|Santa Clara's Kevin Foster (20.2 ppg in 2010-11) is among the nation's most underrated players. (US Presswire)|
Gonzaga struggled last season -- and the 'Zags still tied Saint Mary's for the regular-season crown and won the conference tournament.
Mark Few's team will have more legitimate competition with the addition of BYU to the league, the progression of Santa Clara and the continued success from Saint Mary's.
| 2012 Tournament: |
Feb. 29-March 5 -- Las Vegas
| Defending regular-season champions: |
Gonzaga, Saint Mary's
| Defending tournament champion: |
| Top returning scorer: |
Kevin Foster (Santa Clara), 20.2 ppg
| Top returning rebounder: |
Rob Jones (Saint Mary's), 7.7 rpg
|G - Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary's|
|G - Kevin Foster, Santa Clara|
|F - Rob Jones, Saint Mary's|
|F - Elias Harris, Gonzaga|
|C - Robert Sacre, Gonzaga|
|G - Michael Williams, San Francisco|
|G - Rashad Green, San Francisco|
|G - Nemanja Mitrovic, Portland|
|F - Brandon Davies, BYU|
|F - Drew Viney, Loyola Marymount|
|Player of the year|
|Elias Harris, Gonzaga|
|Newcomer of the year|
|Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga|
|Brock Zylstra, BYU|
|Coach on the hot seat|
|Bill Grier, San Diego|
But the 'Zags are improved with multiple point guard options and a healthy Elias Harris. You can make the case that Randy Bennett's team is also better despite losing all-WCC point guard Mickey McConnell.
And while The Jimmer is gone, BYU will still come into the league as viable contenders.
If Santa Clara hadn't lost one of its most critical players in the preseason, Kerry Keating's Broncos would be right with BYU as a threat.
The league has as much quality depth as in recent memory, and that'll result in multiple tournament bids once again.
(Schools listed in predicted order of finish.)
1. Gonzaga: The 'Zags lost Steven Gray, but Mark Few's team should be improved with the return of Elias Harris and Robert Sacre -- and the addition of freshmen guards Gary Bell and Kevin Pangos. Harris needs to stay healthy -- unlike a year ago -- and Gonzaga needs to find a legitimate starting point guard from the likes of Marquise Carter, David Stockton and Pangos.
2. Saint Mary's: It'll be difficult for Randy Bennett and the Gaels to absorb the loss of Mickey McConnell, but fortunately Saint Mary's has Matthew Dellavedova and Rob Jones -- a terrific 1-2 punch -- back in the fold. Guard Stephen Holt had a solid freshman campaign and SMU transfer Paul McCoy, who averaged 13.4 points as a frosh, will give the Gaels quality depth on the perimeter. The Gaels also have Kenton Walker and Northwestern transfer Kyle Rowley up front.
3. Brigham Young: Dave Rose is in a new league, has lost his backcourt duo of Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery, and also his right-hand man, Dave Rice, who got the head coaching job at UNLV. Brandon Davies has been reinstated and he'll likely be the go-to guy on a team that will be focused around its frontcourt.
4. Santa Clara: Kerry Keating has one of the nation's most underrated players in Kevin Foster, who led the WCC in scoring a year ago. The Broncs were set to be a contender this year, but they took a major hit when senior big man Marc Trasolini suffered a season-ending injury on a preseason tour in his native Canada.
5. San Francisco: Rex Walters' Dons won 19 games a year ago and return two of the league's top players in junior guard Michael Williams and senior guard Rashad Green -- the brother of former North Carolina wing Danny Green.
6. Loyola Marymount: Max Good's team was hammered with injuries a year ago. The Lions should be able to withstand the losses of Vernon Teel and Larry Davis, but staying healthy is critical. LMU still has Drew Viney to build around and plenty of other pieces, including sophomore point guard Anthony Ireland.
7. Portland: The Pilots were hit hard by graduation, losing Jared Stohl and Luke Sikma. Now Eric Reveno, coming off a second consecutive 20-win season, will need even more from shooter Nemanja Mitrovic and sophomore point guard Tim Douglas.
8. Pepperdine: Assistant Marty Wilson takes over for Tom Asbury, who retired after the season, and has a team that won only a dozen games a year ago. The team's leading scorer, Keion Bell, transferred to Missouri with only one year of eligibility remaining, and Lorne Jackson, who led the team in scoring in WCC play, tore his ACL over the summer.
9. San Diego: You've got to feel for Bill Grier, whose Toreros struggled last season and then he had to endure a point-shaving investigation centering on one of his former players, Brandon Johnson. San Diego has most of its key pieces back and will also add two redhirts who will help in John Sinis and Ben Vozzola.
|2011-12 Season Preview|
|Oct. 13||Preseason Top 25 (and one)||Nov. 1||Top freshmen|
|Projected NCAA tournament field||Nov. 2||Top transfers|
|Goodman and Parrish bracket picks||Nov. 3||Under the radar players|
|Oct. 14||Team profiles: 'Cuse | UConn | UK | UNC||Nov. 4||Breakout players|
|Oct. 17||Preseason All-Americans||Nov. 5||Best shooters|
|Oct. 18||Top 100 players||Nov. 6||Best defensive players|
|Oct. 19||Positional rankings: Point guards||Nov. 7||68 things ...|
|Oct. 20||Positional rankings: Wing men||Nov. 8||Ranking the preseason tourneys|
|Oct. 21||Positional rankings: Big men||Nov. 9||50 can't miss games|
|Nov. 10||Coaches on the Hot Seat|