As a whole, the conference is growing at a very rapid pace. That is undeniable.
Last season, the WCC sent six teams to postseason play; Gonzaga and BYU to the NCAA tournament, San Francisco and Saint Mary’s to the NIT and Pacific and San Diego to the CIT.
While the top tier teams were a little down, the overall quality and depth of the conference is improving. For the conference as a whole, this is a great thing for upcoming years.
However, there are some teams that are improving more than others. I take a look at the programs that are on the rise, the programs that are on the decline, and the programs that are going to stay the same.
On the rise
The Zags already return three-year backcourt starters Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos, and now that they place USC transfer Wesley into the small forward spot, Gonzaga’s backcourt will be better than ever.
Gonzaga lost Sam Dower to graduation this past season, but no worries, Kentucky transfer Wiltjer will fill in nicely. While at Kentucky, Wiltjer was instant offense for Head Coach John Calipari. The former five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American possesses a vast offensive skill set that projects very well for the WCC.
The Bulldogs incoming recruiting class will provide depth to an already loaded roster. Perkins, Melson and Alberts appear to be the future of the GU backcourt.
While the Waves lose two key starters from last season (Malcolm Brooks and Brendan Lane), the Waves relied on a lot of young pieces. As those young guns progress, the team should subsequently improve.
Two incoming sophomores, Jeremy Major and Amadi Udenyi, made up the Pepperdine backcourt last season and will return. One of the best players in the conference, Stacy Davis, also returns for his junior season.
A five man recruiting class will also help out with depth.
Losing Ryan Nicholas will be tough, but the Pilots return virtually everyone in 2014-2015.
Four starters, including soon-to-be seniors Thomas van der Mars and Kevin Bailey, will return for the Pilots. Taking Nicholas’ spot will likely be Volodymyr Gerun, a West Virginia transfer who played good minutes in a reserve role last season for the Pilots.
Finally, a solid recruiting class headlined by Washington State Player of the Year Jason Todd will fill in some holes on the bench.
I might be in disagreement with a lot of people with this one, but Saint Mary’s will be much better next season.
Although the Gaels will lose Stephen Holt, Paul McCoy, Beau Levesque, Eividas Petrulis, Matt Hodgson and James Walker III, Saint Mary’s brings in two high impact transfers – Joe Coleman and Aaron Bright – who will make up the Gaels backcourt. Kerry Carter, a returning guard, will start alongside those two.
In the frontcourt, the Gaels return Brad Waldow, an All-WCC caliber type player. Along with Waldow, Washington graduate transfer Desmond Simmons will add energy and rebounding to an already skilled frontline. Garrett Jackson, Dane Pineau and incoming freshmen Evan Fitzner and Jock Londale make up the rest of the Gaels frontcourt.
Staying the Same
The Toreros are always a popular choice to breakout year after year, but this season not much will change.
Although San Diego returns four fifths of its starting lineup – with point guard Christopher Anderson and shooting guard Johnny Dee headlining that group – the Toreros don’t have enough incoming talent to make up for the loss of Dennis Kramer. It is unclear whether Thomas Jacobs, Simi Fajemisin or Brandon Perry can replace the production Kramer has left behind.
The Toreros have three very good guard commitments coming in Marcus Harris, Vasilije Pusica and Khalil Bedart-Ghani, but with Dee, Anderson, Chris Sarbaugh and Nick Kerr already in the mix, minutes will be scarce.
In the front court, Kruize Pinkins and Mark Tollefsen will be very solid options. On top of that, Depaul transfer and rim protector Derrell Robertson Jr. becomes eligible, adding even more options for USF.
Speaking of transfers, former SMU Mustang Uche Ofoegbu also becomes eligible this upcoming season, adding more options for the Dons on the perimeter alongside Chris Adams, Tim Derksen and Matt Glover.
In terms of the point guard spot, that is the biggest question mark for the Dons. Corey Hilliard, an incoming junior and Nebraska transfer, could be a candidate to fill that spot, as is local freshman point guard Frankie Ferrari.
The Broncos have a lot of nice pieces returning, but the lack of a presence in the frontcourt will hurt the Broncos significantly.
Jared Brownridge, the WCC Newcomer of the Year last year, and high volume scorer Brandon Clark comprise a solid backcourt, alongside Jalen Richard and Denzel Johnson. Incoming guard Evan Wardlow will also vie for some minutes as well.
With Jerry Brown out of the fold in the frontcourt, the Broncos will have to rely heavily on some unproven commodities. Robert Garrett, who was highly rated coming out of high school, could be a solid option to make up for Browns lost production. Emmanuel Ndumanya returns from a redshirt season and freshman post Matt Hubbard are also solid incoming options, along with senior center Yannick Atanga and Nate Kratch.
On the Decline
First and foremost, who is going to make up the frontcourt? Going into the season, Nate Austin, Josh Sharp, Luke Worthington, Isaac Nielson and Ryan Andrus make up the BYU frontcourt. With Mika out of the fold, it is unclear how productive this group will be from a scoring and rebounding standpoint.
Fortunately for the Cougars, Jamal Aytes – a UNLV transfer – will be eligible midway through, giving the Cougars another weapon on the frontline.
The point guard spot is another big question. With Carlino gone and Collinsworth’s status unclear with his knee injury, BYU might have to turn to Jordan Chatman at the start of the season.
If BYU can just weather the storm at the beginning, everything could be just all right for the Cougars. Returning the reigning WCC Player of the Year in Tyler Haws isn’t the worst way to do that.
The first season for newly appointed head coach Mike Dunlap could be a rough one.
Currently, the Lions only have only eight scholarship players for the next season. On top of that, they lost 68.7 percent of their scoring and 64.7 percent of their rebounding.
A great deal of talent also vanished from the LMU roster this offseason; Alex Osborne and Anthony Ireland graduated; Nick Stover, Gabe Levin, C.J. Blackwell, Ben Dickinson and Max Heller transferred; and incoming recruits Kyron Cartwright, Elijah Stewart, Alex Rifkind and Marquis Godfrey all re-opened their recruitments.
On the bright side, LMU does bring back Ayodeji Egbeyemi and Godwin Ok0nji after they were forced to sit out last season due to a car crash. Both players were medical redshirts.
When a team loses seven seniors, it’s typically going to be a rebuilding year.
While Pacific’s incoming recruiting class looks bright, it is nearly impossible to reload after losing seven total seniors, especially for a program like Pacific.
Next season will most likely be a transition year for the Tigers, one that allows many young players to gain experience right away.
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