2014-15 Season Preview: Who is Gonzaga’s biggest threat in the WCC?
Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
After seeing their streak of 11 straight WCC regular season titles (shared or outright) come to an end in 2011-12, Mark Few’s Gonzaga Bulldogs have won the last two conference titles. And given the talent that’s in Spokane, the expectation in the WCC is that the Bulldogs will extend their new streak to three in 2014-15. But to think that Gonzaga won’t be challenged at all in the WCC would be a mistake, with there being multiple teams capable of running with Bulldogs, including BYU, San Francisco and Saint Mary’s. In recent years the WCC has developed into a conference that will receive multiple NCAA tournament bids, and that should once again be the case in 2014-15.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. Just one coaching change in the WCC: Only one program changed coaches at the end of last season, with alumnus and experienced coach Mike Dunlap replacing Max Good at Loyola Marymount. Dunlap has experience as a head coach at both the Division I, filling in for Steve Lavin at St. John’s, and NBA levels. But this job sets up to be a difficult one, with Anthony Ireland out of eligibility and WCC All-Freshman Team selection Gabe Levin deciding to transfer.
2. Kyle Collinsworth returns from a torn ACL: One of the biggest pre-NCAA tournament storylines in March was BYU’s loss of Collinsworth, who suffered a torn ACL in the WCC title game against Gonzaga. BYU was still in the field of 68 but they were without their best playmaker in the loss to Oregon. How close to 100 percent is Collinsworth? That’s the key question entering this season as BYU looks to dethrone Gonzaga, even with this potentially being Dave Rose’s deepest teams.
3. Gonzaga returns three starters, and they add some very good pieces as well: The Bulldogs’ most important personnel loss was center Sam Dower, but they’ve got more than enough talent to account for his graduation. Guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. return for their senior season, and they’ll be joined by newcomers such as USC transfer Byron Wesley, Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan (eligible in January) and freshmen Josh Perkins and Silas Melson. As for the front court, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis pair up with starting big man Przemek Karnowski. Depth, talent, experience...Gonzaga has it all.
4. Nine of the league’s top ten scorers return: The only loss in this area is Loyola Marymount PG Anthony Ireland, who finished the season second in the WCC in scoring. Tyler Haws leads the way amongst WCC returning scorers, as he averaged 23.2 ppg last season, and Santa Clara guards Jared Brownridge (17.2 ppg) and Brandon Clark (16.9) were the highest-scoring tandem in the conference.
5. Transfers will have an significant impact on the conference title race: Given Gonzaga’s stature this goes without saying, with Wesley and Wiltjer both factoring into the rotation for Mark Few. But they aren’t the only contender looking to transfers for production. BYU will have Chase Fischer (Wake Forest) competing for minutes in a deep backcourt, and Saint Mary’s will expect significant contributions from Joe Coleman (Minnesota), Aaron Bright (Stanford) and Desmond Simmons (Washington).
PRESEASON WCC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Haws, BYU
In the two seasons since he’s returned from his LDS mission, Haws has established himself as one of the nation’s best shooters (and scorers). Last season Haws accounted for 23.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, shooting 46.3% from the field, 40.4% from three and 88.1% from the foul line. Having won WCC Player of the Year honors last season, it would come as no surprise if Haws repeated that feat as a senior.
THE REST OF THE ALL-WCC FIRST TEAM:
- Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: One of the nation’s best shooters, Pangos averaged 14.4 points, 3.6 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game as a junior.
- Stacy Davis, Pepperdine: Davis averaged 15.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in WCC play, earning first team All-WCC honors.
- Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s: Waldow’s been a mainstay in Moraga the last couple of years, and as a junior he shot 56.5% from the field and posted eight double-doubles.
- Jared Brownridge, Santa Clara: Brownridge was one of the most productive freshmen in the nation in 2013-14, averaging 17.2 points per game and winning WCC Newcomer of the Year honors.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
- Kyle Collinsworth, BYU
- Kruize Pinkins, San Francisco
- Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
- Jeremy Major, Pepperdine
- Johnny Dee, San Diego
BREAKOUT STAR: Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
The name is well-known based upon his time at Kentucky, but Wiltjer’s role will be far different in his first season as a Bulldog. Wiltjer will be a primary scoring option for Gonzaga, and that season spent on the sidelines should benefit him greatly. Wiltjer wasn’t placed on the WCC preseason all-conference team which is understandable given the fact that he didn’t play last year, but that won’t be the case in March.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Eric Reveno, Portland
After winning 19 games or more in three straight seasons (2008-11) the Pilots have finished below .500 in each of the last three campaigns. The good news for Portland is that their top two scorers, preseason All-WCC selection Thomas Van Der Mars and guard Kevin Bailey, return from last year’s group that finished 15-16 (7-11 WCC). Another piece of good news for the Pilots: they won’t play more than three straight road games in league play. Last season, Reveno’s Pilots played their last four regular season games on the road.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING ... : Gonzaga looks poised to make a run deep into the NCAA tournament.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The depth at the guard positions in this league. There are a lot of talented perimeter players in the WCC this season, which will make for some fun nights in conference play.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
- December 6, Gonzaga at Arizona
- November 24, BYU vs. San Diego State (Maui Invitational)
- November 23, UC Irvine at Saint Mary’s
- November 17, SMU at Gonzaga
- December 3, San Francisco at Colorado
ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @WestCoastConvo
1. Gonzaga: The Bulldogs are loaded with offensive weapons, but how far the go in March will depend upon the progress made defensively.
2. BYU: Tyler Haws is one of the best players in the country, and Dave Rose has what could be his deepest team at BYU.
3. Saint Mary’s: Graduate transfers Aaron Bright (Stanford) and Desmond Simmons (Washington) bring additional experience, as does former Minnesota guard Joe Coleman.
4. San Francisco: Rex Walters lost his two most productive players in Cole Dickerson and Avry Holmes, but the Dons won’t lack for talent.
5. Portland: The tandem of Van Der Mars and Bailey could potentially push Portland into the top half of the WCC.
6. San Diego: The Toreros have one of the better backcourt duos on the west coast in Christopher Anderson and Johnny Dee, but they need Jito Kok to bounce back from an underwhelming sophomore campaign.
7. Pepperdine: Stacy Davis receives a lot of the pub when it comes to the Waves, but guard Jeremy Major can play as well.
8. Santa Clara: Guards Jared Brownridge and Brandon Clark are the leaders for a young team that could still be one year away from a major jump in the standings.
9. Pacific: The Tigers were a senior-laden group in their WCC debut. That won’t be the case this season, with sophomore guard T.J. Wallace among those expected to step forward.
10. Loyola Marymount: Given the personnel losses and the transition to a new system, this could be a tough year for the Lions in Mike Dunlap’s first season at his alma mater.