Now that we’ve digested the Preseason All-WCC Team compared to our own predictions, let’s take a look at the WCC Preseason Poll. A little bit of variation here, but we agree with the top of standings where it counts. It’s a deep conference though, lots of teams with potential. We can garner a lot of information on who the coaches like more than others as potential breakout teams based on where they are ranked.
Mar 21, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Kevin Pangos (4) reacts after making a basket against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the first half of a men
While the top of the standings are fairly obvious as they are many years in the West Coast Conference, we’re impressed the coaches matched us with the order especially after the top two. Gonzaga is the class of the conference after the defending WCC Champions dominated every aspect of the offseason. They return some of the best players in the conference, they have the best freshman class, and they have the best transfers. Not surprisingly, the Bulldogs received every possible first place vote. We can’t argue with that, it is Gonzaga’s conference to lose.
After that, we also agree that BYU is the next best team. Mark Few concurs as he handed his vote in the official rankings to the Cougars. We know that because each coach can’t vote for his own team and BYU was the only school besides Gonzaga with a first place vote. BYU has been a dominant program for a long time and barring any major changes they will always be near the top of the conference. They should cruise to an NCAA Tournament berth of the back of National Player of the Year candidate Tyler Haws, and they can spend conference play trying to get past the pesky Bulldogs who seem to keep denying them a WCC Championship.
The first place where us and the coaches are really on the same page is the third and fourth place teams. San Francisco had a breakout year last season and finished in third ahead of Saint Mary’s. That’s a rare feat to break into the top three with the Bulldogs, Cougars, and Gaels all having a stranglehold on those spots for a long time now. The Dons were no fluke as they are reloaded with maybe the best frontcourt in the conference, and they will have their sights on being the first WCC team outside of those big three to make the NCAA Tournament in years.
But both us and the coaches like things to return to order a bit. We both have the Gaels moving back into third this year and the Dons falling to fourth. Saint Mary’s had a down year last season, but they are anchored by the best center in the conference with Brad Waldow and one of the best transfers in Aaron Bright. They should field a very competitive team and shake off some of their struggles from last year. It’s no knock on the Dons as they should be very good, but the Gaels are too good to stay down for long.
From there it’s a bit of chaos. Essentially there are two more tiers below the top teams. There is a middle group full of breakout potential, and a bottom group that is solid but probably doesn’t have enough make a lot of noise. This is where our biggest variation is at.
We agree with the coaches that Portland and San Diego are stellar this year. They are full of talent and veteran leadership, and both boast some of the best players in the WCC at multiple positions between Pilots like Thomas Van der Mars and Kevin Bailey and Toreros like Johnny Dee and Chris Anderson.
Jan 11, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Pepperdine Waves forward Stacy Davis (5) celebrates after making a basket and being fouled during the second half against the San Diego Toreros at Jenny Craig Pavillion. Pepperdine won 69-65. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
But where we really differ is our views on Pepperdine. I love their young talent like Jeremy Major and Stacy Davis as well as their underrated recruits like A.J. John. Talent could rule supreme, and I have them finishing fifth ahead of Portland and San Diego. The coaches differ and have Pepperdine down at seventh behind the Pilots and Toreros.
One explanation for this is the coaches like the senior leadership of Portland and San Diego. While they have cores of key seniors to lead the way, Pepperdine doesn’t have a single senior on their roster. I doubt the coaches don’t respect the young talent on the Waves. More than likely they value the experience and leadership of upperclassmen and think Pepperdine is a year away from being a real contender.
However, what I question is what makes it so obvious that Portland or San Diego take the next step? Each is losing only one starter from last year. So if they’re so primed for a breakout, why didn’t these core starters that were together last year play better? Both teams finished in the lower half of the standings. And the starters they are losing were key players last year. Their losses could be noticeable despite all the other starters returning.
By the way, the team that finished a game ahead of them last year was Pepperdine. Will the development of some key players in their senior seasons change the outlook that much? Sure Portland and San Diego are better, but so is Pepperdine. Seems like the coaches are sleeping on the Waves a little too much. There’s no reason to believe they can’t be relevant this season, they don’t have to be a year away just because of their youth. It didn’t stop them last year from making some waves in the standings, no pun intended!
We also have a slight variation at the bottom of the standings. The coaches have Santa Clara eighth and Loyola Marymount ninth where we have them reversed. Not much to discuss here as both teams are about equal. I figure the coaches really like Preseason All-WCC selection Jared Brownridge and fellow guard Brandon Clark on Santa Clara while they think the first year for LMU under new coach Mike Dunlap could lead to some growing pains.
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I personally like the experience of Dunlap and the depth of LMU a little more, so I think it helps them finish ahead of Santa Clara. But it’s a toss up between the two, and neither is at a point to seriously compete in a very deep conference. At least not yet, but both teams have bright futures. I may not agree with the coaches that the Waves are a year away, but that definition could certainly be applied to the Broncos and Lions.
Rounding out the bottom group is Pacific. The poor Tigers, getting no respect once again in their second season in the WCC. They outperformed expectations last year with a deep postseason run in the CIT Tournament, but they lost a lot of key players and should recede into the background while they rebuild and get some WCC experience under their belts.
It will be a fun season to see the top teams go head-to-head and watch to see if any of the potential breakout teams can meet their high expectations. Lots of talent and lots of good teams should make for a wild ride.