Monday, October 31, 2005

West Coast Conference Preview


The West Coast Conference had an underrated regular season title race last season. Everyone knew about Gonzaga, but St. Mary's only finished one game back of them and split their regular season meetings. The rubber match occurred in the conference tournament, which Gonzaga won. In the NCAA Tournament, St. Mary's lost in the first round to Southern Illinois, while Gonzaga had another classic underachieving postseason, and was bounced in the second round by Texas Tech. A familiar face is at the top of the league again this season, while there is not another team that seems ready to take the potential second bid for the WCC.

Favorite: Gonzaga is the obvious frontrunner to win the league. They are a potential Final Four squad and are a near-consensus top six or seven team in the country. First-team All-American Adam Morrison leads the way. He has the best mid-range game that has come through the college ranks in years. He is not a great three-point shooter, but he has unbelievable scoring talent. Point guard Derek Raivio is one of the best point guards in the country, yet he is underrated and overshadowed by Morrison and co. He is a very good distributor and an excellent three-point shooter. His backcourt partner is Erroll Knight, a lockdown defender. He uses his athleticism to finish in transition and grab rebounds. Down low is all-conference candidate JP Batista. He is a load to stop on the low block, and can develop into one of the better back-to-the-basket players in the country. Returnee Sean Mallon, who lost his starting job midway through last season, and freshman Josh Heytvelt will battle for the power forward position. A glut of guards provide depth on the perimeter, including returnees David Pendergraft, Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes, Nathan Doudney and freshman Jeremy Pargo.

Contenders: Portland had a disappointing seventh place finish last season, but could make some noise this season. Pooh Jeter is an all-conference performer, and can carry the Pilots due to his versatile offensive game. Darren Cooper could develop into an all-WCC player by the end of the season. He and Jeter form one of the conference's best backcourts. Donald Wilson returns on the wing, and is a good defender. 5-6 Jeremiah Dominguez provides depth. Up front, Marcus Lewis could have a huge year in the starting five after coming off the bench last season. 6-10 Ben Sullivan is a good low-post player, while Oregon State transfer Kevin Field could push for a starting job. St. Mary's has the league's second best player in forward Daniel Kickert. He is one of the best inside-outside players in the country, with his ability to score in the post and shoot the three. Not much else returns, though. Two seven-footers should hold down the center position. Reda Rhalimi saw increased minutes down the stretch, and Blake Sholberg is a good defender. Several newcomers are expected to make an impact in the backcourt. Wayne Hunter will start at the point, while UNLV transfer John Winston will compete for minutes. Returning junior Brett Collins is a good scorer who will start on the wing.

Sleepers: San Diego loses a couple of very good forwards, but returns center Nick Lewis. He can shoot the three with the touch of a guard, and should be able to score some points down low this season. Michael Shepherd will join him in the frontcourt. The perimeter group is deep and talented. Floyd North is a good scorer and could have a big year in the points department. Michael Hubbard also returns on the wing. Corey Belser is one of the better defenders in the country, and can lock down some of the best players in the league. Freshman Brandon Johnson is expected to start at the point. San Francisco lost three starters, including two all-conference caliber players. They still have a good backcourt in hand, however. Jerome Gumbs could have a huge year on the wing. He is an athletic player that will be the unquestioned leader of the team. Next to him will be Miami transfer Armando Surratt, who started for two years with the Hurricanes before transferring. He is an excellent distibutor and is very quick. Johnny Dukes should get the nod at small forward. Down low, returning starter Alan Wiggins is a solid scorer and rebounder, while Northern Iowa transfer Vince Polakovic and senior Jason Carter will also play lots of minutes in the paint.

Rounding Out the Pack: Loyola Marymount would have been a legit sleeper pick in this conference had their best player, Matthew Knight, not tore his ACL in the summer. He is gone for the season. With him out, athletic forwards Daryl Pegram and Dustin Brown will have to take on bigger roles up front. John Haywood and Chris Ayer will also see more minutes. That quartet is going to have to step up their production this season after being role players a year ago. In the backcourt, Brandon Worthy, an all-conference candidate, is back. He is a solid all-around player that can score and distribute. Wes Wardrop joins him on the perimeter. He is a very good defender and shooter. Damian Martin played well at the point a year ago, while wings Adoyah Evans-Miller and Jon Ziri will also play major roles. Santa Clara has an all-WCC player in forward Travis Niesen. He is the Broncos' go-to-guy that is also a very tough competitor. Forward Tristan Parham and center Sean Denison will start beside Niesen on the baseline. Denison is a big body in the middle, while Parham is a versatile and effective player. Brody Angley returns in the backcourt after starting 22 games a season ago. He is a decent distributor that should improve his production with more minutes. Brandon Rohe will start on the wing after missing last season with a back injury. Several newcomers will provide depth. Pepperdine loses their top three players from last season, and they all just happened to be studs in the frontcourt. The backcourt should be in good hands, however. 5-7 Kingsley Costain is a good shooter and can run the team well. Marvin Lea and Chase Griffin will also see time in the backcourt. Freshman Gregg Barlow could see immediate time at the 2-guard. He is a very good scorer. In the frontcourt, 7-foot Russell Hicks will lead the way. He is an excellent shot blocker, and could become one of the best big men in the conference. Jarrad Henry and Derick Grubb will need to step their production up from last season.

Prediction: Gonzaga will win the regular season title as well as the conference tournament. They have a chance to go undefeated in conference play, although it's doubtful that it will actually happen. In addition, it's unlikely that the WCC will repeat their two-bid season of a year ago. No other team is anywhere close to Gonzaga in this league. Portland has the personnel to make some noise, but they are light years behind the Bulldogs. St. Mary's will likely be in the thick of things late in the season. Expect a heated fight for second place in the West Coast Conference.

Player of the Year: Adam Morrison, SF, Gonzaga

All-Conference Team:
G- Derek Raivio, Gonzaga
G- Pooh Jeter, Portland
F- Adam Morrison, Gonzaga
F- Daniel Kickert, St. Mary's
C- JP Batista, Gonzaga

Second Team:
G- Brandon Worthy, Loyola Marymount
G- Darren Cooper, Portland
G- Jerome Gumbs, San Francisco
F- Travis Niesen, Santa Clara
C- Nick Lewis, San Diego

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