2020-21 WCC Basketball Preview

Yes, there are schools in the West Coast Conference other than Gonzaga. The Bulldogs, however, are the name and the brand. Gonzaga is the Associated Press preseason No. 1 team in the nation and a perennial powerhouse. However, many college basketball fans may not even be aware that the Bulldogs are part of the WCC. Let the nation be on notice that the conference is on the rise and becoming deeper. LWOS explores the WCC’s strong improvement from just being a one-bid conference come tournament time. Expect at least three, maybe four representatives this March.

2020-21 WCC Basketball Preview

10. Portland Pilots

Key Returners: Chase Adams

Key Losses: Malcolm Porter (NAU), Jacob Tryon (Samford), Isaiah White

Key Newcomers: Ahmed Ali (WSU)

Last year’s bottom dwellers may be primed to stay in their slot of the standings. It’s hard to get worse than nine total wins, but the Pilots are in desperate need of a standout player. The program’s top scorer, Isaiah White, graduated, and key contributor Malcolm Porter left as a grad transfer. Even more troubling, Portland has no incoming star recruits and will have to rely heavily on unestablished JUCO players. Head coach Terry Porter needs the experience of guards Chase Adams and Ahmed Ali to lead the Pilots.

9. Santa Clara Broncos

Key Returners:  Jade Bediako, Keshawn Justice, Josip Vrankic

Key Losses: Tahj Eaddy (USC), Trey Wertz (ND)

Key Newcomers: None.

Besides Portland, the WCC gets a bit closer when it comes to the bottom half of the conference. Even though the Broncos are slated to finish 9th, they could still have a solid season. Leading scorer and rebounder Josip Vrankic is returning, but they have major transfer voids to fill. Guards Tahj Eaddy and Trey Wertz transferred, and the roster isn’t experienced enough to replace their valuable play. If Santa Clara wants to improve this season, center Jaden Bediako and forward Keshawn Justice must establish a decent frontcourt.

8. San Diego Torreos

Key Returners: Joey Calcaterra, Yauhen Massalski,

Key Losses: Alex Floresca, Braun Hartfield, James Jean-Marie

Key Newcomers: Yavuz Gultekin (Texas A&M), Chris Herren Jr. (BC), Josh Parrish (Rice)

San Diego is poised to climb in the standings due to the return of a majority of their roster. The transfer portal helped the Torreos as they landed two power-five school players for extra depth and experience. Yavuz Gultekin and Chris Herren Jr. decided that the beach was the best setting for their talents. Braun Hartfield, leading scorer and rebounder from 2019-20, is no longer on the roster, but the Torreos should win more games this season. The question is: could they leave their mark by pulling off a major conference upset?

7. Pacific Tigers

Key Returners: Amari McCray, Justin Moore

Key Losses: Gary Chivichyan (Idaho State), Jahlil Tripp (NBA)

Key Newcomers: Jordan Bell (LMU), Jalen Brown (Eastern Arizona CC), Nigel Shadd (KSU)

Though the Tigers have ex-NBAer and great basketball mind Damon Stoudamire at the helm, this season will be tough. Pacific finished 4th last season in the WCC standings, but the offseason was unkind to the program. The team lost star guard Jahlil Tripp to the NBA and Gary Chivichyan as a grad transfer. They welcome transfers Jalen Brown and Nigel Shadd, and poached Jordan Bell from conference rival Loyola Marymount. Pacific will still have trouble replacing the production they lost, but with a strong season from senior guard Justin Moore, the Tigers could get back to a top-four finish. There are just too many questions to answer at the moment for Stoudamire, though.

6. Loyola Marymount Lions

Key Returners: Keli Leaupepe, Eli Scott

Key Losses: Jordan Bell, Erik Johansson

Key Newcomers: Jalin Anderson

Loyola Marymount has all but two players returning, including potential WCC Player of the Year, Eli Scott. The guard led the Lions in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game last season. Loyola Marymount is deep; in 2019-20, nine players average over 14 minutes per game. However, more importantly, the future is bright for the Lions. Head coach Stan Johnson landed a nationally-ranked recruiting class for the 2021-22 season. Don’t be surprised if Loyola Marymount creates some havoc, but it may take one more year.

5. San Francisco Dons

Key Returners: Jamaree Bouyea, Josh Kunen, Khalil Shabazz

Key Losses: Jimbo Lull, Charles Minlend (Louisville), Jordan Ratinho

Key Newcomers: Maj Dusanic, Isaiah Hawthorne, Anthony Roy

The WCC is going to have a very tight middle-tier race. San Francisco losing leading-scorer Charles Minlend to Louisville was a huge disappointment and may have halted their progression. Yet, the Dons still have a strong backcourt that will lead them throughout the season. Their frontcourt remains a question mark, and their success in the paint will rely heavily on the development of forward Josh Kunen. The sophomore needs to help fill the production void left when Jimbo Lull graduated. San Francisco will also require support from bench role players if they want to reach the top-tier of the conference.

4. St. Mary’s Gaels

Key Returners: Dan Fotu, Tommy Kuhse, Matthias Tass

Key Losses: Malik Fitts, Jordan Ford

Key Newcomers: Judah Brown, Jabe Mullins, Mitchell Saxen, Matt Van Komen (Utah)

This ranking isn’t necessarily about the Gaels declining, but rather—spoiler alert—Pepperdine moving forward. St. Mary’s is still built to make the NCAA tournament. The team has a trio of talented freshmen joining the program, along with 7’4” Utah transfer Matt Van Komen. Yet, replacing leading scorer Jordan Ford and defensive juggernaut Malik Fitts will be difficult. Youth is always a wild card, and though St. Mary’s may not progress this season, they won’t get worse either. Think of the 2020-21 as a buffer season for the Gaels, but they will still have a successful WCC campaign.

3. Pepperdine Waves

Key Returners: Kessler Edwards, Colbey Ross

Key Losses: Kameron Edwards

Key Newcomers: Kene Chukwuka (Pitt), Majok Deng, Kendall Munson

It’s time for the Waves; it’s time to show the nation they’re more than a golf and water polo school. With five games slated to be broadcasted on ESPN, Pepperdine is ready to become nationally-recognized this season. Star guard Colbey Ross is on the Naismith Trophy watch list, and forward Kessler Edwards is on the preseason All-WCC team. Still, with great expectations comes great pressure, and if the Waves are to be successful, Ross and Edwards need support. However, expect Pepperdine to—excuse the pun—make waves this season in the WCC.

2. Brigham Young Cougars

Key Returners: Alex Barcello, Gavin Baxter

Key Losses: Yoeli Childs, TJ Haws, Jake Toolson

Key Newcomers: Brandon Averette, Matt Haarms (Purdue), Richard Harward, Wyatt LowellJesse Wade (Gonzaga)

Three top Cougars graduated in 2020 leaving massive holes in the starting lineup. However, head coach Mark Pope avoided uncertainty with a fruitful transfer period. Matt Haarms and Jesse Wade left major programs to join BYU, and Pope added three Utah Valley players. The great thing about BYU, as with all their athletics, is they’re balanced and efficient. They may not score as much as they did last season, but once this team meshes, they will be a lock for the NCAA Tournament.

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Key Returners: Joel Ayayi, Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, Anton Watson

Key Losses: Admon Gilder, Filip Petrusev, Ryan Wollridge

Key Newcomers: Oumar Ballo, Aaron Cook Jr. (SIU), Dominick Harris, Andrew Nembhard (Florida), Julian Strawther, Jalen Suggs

It’s next class up for Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few. There’s only one question for the Bulldogs to answer: Is this the year? Few has constructed one of the most successful men’s college basketball programs in the nation. The team lost three starters, but they gained four highly-touted freshmen and two big-time transfers. Not to mention the squad has four—yes, four—players on the Naismith Trophy watch list: Joel Ayayi, Corey Kispert, Jalen Subbs and Drew Timme. They’re a lock to win the WCC and a lock as a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Is it finally Gonzaga’s year? It just may be.

2020-21 WCC Basketball Preview Award Projections

Player of the Year: Colbey Ross, Pepperdine

Ross was the WCC’s second leading scorer (656 points) and leading passer (7.2 APG) of the 2019-20 season. He has the most career assists (647) of any returning NCAA player. Ross trailed only St. Mary’s Jordan Ford—who graduated—in points last year. Pepperdine has a lot of pressure to succeed this season, so expect Ross to perform at a high level. He’s on the preseason All-WCC First-Team, and also on the Naismith Trophy watch list.

Defensive Player of the Year: Jamaree Bouyea, USF

Last season, Bouvea tallied 55 steals and 21 blocks. The senior is on the preseason All-WCC First-Team and will lead the Dons offensively and defensively. Bouvea has progressively earned more minutes and accolades each year as a Don, so his senior year will be his best. San Francisco’s season will rely on the guard’s performance; he finished with the sixth most single-season minutes played in program history last year. Bouvea will solidify his status as one of the great Dons after the season ends.

Freshman of the Year: Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga

Suggs is arguably the best freshman point guard in the nation. He was the top-ranked recruit at his position in 2020, and the 5th best recruit overall. Surprisingly, he’s Gonzaga’s highest-ranked recruit to ever sign with the program. As a Naismith High School Boys National Player of the year finalist, he averaged 23.5 points per game, 7.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 3.8 steals. He’s a creator and a team facilitator, and will contribute to the team early. Even though Gonzaga has a crowded roster, Suggs will earn his spot.

Newcomer of the Year: Matt Haarms, BYU

Haarms is on the 2020 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award watch list for the nation’s best center. During his three seasons at Purdue, he was one of the most efficient post players in the Big Ten. He averaged 8.6 points per game, 4.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. The Amsterdam native creates problems for opponents on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, so expect him to make an immediate impact on an already talented BYU squad.

Sixth-Man of the Year: Aaron Cook Jr., Gonzaga

The Southern Illinois transfer will be a productive vital piece off the bench for the Bulldogs. Actually, he probably would be a starter on most teams. The guard will provide some much-appreciated relief for Ayayi and Suggs, but the team won’t lose any production while he’s on the court. At SIU, Cook Jr. averaged 15.0 points per game and 3.3 assists in his six games played last season before breaking his hand. Gonzaga is just loaded.

WCC Coach of the Year: Lorenzo Romar, Pepperdine

As mentioned in the Pepperdine preview, it’s time for the Waves. With both Ross and Edwards on the preseason All-WCC First-Team, Romar has his stars set. However, now it’s time for him to manage the rest of the roster and get Pepperdine to the next level. He has opportunities to showcase his talented squad on national television this season, and could possible earn a top-three finish in the WCC. With all due respect to Mark Few expecting to reach his 600th win right after the season starts, and a national title right after the season ends, it’s Romar who will deserve the WCC Coach of the Year nod.

All-WCC First-Team Projection: Joel Ayayi (Gonzaga), Alex Barcello (BYU), Jamaree Bouyea (USF), Kessler Edwards (PEP), Corey Kispert (Gonzaga), Colbey Ross (PEP), Eli Scott (LMU), Matthias Tass (SMU), Drew Timme (Gonzaga), Josip Vrankic (SCU)

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