In the spirit of many websites that like to spend the days after the season immediately trying to rank and predict how the next season will go, here is our first attempt at predicting how the 2015-16 will go in the West Coast Conference. With a number of talented teams returning a large number of core players, it should be another year where the WCC is deep and talented. There should be lots of roster turnover with many key players departing, so their could be some shakeups in the standings.
Feb 12, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Loyola Marymount Lions forward Marin Mornar (42) grabs a rebound against Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Domantas Sabonis (11) during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 80-51. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#10 – LOYOLA MARYMOUNT: Either way, it was going to be another rebuilding year for the Lions. But after suffering some major losses highlighted by Evan Payne announcing his intention to transfer, things went from bad to worse. Marin Mornar and David Humprhies will form a decent core to build around and will provide senior leadership, but the talent gap between the Lions and most of the conference will be large. Munis Tutu will have a lot of weight on his shoulders as their top recruit, and he could go a long way to replacing Payne. But even the Lions with Payne were still the worst team in the WCC this past season, so they have a long way to go.
Jan 24, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Pacific Tigers guard Dulani Robinson (5) shoots the ball as Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Silas Melson (0) looks on during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 91-60. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#9 -PACIFIC: It’s very tempting to move the Tigers up higher as they should only lose one key player. Most of their young team made great strides this past year, and there’s reason to believe they found a good core that could have them improving quickly. Scorer T.J. Walllace ended up finding a lot of help in guys like Dulani Robinson, Alec Kobre, Eric Thompson, Jacob Lampkin, and Ray Bowles. The first three will be seniors, and the last two were only freshmen this past season. That means the Tigers next year will be deep and seasoned after taking their lumps. Don’t be surprised to see them shoot up a number of spots, especially if the teams in front of them struggle. All of them are replacing key players unlike the Tigers, so there is room for immediate growth.
Jan 10, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Santa Clara Broncos forward Nate Kratch (43) pulls down a rebound against Gonzaga Bulldogs center Przemek Karnowski (24) during the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#8 – SANTA CLARA: The Broncos lose one of the best scorers out of the bottom teams with the graduation of Brandon Clark, but they will make a lot of improvements elsewhere. The return of Yannick Atanga along with the developement of Nate Kratch and Matt Hubbard will give them a quality frontcourt, and Jarvis Pugh will help make up somewhat for the loss of Clark and fellow senior Denzel Johnson. The real concern is that they need a guard who can run the offense and provide assists. Jared Brownridge can step into that role, but they need him to focus on scoring. Clark and Johnson were their top assist men this past season, so will be a big concern in the offseason. As we saw with teams like LMU and San Francisco last season, lacking a floor general to bring things together can completely cancel out having a strong offense in the post. The Broncos better hope Pugh or someone else steps up, because they can be decent if they find that missing piece.
Feb 26, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; San Diego Toreros guard Duda Sanadze (10) shoots the ball over Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Byron Wesley (22) during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 59-39. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#7 – SAN DIEGO: The Toreros are going to take a big step back this coming season, the only question is how much. They relied heavily on Johnny Dee and Chris Anderson, so losing both at the same time is a huge blow. Breaking in a new Head Coach also leads to a lot of rebuilding, and Lamont Smith will have his work cut out for him trying to replace the two star guards. Fortunately, there is more of a foundation left here than people realize. Jito Kok and Brandon Perry will form an experienced frontcourt who can provide some solid defense, something Smith has been known for in his career. And Duda Sanadze should shake off his injury issues and return to being and aggressive scorer who can make up for the loss of Dee. Freshman Vasa Pusica and Marcus Harris flashed a lot of potential, with Pusica having the scoring potential to also help replace Dee and Harris expected to take the lead replacing Anderson. They will regress as the transition occurs and they find their new identity, but they can still be competitive.
#6 – PORTLAND: The Pilots are going to be decimated more than any of the teams in the bottom half. The transition in the backcourt will be smooth with Alec Wintering, Bryce Pressley, and D’Marques Tyson making up for the graduation of Bobby Sharp and Kevin Bailey, but there are big questions surrounding the frontcourt. Stalwarts Volodymyr Gerun and Thomas Van der Mars are graduating, and so is Riley Barker. Jason Todd can slide into a forward role, but there’s no scenario, even with a big push from incoming freshmen, where they can match the frontcourt output they are losing. There will be some strong frontcourts in the conference again next year, and that weakness will hurt the Pilots. They could slip even further if the up and coming big men of Pacific and Santa Clara have strong seasons. It might be a rebuilding year for the Pilots as they look to find a frontcourt to complement their young, talented guards.
March 7, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; San Francisco Dons guard Devin Watson (21) shoots a layup against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the second half in the quarterfinals of the West Coast Conference tournament at Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
#5 – SAN FRANCISCO: While Devin Watson is never going to be able to bring the backcourt back to level it was when they had Cody Doolin and Avry Holmes, he flashed a lot of potential and could be a good floor general. Along with Tim Derksen who really came on strong late and will be a senior next year, that’s a quality duo that can support the frontcourt. Uche Ofoegbu needs to take the next step to help replace Kruize Pinkins and Mark Tollefsen who announced he will transfer, and it would be nice if some of the notable transfers reached their full potential after guys like Montray Clemons and Derrell Robertson had disappointing seasons. But there is still loads of talent here. If they take some steps forward, they can be relevant again very quickly. Like the Tigers, they have a lot of untapped potential that could come together quickly. Expect the Dons to be closer to the NIT team of 2013-14 than the struggling team that was going through a lot of changes this past season. They are losing a lot less than San Diego and Portland, which will help them with a quick turnaround.
#4 – SAINT MARY’S: If they Gaels weren’t firmly entrenched on the top tier of WCC teams, they would be even lower on this list because they are getting gutted this offseason. Their entire starting five is graduating including starts Brad Waldow, Kerry Carter, and Aaron Bright. They have some quality replacements already, but losing five key players will always lead to some growing pains. Emmett Naar should continue to grow and become an impact player, and Joe Coleman should be healthy and fulfill his potential. But there are a lot of questions to be answered, most notably how to replace Waldow. They have two big centers on the roster in Jock Landale and Evan Fitzner, but neither has much game experience. If they can figure things out quickly and use their raw talent, the Gaels can limit their regression. But don’t expect them to compete with the top teams for a WCC Championship next year.
March 9, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Pepperdine Waves forward Stacy Davis (5) shoots the basketball against Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Domantas Sabonis (11) during the second half in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament at Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
#3 – PEPPERDINE: With the Gaels in rebuilding, the veteran Waves will be able to take the next step. Almost every WCC is replacing some notable players, except for the Waves. They expect to return their entire roster, one that made great strides this past season finishing over .500 and reaching the postseason. Jett Raines and Stacy Davis will lead their strong frontcourt that should be able to take advantage of the issues in the paint facing teams like Saint Mary’s and Portland. Outside of BYU and Gonzaga, there won’t be any other WCC teams that can match their talent level. If they play with the same efficiency and quality defense as they did this past season, they could be in line for a big year. If you want to be really optimistic, there’s reason to believe they could compete with BYU and Gonzaga for the WCC Championship. Their schedule won’t be strong enough to make the NCAA Tournament unless they can make a Cinderella run to the WCC Tournament Championship, but the NIT is a very realistic goal as they look to continue to build a winning program. And an upset or two of the Cougars and Bulldogs in the process wouldn’t hurt either.
Mar 17, 2015; Dayton, OH, USA; Brigham Young Cougars guard Kyle Collinsworth (5) shoots the ball during the first half against the Mississippi Rebels in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at UD Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
#2 – BYU: The Cougars are going to lose a ton of their star shooters that led their dynamic offense, but they will make great strides in the frontcourt to make up for it. Tyler Haws, Skyler Halford, and Anson Winder are all gone, but there will be plenty of offense left with Chase Fischer and Kyle Collinsworth back for their senior seasons. They will be a quality complement to a reloaded frontcourt. Corbin Kafusi looks like a star in the making, and Ryan Andrus and Luke Worthington made great strides. Along with Jamal Aytes returning to health and Nate Austin possibly returning on a medical hardship waiver, and the Cougars could go from having a big hole in the frontcourt to having one of the best in the conference. The Cougars also have a number of young guys with potential like Jake Toolson to round out their roster. So they could be very strong and possibly compete with Gonzaga despite their losses.
Mar 22, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Domantas Sabonis (11) celebrates against Iowa Hawkeyes in the third round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at KeyArena. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
#1 – GONZAGA: The Bulldogs will be taking a similar path as the Cougars to next year. Anchors Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. being gone will hurt their backcourt, but they return one of the best frontcourts in the nation. Kyle Wiltjer and Prezemek Karnowski will return for their senior seasons, and the news that Domantas Sabonis will return for his sophomore season and forgo the NBA Draft for now is a big boost. He should take on a much bigger role with the graduation of Byron Wesley. As you can expect from Gonzaga, they have a number of replacements ready in the backcourt led by Silas Melson and Josh Perkins. They only need to be serviceable as Wiltjer and the frontcourt will take the lead.