Conference Reset: Can anyone threaten Gonzaga in WCC?

By Jeff Borzello | College Basketball Writer
With its balance and depth, Gonzaga is clearly the team to beat in the WCC this season. (US Presswire)

The WCC is going to be fun to watch unfold in the coming 10 weeks. There is a clear-cut upper-tier of teams, with Gonzaga the runaway favorite to win the conference. But how many bids will the league get? There are three other teams with enough non-conference wins to make a case. As for individual players, there is enough talent in the league to make watching any game a worthwhile activity.

Here's the West Coast Conference reset:

Teams on track to make the Field of 68: Gonzaga

Teams with work to do: Saint Mary's, BYU, Santa Clara

Teams already out, barring a miracle: Loyola Marymount, San Francisco, Pepperdine, Portland, San Diego

Most memorable moment to date: Within hours of each other on New Year's Eve, Gonzaga and Saint Mary's both won one-point games in the final seconds. Gonzaga survived against Oklahoma State when freshman phenom Marcus Smart missed two free throws with fewer than 10 seconds left. Meanwhile, Saint Mary's took down Harvard when Mitchell Young hit two free throws with 1.1 seconds left. The Gaels had been down as many 18 points in that game.

Storyline you were too busy to notice: The scoring race within the league is going to be one to watch. The WCC is home to two of the top 11 scorers in the country, and four of the top 30. Loyola Marymount's Anthony Ireland has the edge right now (21.3 ppg), but Tyler Haws of BYU (20.9) is coming off a 42-point performance and will continue getting plenty of chances. Teammate Brandon Davies (20.1) is right behind Haws, while Santa Clara's Kevin Foster (19.1) showed against Duke he can get points against anyone.

Coach feeling the heat: This was a tough choice, but San Diego's Bill Grier hasn't had a winning season since 2008 and could need to turn things around sometime soon. The Toreros do have a win over Tulane this season, but they will struggle to finish above .500 within the league. From 2010-2012, Grier and San Diego compiled a 30-63 record -- including 12-32 in conference play.

Player who needs to step up: BYU has been getting by with the inside-outside duo of Tyler Haws and Brandon Davies, but Matt Carlino has to be a more productive third option for the Cougars. A year ago, he was a playmaker, either scoring himself or creating for others. This season, his numbers are down across the board -- and he's shooting just 22 percent from 3-point range. He's a key going forward.

Team better than its record: Coming off an 11-5 WCC campaign, Loyola Marymount had some momentum heading into this season. However, the Lions are just 7-6, including a loss to Alaska-Anchorage. Four of their six losses are by single digits, and they have the offensive firepower to throw a scare into anyone. Ireland is one of the most productive guards in the country, and Ashley Hamilton is a solid front-court performer.

Team not as good as its record: Pepperdine was a candidate, but it lost to Utah Valley and Central Michigan, so most people realize the Waves aren't going to finish .500 in the league. Meanwhile, Santa Clara is 12-3 overall, including a conference-opening win over San Francisco. The Broncos are probably the fourth-best team in the league and they do have a win over Saint Louis, but they're likely not a threat to beat out Gonzaga for the title.

Three must-see games:

  1. Saint Mary's at Gonzaga (Jan. 10)
  2. Gonzaga at Saint Mary's (Feb. 14)
  3. BYU at Santa Clara (Jan. 12)

Player of the Year favorite: The WCC is filled with excellent individual players this season, but BYU's Brandon Davies has been the best through two months. He's threatening for a 20-10 performance every night, and he's getting to the free-throw line more than nearly everyone else in the country. Davies has been downright dominant at times, averaging 24 points and nine rebounds in his last five games.

Freshman of the Year favorite: This one wasn't nearly as hard as the Player of the Year or all-league team -- Pepperdine's Stacy Davis is the frontrunner at this point. He leads WCC freshmen in points (11.3) and rebounds (6.9), and is coming off an 18-point, nine-rebound performance to get some momentum heading into league play.

Probable all-league team: Matthew Dellavedova (Saint Mary's); Anthony Ireland (Loyola Marymount); Tyler Haws (BYU); Brandon Davies (BYU); Kelly Olynyk (Gonzaga)

Ranking the teams from first to worst:

1. Gonzaga: After finally finishing in second-place in the WCC, the Bulldogs should be right back on top come March. This is one of the better Gonzaga outfits in recent years, and it has all the pieces to make a deep run in March. With Olynyk and Harris on the inside, and Kevin Pangos knocking down shots from the perimeter, the scoring is obviously there. Can the Bulldogs avoid NCAA tournament disappointment once again?

2. Saint Mary's: The Gaels started 22-2 a season ago, but this season is certainly not a repeat of that great run. Saint Mary's has dropped games to Pacific, Northern Iowa and Georgia Tech -- and the best win is a one-point victory over Harvard. The offense hasn't been a problem, but the Gaels are having trouble guarding the perimeter and forcing turnovers. Dellavedova is still his usual productive self, but he needs a sidekick. There are a handful of players capable of getting double figures, but one needs to step up.

3. BYU: The Cougars are having similar problems to last season, when they were able to beat bad teams and would get blown out by good teams. They are 10-4, but the four losses are by a combined 62 points, to Florida State, Notre Dame, Iowa State and Baylor. In conference play, they will be a difficult team to prepare for, with explosive scorers Tyler Haws and Brandon Davies forming a potent inside-outside duo. As mentioned above, Matt Carlino needs to shore up the outside shooting.

4. Santa Clara: The Broncos' solid performance against Duke last weekend sent a message to the rest of the WCC that they would not go down without a fight in the league. Of course, anything better than last season's 0-16 campaign will be looked at as improvement. Kerry Keating's bunch will finish drastically better. Kevin Foster is a big-time scorer, and Evan Roquemore finds people in the offense. Marc Trasolini is a viable inside player.

5. Loyola Marymount: The Lions are tough to predict heading into league play. The Lions have some good options offensively, including a Player of the Year candidate in Anthony Ireland. But they are also terrible defensively, allowing teams wide-open perimeter shots and stress-free possessions. There are several close losses -- but also a defeat to Alaska-Anchorage. With Ireland leading the way, and Ashley Hamilton and Ayodeji Egbeyemi as secondary options, Max Good's club will win some games.

6. San Francisco: Six players transferred from the program after last season, but the Dons and head coach Rex Walters were optimistic heading into this year. They have been up and down, having both a five-game winning streak and a five-game losing streak. They can really shoot from the perimeter, and Cole Dickerson is a double-double lock on the inside. De'End Parker and Cody Doolin are solid on the perimeter.

7. Pepperdine: The Waves are not going to be an easy out in the WCC, given the pace at which they play and the presence of guys like Lorne Jackson and Stacy Davis. They have already beaten Washington State this season, and are capable of scoring both inside and out. Defensively, they force tough shots. Can they get out of the cellar?

8. Portland: Eric Reveno's club threw scares into Washington State and UNLV in back-to-back games, and even hung with Kentucky for a while. But when a team's three non-conference highlights are all losses, that's a bad sign. Ryan Nicholas is a 15-10 threat every night, and guard Kevin Bailey has been a gunner from the perimeter. Outside of that, there's been inconsistency. The Pilots are long-removed from the three-season stretch in which they won 60 games.

9. San Diego: Bill Grier brought back four starters from last season, but the Toreros are just 5-8 against Division-I teams this season. Sophomore Johnny Dee has been a consistent scorer on the perimeter, but San Diego is struggling to do pretty much everything defensively -- except force turnovers. Their lack of inside strength and size could hinder them in league play.

For more college basketball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnCBB on Twitter, subscribe to our RSS Feed and subscribe to our College Basketball Newsletter. You can follow Jeff Borzello on Twitter here: @jeffborzello

 
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