Friday, October 20, 2006

West Coast Conference Preview


Like the Patriot League and the Atlantic-10, the West Coast Conference featured an undefeated league champion. In the WCC's case, it was Gonzaga. The Bulldogs finished the conference season at 14-0, and they won the league by a shocking six games. None of the other teams ever gave the Zags a scare in the standings, but they had some tough games on the court. They had six games decided by single-digits and a few were by one basket or less. The conference tournament mirrored the regular season. The games were decided by an average of 4.6 points per game, and no contest from the quarterfinals on was decided by more than four points. Gonzaga escaped San Diego in the semi-finals in overtime by four, and then won the automatic bid in the title game by defeating Loyola Marymount on a missed lay-up at the buzzer by the Lions. In the NCAA Tournament, Gonzaga beat Xavier and Indiana in the first two rounds, before falling in a heart-breaking loss to UCLA in which the Bulldogs blew a nine-point lead with just three minutes left. This year, Gonzaga looks to be the favorite again, but without Adam Morrison and J.P. Batista, the WCC title could be ripe for the picking.

Favorite: Gonzaga will not be as good as last season, when they went 27-3 overall, ran through the West Coast Conference undefeated, and received a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, the Bulldogs are still good enough to win the conference and be a Sweet Sixteen contender come March. First, though, they need to find a way to replace Adam Morrison and J.P. Batista. While Morrison's production and confidence are impossible to replace, Mark Few has several options for who will step in on the wing. Kansas transfer Micah Downs becomes eligible in December and could be a big-time contributor. He is an excellent shooter and is a solid passer. Returnees David Pendergraft and Larry Gurganious will also see plenty of time at small forward. Pendergraft has a non-stop motor and is a key role player, while Gurganious is a very good defender. Down low, Few also has a couple of players that can step in for Batista. Sophomore Josh Heytvelt was a highly-touted big man coming out of high school, but injuries slowed his development last season. However, this season Heytvelt could be poised for a breakout season. BYU transfer David Burgess is a space-eater who will provide solid rebounding and a good inside presence. Sean Mallon also returns as the starter at power forward up front. He is efficient scoring the ball and is a good rebounder. In the backcourt, Derek Raivio leads the way. He is an excellent three-point shooter who needs to regain the confidence he had as a sophomore. Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes is back at the two-guard spot. He is a solid all-around player. Sophomore Jeremy Pargo, an explosive guard with loads of potential, and freshman Matt Bouldin will also compete for minutes in the backcourt.

Contenders: Loyola Marymount, after losing by one in the conference tournament title game to Gonzaga last season, could be ready to challenge the Bulldogs in the championship race this year. The Lions return the league's best inside-outside combo in guard Brandon Worthy and big man Matthew Knight. Worthy is very difficult to stop driving to the basket and also has very quick hands on the defensive end. He is a solid distributor as well. Knight is a beast in the paint. He led the conference in rebounding last season and had 17 double-doubles. The Player of the Year candidate has a variety of scoring moves in the post and is a threat to average 20 and 10 this season. The third returning starter for LMU is guard Jon Ziri. He is a solid all-around player who might come off the bench this season. Senior Adoyah Evans-Miller and freshman Brad Sweezy will fight for time at the small forward spot. Manning the point will be junior Damian Martin, who missed all of last season with a ruptured Achilles' tendon. He is an excellent passer who needs to improve his scoring. Joining Knight up front will be a group of freshmen expected to fight for a starting job. 7-footer Max Craig is a decent big man who can block shots; Terron Sutton is a good all-around performer; and Mason Maynard is extremely athletic. San Francisco finished a disappointing 11-17 last season, but they should improve on their fourth-place finish with the return of three starters and the influx of a couple of impact transfers. Guard Armondo Surratt and forward Alan Wiggins are both all-conference players who give Worthy and Knight and a run for the honor of "best inside-outside combo" in the WCC. Surratt was a first-team all-conference player last season after emerging as the league's best point guard. He is a very good passer and playmaker who uses his quickness to create opportunities for him and his teammates. Wiggins was one of the best rebounders and shot-blockers in the conference. The versatile senior is also a very good scorer up front. Starting next to Wiggins down low will be Johnny Dukes, who missed all but two games last season due to injury. He is a good all-around who can play anywhere in the frontcourt. Vince Polakovic will also see time down low. Junior Danny Cavic, a part-time starter last season, and freshman Jay Watkins will fight for minutes at small forward. In addition to Surratt in the backcourt, two transfers are expected to make an immediate impact. Manny Quezada (Rutgers) and Antonio Kellogg (Connecticut) form the backcourt of the future for the Dons. Quezada is a good shooter, while Kellogg is very quick and can play both guard spots.

Sleepers: Saint Mary's finished in second last season behind Gonzaga, but return four starters from a team that went 17-12 overall. The one starter missing is all-conference forward Daniel Kickert, but the Gaels still have enough talent to push for a league title. They are led by arguably the best frontcourt in the conference. Brett Collins is a powerful forward who plays a lot bigger than his 6-5 size. He can play either forward spot and could be poised for a breakout season. Another forward with a chance to have a huge year is sophomore Diamon Simpson. He is a good scorer and rebounder who will improve his production with increased minutes. Ian O'Leary also returns up front. He is versatile and is a solid all-around player. 7-1 senior Blake Sholberg and transfer Yusef Smith will see plenty of minutes. On the perimeter, John Winston and Todd Golden return as the starters. Winston is a good distributor and scorer, while Golden can do a little bit of everything. Wayne Hunter is a versatile role player, while JC transfer Tron Smith is expected to make an immediate impact. San Diego had the second-best overall record in the WCC last season, but only finished fifth in the league standings. One of the better backcourts in the conference leads the way for the Toreros. Senior Ross DeRogatis can do nearly everything on the court. He is an excellent shooter and a solid distributor who can play both guard spots. Sophomore Brandon Johnson could be one of the best players in the conference by the time his career ends. He is very quick and is a good scorer who is an excellent passer. Sophomores Ray Murdock and Danny Brown round out the perimeter group. Up front, Gyno Pomare leads the way. He had a very impressive freshman season and could be an all-conference candidate this season with his scoring and rebounding ability. Nir Cohen is a solid forward who is a good defender and nice inside-outside option offensively. Santa Clara tied for next-to-last in the conference last season, but the Broncos return four starters and have a lot of talent and depth on the roster. Point guard Brody Angley is the key player in the backcourt. He is one of the best passers in the conference and finished second in assists last year, but he needs to become more of an offensive option. Brandon Rohe and Calvin Johnson will fight for the two-guard spot. Both are decent scorers. Eastern Washington transfer Danny Pariseau and senior Joey Kaemp provide depth on the perimeter. Up front, center John Bryant has the potential to become a dominant center in the WCC. He has excellent size and has shown flashes of his talent. If he becomes more consistent, the Broncos could be a contender. Forwards Sean Denison and Mitch Henke return at the forward positions. Denison has a versatile offensive game and Henke is a good all-around player. Tristan Parham and Scott Dougherty will also see minutes, as will freshman Cedric Latimer.

Rounding Out the Pack: Pepperdine is looking to return to their usual form after last year's abysmal 7-20 season, finishing last in the conference. Prior to that, the Waves were an annual contender in the WCC. New coach Vance Walberg, known for his high-scoring, up-tempo teams, adds optimism to the program. Michael Gerrity will likely be the go-to-guy. The 6-0 sophomore is one of the best scorers in the conference and is also a very good passer and defender. Joining him on the perimeter will be Marvin Lea and Chase Griffin, two seniors who will be expected to improve their production. Moreover, Tomas Prancilauskas is a solid three-point shooter, while Kinglsey Costain and Gregg Barlow will see increased minutes after playing well last season. Up front, Willie Galick returns as the starter down low. He is a solid scorer and rebounder who will have to become more of a go-to-player. Chris Oakes and Jarrad Henry will fight for minutes in the paint. Portland, after winning 15 games two seasons ago, returned to their usual ways with a disappointing 11-18 year in which they finished next-to-last in the conference. One player that will help them is Darren Cooper, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. He is one of the best all-around players in the conference. He is a big-time scorer and is an excellent three-point shooter. 5-6 Jeremiah Dominguez and freshman Taishi Ito are expected to compete for the starting point guard job. Up front, Kevin Field and Ben Sullivan will start down low. Both provide the Pilots with excellent size and solid rebounding and scoring. Alex Tiefenthaler and freshman Robin Smeulders will see time off the bench. Sherrard Watson and freshman Ethan Neidermeyer will fight for minutes on the wing at the small forward position.

Prediction: Obviously, the West Coast is going to be more wide-open that it was last year. However, Gonzaga is still the team to beat. While they lose Adam Morrison and J.P. Batista, the Bulldogs return three starters and a host of role players, and they also bring in two impact transfers. They will be very deep and talented, and Mark Few will insure that they don't fall too far. Loyola Marymount will give them a run, though. Matthew Knight is the best big man in the conference, while Brandon Worthy is one of the top guards in the WCC. They almost knocked off Gonzaga in the conference tournament last season, and might take the next step this year. Until someone actually beats the Gonzaga, Derek Raivio and the rest of the new-look Bulldogs have to remain the favorite. Don't overlook the Zags this season. They won't fall very far.

Player of the Year: Matthew Knight, PF, Loyola Marymount

All-Conference Team:
G- Derek Raivio, Gonzaga
G- Brandon Worthy, Loyola Marymount
G- Armondo Surrat, San Francisco
F- Alan Wiggins, San Francisco
F- Matthew Knight, Loyola Marymount

Second Team:
G- Michael Gerrity, Pepperdine
G- Darren Cooper, Portland
G- Ross DeRogatis, San Diego
F- Diamon Simpson, Saint Mary's
F- Josh Heytvelt, Gonzaga

1 comment:

  1. So far, LMU and USF haven't looked too good. LMU posted less then 40 points against Miss State in a blowout. USF hasn't looked like a "contender" either.

    St Marys is the legit #2 team in this league. A real sleeper player has emerged with Omar Samham the freshmen center. Leading scorer on both team in two games now. Tron Smith has shown good flashes as well and Brett Collins and D. Simpson are stepping up. It's a great young team with a bright future (3 top Auzy players from Kickert's legague will be eligable next year for SMC).