2009-2010 West Coast Conference Basketball Preview
The West Coast Conference is comprised of eight teams. The most prominent and well know of the bunch are the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Zags more times than not win the conference title and make a trip to the NCAA Tournament where they are often considered to be the dark horse club of the Big Dance.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs (28- 6 overall, 14- 0 WCC) took the conference crown last season and made another trip to the NCAA Tournament where they were defeated in the regional semifinals 98- 77 by North Carolina.
Gonzaga led the league in scoring offense (78.9 PPG), field goal percentage (.488) and free throws (.715). They were second in scoring defense (63.0 PPG) and three-point field goals (.394). Finally, the Zags were third in rebound margin (plus-2.7). Those stats equal a dominant first-place team. The team was perfect in league play.
The frontcourt will miss the play of forward Micah Downs, center Josh Heytvelt and forward Austin Daye. The three combined for 37.2 PPG, and 17.9 RPG. Seven-foot center Robert Sacre (3.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG), a sophomore, will try to step up. He’s talented and big but suffered an injury last year and sat out most of the season. If Sacre can become a defensive force this year, that will be a huge help. There is a slew of incoming players who will be tested upfront. Six-foot-eleven redshirted freshman Andy Poling will certainly see playing time in the front.
The backcourt offers depth, experience and point production. Senior Matt Bouldin (13.6 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.4 APG) comes to the court as a three-year starter. He can play either the point or two spot. Bouldin, who was All-WCC last season, has scored in double figures 25 times. He’s a premium passer and a 49% shooter. Junior Steven Gray (9.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.1 APG) came off the bench last season and was able to contribute mightily. He hit threes at the rate of 36%. There’s fine backup coming off the bench.
Coach Mark Few will need to figure out the frontcourt situation. The Zags may have a tough time at the start of the season as their non-conference schedule is tough. But by the time they get into league play chances are they will be in good stead. The backcourt could carry the day for awhile but not for the entire season.
If there’s a team that might finally beat the Gonzaga stranglehold on the WCC, it’s the Portland Pilots (19- 13 overall, 9- 5 WCC). The Pilots, who finished third last season, feature five experienced seniors, including dynamic guard T.J. Campbell. The point man averaged 4.72 APG and 11.1 PPG. He hit 53% of his threes. Junior guard Jared Stohl knocked in 46% of his threes. Shooting guard Nik Raivio was good for 16.0 PPG and 6.5 RPG. If the backcourt is deep and productive, the frontcourt has muscle and size. The best are six-foot-ten senior Robin Smeulders and six-foot-nine junior Kramer Knutson. This could be the year that the Zags fall.
The San Diego Toreros (16- 16 overall, 6- 8 WCC) are happy to have Brandon Johnson back from his Achilles tendon injury. As a junior he averaged 16.9 PPG and 3.5 APG. Johnson is this team’s primary weapon as the Toreros have lost numerous key players. However, senior guard De’Jon Jackson (8.9 PPG) and junior wing Matt Dorr (6.5 PPG) offer experience along with junior college transfer Rafael Crescencio. They are a third-place club.
The Saint Mary’s Gaels (28- 7 overall, 10- 4 WCC) have lost a wealth of important players and will attempt to make the most out of it under eight-year head coach Randy Bennett. The premier returning player is six-foot-eleven center Omar Samhan. Samhan averaged 14.1 PPG and 9.4 RPG. There’s a triad of frosh who could be important players.
The Santa Clara Broncos (16- 17 overall, 7- 7 WCC) are without top scorer and WCC Player of the Year John Bryant but they will put All-WCC Freshmen Team members Kevin Foster and Marc Trasolini on the court. Foster averaged 14.9 PPG and 2.5 APG and Trasolini had 6.8 PPG and 4.8 RPG. The team will be challenged this season.
It looks like the Pepperdine Waves (9- 23 overall, 5- 9 WCC) will finish sixth like they did last season. Coached by Tom Asbury, the Waves with a primarily frosh roster managed five WCC wins last season. Now the team is mainly made up of sophomores with a year of experience. No, they won’t take the league by storm, but they will garner more experience and next year could move up in the standings.
The San Francisco Dons (11- 19 overall, 3- 11 WCC) and Loyola Marymount Lions (3- 28 overall, 2- 12 WCC) finished eighth and ninth respectively last season. They will probably both finish in the same positions this year.
Second-year coach Rex Walters has bulked up the frontcourt with freshmen Tomas Bruha, Perris Blackwell and Nikola Stojilkovic. The trio will garner playing time with returning All-WCC forward Dior Lowhorn, who was tops in the league in scoring with 20.1 PPG. However, the Dons’ backcourt has suffered major loses, especially at the point.
Max Good starts his first full year as the Loyola Marymount Lions’ head coach. He took over during the midpoint of last season as coach Bill Bayno left for health reasons. It was a tough season for the Lions but there’s hope as many of the young players return experienced and more skilled. It will take a few years for this team to get out of the cellar.
The WCC comes down to the Zags versus everyone else. This season it falls to Portland to try to bring down the all-powerful Gonzaga Bulldogs.
2009-2010 West Coast Conference Basketball Predictions
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs
2. Portland Pilots
3. San Diego Toreros
4. Saint Mary’s Gaels
5. Santa Clara Broncos
6. Pepperdine Waves
7. San Francisco Dons
8. Loyola Marymount Lions