Sam Scholl takes over for Lamont Smith after Smith was forced out in the wake of legal troubles. He’ll look to continue the momentum that Smith was building with the Toreros, who are coming off their first 20-win season in 10 years. The depth with this team isn’t quite there, but the trio of Isaiah Wright, Isaiah Pineiro, and Olin Carter is tough to beat. This USD team should win a few games they shouldn’t.
#7. Santa Clara
An impressive incoming group for Herb Sendek will define his tenure at SCU, and Sendek has a star in KJ Feagin who should help bridge the gap. He’ll pair with Matt Hauser and SEMO transfer Tahj Eaddy for a pretty impressive backcourt, and if sophomore Josip Vrankic can take the next step the Broncos have a chance to surprise.
Combining Lorenzo Romar’s elite recruiting prowess with Pepperdine’s beautiful Malibu campus is bad news for mid- and high-major programs across the west coast. Romar already has made his mark in his transition class by landing Kessler Edwards and Andre Ball, a pair of potential building blocks next to existing stars Colbey Ross and Kameron Edwards. Once Romar adds a pair of high-impact transfer forwards into the mix in MJ Cage and Keith Smith next year, watch out.
#9. Loyola Marymount
Mike Dunlap enters the season on the hot seat at LMU, and the 9th place finish I’m projecting probably isn’t enough for him to keep his job. The Lions were inefficient on offense last season, but they do bring back a pair of high-level players in James Batemon and Eli Scott who have the talent to push this club into the league’s middle tier.
Terry Porter hasn’t been able to build much momentum as he enters year 3 as the head coach in the city he played pro basketball. He has a building block in sophomore guard Marcus Shaver, who is on an all-conference trajectory. However, Porter has to recruit more talent and fix the team’s woeful rebounding in order to move up the standings.
All-Conference First Team:
- Jordan Ford– Saint Mary’s (11.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.6 apg, .508/.443/.754)
- Zach Norvell– Gonzaga (12.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.3 apg, .456/.370/.800)
- Rui Hachimura– Gonzaga (11.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 0.6 apg, .568/.192/.795)
- Killian Tillie– Gonzaga (12.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.7 apg, .580/.479/.773)
- Yoeli Childs– BYU (17.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.2 apg, .541/.313/.643)
Player of the Year: Jordan Ford (Saint Mary’s)
Ford is going to go off this season. The dynamic scoring guard has been putting up monster numbers all preseason, posting 43 in a secret scrimmage against Stanford in October. The biggest question is whether he moves back over to point guard or if he’ll continue to play in a pure scoring role next to talented redshirt freshman Kristers Zoriks.
Breakout Player: Ford
Ford going from not making an all-WCC team to Player of the Year would classify as a breakout for me. I expect him to average 20+ points per game for the Gaels.
Newcomer of the Year: Brandon Clarke (Gonzaga)
Clarke’s athleticism from the forward position will be a major asset to this Gonzaga team. Reports have raved about Clarke this offseason, and he should provide outstanding defense and versatility for this group. If he has improved as a shooter during his redshirt year, he’s a clear NBA prospect.