Yesterday, Sporting News released a list of 12 player’s the news agency thought were quintessential to their college basketball team’s success for the 2014-2015 season. Several big names were included, such as Arizona’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Michigan’s Caris LeCert, Michigan State’s Branden Dawson and Iowa State’s Georges Niang, just to name a few.
Also on that list was Gonzaga’s Byron Wesley, who is expected to make a big impact out on the wing after making some noise during his three seasons at USC. This is what Sporting News college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy had to say about Wesley:
Wesley earned those attractive stats last season playing for Southern Cal’s hapless Trojans, who finished 2-16 in Pac-12 play. A top Division I coach once pointed out attractive numbers on horrible teams can be misleading: “Somebody’s got to score the points. No one gets shut out.”
This might apply to Wesley, but in what probably was the team’s best moment — a road win at eventual Elite Eight entrant Dayton — his drives proved unstoppable and he scored 26 points. He does not busy himself as a deep shooter, but he can make a 3-pointer if left alone.
The concept DeCourcy puts forth is important, and can be applied to almost every team in the country. So naturally, I thought of a way to apply it to the West Coast Conference. Here are the ten players – one from each team – that are crucial to their team’s success in the WCC.
Gonzaga – Kyle Wiltjer
DeCourcy and I are in disagreement on the Zags most important player. He says it’s Wesley, but I say its Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer.
The former McDonald’s All-American and five-star prospect has a boatload of potential in a Zags uniform. While Wiltjer did not standout at Kentucky, he was productive, averaging 10.2 points and 4.2 rebounds his sophomore season.
The West Coast Conference, which is not as physical and defensive oriented as some of the other conferences in the country, should be perfect for Wiltjer’s skillset. The 6-foot-10 stretch four can consistently nail shots from outside and work inside against smaller defenders. He has been training this offseason with GU trainer Travis Knight on shaping his overall body and becoming stronger in the paint.
Wiltjer is expected to start at power forward for the Bulldogs, replacing senior Sam Dower. Many people take his contributions for granted, but Dower was an essential facet of the 2013-2014 Bulldog roster and will not be easily replaced. Many assume his contributions will be replicated by Wiltjer, Domas Sabonis and Angel Nunez, but that is definitely not a given. If Wiltjer does not live up to expectations – and many expect him to carry the load down low for the Bulldogs, Gonzaga could fail to live up to their lofty expectations.
Portland – Alec Wintering
Entering his second season, Wintering should play an increased role within the Pilots system. Along with fellow backcourt mate Bryce Pressley, the Pilots will be in good hand with Wintering running the show.
While his numbers were not overly flashy – 7.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, the team crumbled without his leadership. When Wintering missed the last three games of the 2013-2014 season with a leg injury, the Pilots struggled immensely; Portland went 0-3 in that stretch, and failed to beat the bottom two schools in the conference – Pacific and Loyola Marymount. In fact, the loss to LMU in the first round of the WCC tournament ended the Pilots season and ultimately took them out of consideration for a postseason tournament.
All-in-all, Wintering’s health and play will be essential to the Pilots success this season.
Pacific – T.J. Wallace
Pacific’s entire starting lineup has departed from the Tigers roster, meaning one or more players will need to step up for Pacific to win games in the WCC this season.
While there are many other candidates, T.J. Wallace – a player who was in and out of the Tigers line-up last season – appears next in line to become a star at Pacific.
Sure, he made some mistakes, but Wallace’s performance last season was promising. He showed he could compete at the Division I level on the defensive and offensive ends of the court.
Pacific Head Coach Ron Verlin has already indicated he plans on playing Wallace primarily at point guard this season, and the success of the team could hinge on the play on Wallace even more if that is true.
San Francisco – Mark Tollefsen
After coming on strong at the end of his freshman season, Tollefsen became a consistent player for the Dons during the 2013-2014 season. Starting at the forward position, Tollefsen showcased his outside shot and his impressive bounce and proved to be an X-factor at times.
While the Dons excelled last season, finishing tied for second in the conference standings and earning a berth into the NIT, they have the pieces to be even better this upcoming season. If Tollefsen makes the next step, and can play more quality minutes consistently for the team, the Dons will be a matchup nightmare for most teams with Tollefsen’s ability to shoot it from outside and Kruize Pinkins ability to bang down low.
Saint Mary’s – Aaron Bright
In the latter end of the Bennett era, the Gaels have been primarily a point guard driven team. First it was Mills, then it was McConnell, next it was Dellavedova and most recently it was Holt.
For the Gaels to make some noise in the conference this season, Aaron Bright must step up as a team leader and playmaker. Bright showed that ability while at Stanford, and shined during his sophomore season, averaging 11.7 points and 3.7 assists. The Bellevue, Wash. native regressed after that, and will need to replicate or better that sophomore in order to flourish in the Gaels system.
Santa Clara – Yannick Atanga
Yannick Atanga has always been a one or two dimensional player for the Santa Clara Broncos, providing rebounding and defensive energy to the team. However, with a lack of offensive talent at the forward positions, Santa Clara needs Atanga to play much better offensively in order for the team to excel in the WCC.
The Broncos have no shortage of guards this season, with Brandon Clark, Jared Brownridge and Jalen Richard making up the projected starting backcourt and Denzel Johnson, freshmen Evan Wardlow, Stephen Edwards and Kai Healy also competing for playing time. Santa Clara truly needs its big men to contribute more down low to take pressure of its guards.
Atanga, a senior, is a potential candidate to pick up some of the slack in the frontcourt. Last season, Atanga averaged only 3.0 points and shot 45.2 percent from the field. If Atanga, who presumably will earn more minutes this season as a senior, can improve his field goal percentage to 50 percent or above and significant imporve his junior year free throw percentage of 51.1 percent, it would help the Broncos frontcourt scoring problems immensely.
Pepperdine – Stacy Davis
Davis is the Waves most talented player, and they need him to be dominate in his junior season in order for the Waves to make some noise in the WCC this season.
The undersized power forward was productive last season and added a different dimension to his game with a consistent 3-point shot – Davis shot 46.9 percent from beyond the arc last season. However, to take Pepperdine to the next level, the junior forward will need to take his game to the next level as well.
On top of that, the Waves have a big hole on the defensive end with the 2014 WCC Defensive Player of the Year Brendan Lane gone. Davis will need to pick up some of the slack on the other end of the floor as well.
Loyola Marymount – Patson Siame
After taking a redshirt season, many expect this heralded recruit to shine in a Lion uniform.
The hype has been surrounding Siame for quite some time, and if it’s accurate, Siame could step in right away and start for the Lions. Siame is very athletic for a 6-foot-11 center, and could prove to be a matchup nightmare within the WCC with his combination of size and athleticism. The Lions will need a low post player to produce on both ends of the court and contribute for sophomore Evan Payne and senior Ayodeji Egbeyemi in the backcourt.
San Diego – Jito Kok
Kok has been a defensive force for the Toreros for two seasons – Kok averaged 1.7 blocks in his first two seasons at San Diego, but his development on the offensive end of the court is imperative for USD’s overall success this season.
Last season, Dennis Kramer emerged as a double-digit scorer for the team, but his eligibility has run out. The Toreros need someone to help produce down in the paint, and the athletic Kok can help out. While he was not as productive as some might have hoped last year (4.7 points per game in 26.1 minutes played per game), Kok started to show flashes of developing post moves. They weren’t a go-to-move’s by any means, but they were promising for Kok’s overall growth as a center.
Brigham Young – Jordan Chatman
At the start of the season, there will not be a more important person on the BYU roster than Jordan Chatman. The recently returned missionary will be only true point guard on the Cougars roster at the beginning of the season with Kyle Collinsworth health in question.
Chatman, who is big and physical for the position, could be a nice replacement from Collinsworth, as they possess many of the same qualities. Although Skylar Halford, Anson Winder (played point guard before Matt Carlino was eligible his freshman season) and Chase Fischer could be short term replacements, it would help if Chatman was ready to take the reins and the aforementioned players can play off-the-ball where they excel.
Tags: Basketball Brigham Young Cougars Gonzaga Bulldogs Loyola Marymount Lions Pacific Tigers Pepperdine Waves Portland Pilots Saint Mary's Gaels San Diego Toreros San Francisco Dons Santa Clara Broncos WCC