Conference Catchup: West Coast needs challengers to Gonzaga

By Matt Norlander | Staff Writer

Bruce Pearl is back in the SEC, looking to revive Auburn hopes. (USATSI)
Stacy Davis of Pepperdine is a name to know. Breakout season could be coming. (USATSI)

More: Draft coverage | Coaching changes | Early Top 25 (And One)

Things are now mostly settled in college basketball. We basically know who will be coaching where. We basically know who will be playing where. So this seems like as good of a time as any to reset everything and get caught up on all of the notable leagues.

That's the idea behind the CBSSports.com Conference Catchups.

Previously we touched on:

The ACC
The American Athletic Conference
The Atlantic 10
The Big East
The Big Ten
The Big 12
Mountain West
The Pac-12
The SEC

We're winding down our Catchups; only two remain. Today, we look at the West Coast Conference.

FOUR OFFSEASON HEADLINES

1. Matt Carlino bolts on BYU: Carlino was a volume player for the Cougars the past two years. Will they be sad he's gone, though? Some believe BYU has a good shot at staying on course, and even getting better, despite not having Carlino's 13.7 points, 4.3 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. He's averaged to be a 40-percent shooter over the past three seasons.

2. Mike Dunlap takes over at Loyola Marymount: Dunlap is one of the highly regarded minds in the game, known for his unending dedication to the craft of coaching and watching tape. His schemes and X-and-O ability is among the best in college hoops. Marymount will be a tough scout going forward, certainly. Nothing would enhance his reputation more than, if in the next three years, he managed to win a league or postseason WCC title. Baby steps, though.

3. Gonzaga lands Arvydas Sabonis' kid: Mark Few's coup to land the offspring of one of the best basketball players ever (time has been unfair and forgetful of Sabonis' ability/legacy) will benefit the Bulldogs down the road. The Zags have been recruiting internationally for more than five years now, and it seems almost every season they're able to snag one really good prospect from outside the U.S.

4. BYU AD lands on men's selection committee: This news is only two weeks old, but with former WCC commish Jamie Zaninovich leaving his post to join the Pac-12, the NCAA Tournament men's selection committee had to replace Zaninovich with a WCC-based party. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe landed the coveted spot.

BIG QUESTION THAT REMAINS

Does the league schedule well enough in the non-conference to help itself out?

It can't all be on Gonzaga. The Bulldogs will almost definitely lord over the league again, but the time must be now for the middle of the league to upgrade. BYU helps a little, sure, but the rest of the conference -- tough as it might be -- is going to need to land, and win, some quality out-of-league games. The WCC is wobbling on the fence of being included with the A-10, Mountain West, Big East and AAC. It seems a notch below those four leagues, which are a notch below the big five, but we think the West Coast can be a perennial multi-bid league. It's part of why we've included it in this offseason series.

But for that to happen, of course teams like Pepperdine, Portland, San Francisco and Santa Clara will have to be better year-by-year. That starts with the scheduling. That's the necessary base if the WCC is to then beat up on each other in the top five or six in the standings. Look at the A-10 model. That league -- though it has more teams -- has built itself into a four-, five-, six-bid league despite not having much, if any, NBA talent.

There's little reason to believe the WCC can't copy that and become the Atlantic 10 of the West. Gonzaga has done so much for this conference, but it's time the rest of the union as a whole tilted the scales back.

NBA DRAFT REPORT

Could've gone and did: N/A

Could've gone but stayed: Przemek Karnowski (Gonzaga)

TRANSFER LIST

Coming: Jamal Aytes (UNLV to BYU), Kyle Davis (Utah State to BYU); Byron Wesley (Gonzaga); Desmond Simmons (Washington to St. Mary's), Aaron Bright (Stanford to St. Mary's), Joe Rahon (Boston College to St. Mary's); A.J. Lapray (Oregon to Pepperdine).

Going: Matt Carlino (BYU to Marquette); Gerard Coleman (Gonzaga to TBD), Luke Meikle (Gonzaga to TBD); Ben Dickinson (Loyola Marymount to UNC Greensboro), Max Heller (Loyola Marymount to TBD), Gabe Levin (Loyola Marymount to Marquette), Nick Stover (Loyola Marymount to South Alabama); Spencer Llewellyn (Pacific to San Francisco State), Aaron Short (Pacific to TBD); Malcolm Brooks (Pepperdine to Cal State Fullerton), Austin Mills (Pepperdine to TBD) Jeff Van Dyke (Pepperdine to TBD); Cody Doolin (San Francisco to UNLV), Avry Holmes (San Francisco to Clemson).

TEAM COMMENTARY IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

BYU: Team loses Eric Mika for two years to Mormon mission, but Kyle Collinsworth and Tyler Haws will keep BYU above par.

Gonzaga: Kyle Wiltjer, formerly at UK, will see the court. Bulldogs have good guards and wings. Team might win the league by three games.

Loyola Marymount: Was the worst team in the league last year, but sophomore Evan Payne can help LMU to sixth or seventh in the standings.

Pacific: Will be a tremendously young team and should pay the price for it. Fifteen wins would be a triumph.

Pepperdine: Stacy Davis could play his way onto NBA scouts' radars. The Waves are due for a really good season if the D improves.

Portland: The Pilots will be the oldest team in the league next season. Eric Reveno enters year No. 9 still in search of an NCAA bid.

San Diego: Thought the Toreros would be better last season. Christopher Anderson and Johnny Dee still make for an entertaining backcourt.

San Francisco: By all accounts, this team should steal a win against Gonzaga and/or BYU next season. WCC tourney sleeper.

Santa Clara: Santa Clara ends up being good when people don't expect it. People aren't expecting it next season.

Saint Mary's: Randy Bennett loses a lot, but still has a great paint player in Brad Waldow. SMC almost always a lock for 20-plus W's.

EARLY GUESS AT THE TOP FIVE IN THE LEAGUE

  1. Gonzaga
  2. BYU
  3. Saint Mary's
  4. San Francisco
  5. Pepperdine

EARLY GUESS AT THE ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

  • G: Kyle Collinsworth (BYU)
  • G: Tyler Haws (BYU)
  • G: Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga)
  • F: Stacy Davis (Pepperdine)
  • C: Brad Waldow (Saint Mary's)

Final Thought: After a "down" year, Gonzaga could threaten for another really good seed again.

So, for as much as I would like to see Few's team really take some jabs and have its crown tested, this year that's not going to happen. The best case for the WCC would be to get four teams crack 20 wins while having Gonzaga drop a few games against the second, third and fourth teams in the standings.

But overall, look at what the Bulldogs have, and you could see this team winding up with 30 wins after it takes on its final loss of the year. Kevin Pangos might be the league MVP, if Haws doesn't go back-to-back at BYU. Gary Bell Jr. is among the five most underrated players nationally. Wiltjer's going to come in and easily average between 12 and 15 points. And it's high time Przemek Karnowski had the breakout year that we've been waiting on.

It's not going to be Few's best team ever, but barring injury or unforeseen roster issues, there's little reason to believe this won't just be another year that Gonzaga establishes itself as the best team inside its own league -- in the nation. This has been going on for more than 15 years, and it's truly astounding. Sometimes I think Few doesn't get the credit he deserves for doing this, but I think that little lack of acknowledgment stems from the fact he's yet to make a Final Four.

That matters none when it comes to oppressing the rest of the league, though. Get ready for Gonzaga to basically lock itself up a tourney bid by the end of January again.

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