Last season, we here at HoopsHD officially elevated the entire West Coast Conference from its former “Under the Radar” conference status to the same level of leagues like the Atlantic 10. The conference proved us correct when St. Mary’s and Gonzaga both made the Big Dance, and the Zags got Mark Few his first career Final Four, losing to North Carolina in the national championship game. This year, the Zags have to rebuild a bit with several key pieces from their team gone, and that is why it is St. Mary’s that is (albeit narrowly) the pick to win the league. The Gaels have a chance to be very special this year, and would not be a shock at all be be playing in the Sweet 16, if not deeper.
As for the rest of the conference, the pile of new head coaches that came in last season (Kyle Smith, Herb Sendek, Damon Stoudamire and Terry Porter) continue to try to grow their programs, but no one appears strong enough to catch up with the top two. That really may be the top three, as BYU is once again clearly the third best team in the league. The Cougars should have another very strong season, but they will need to make some noise in non-conference play and pick up a couple wins against the Zags and Gaels if they want to actually contend for a ticket to the Big Dance.
Predicted Order of Finish
- St. Mary’s – The Gaels are absolutely loaded this year, led by arguably the nation’s best center, Jock Landale, along with Calvin Hermanson, Emmett Naar, Ole Miss graduate transfer Cullen Neal and more.
- Gonzaga – Last year’s national runner-up, the Bulldogs have to make up for some huge offseason losses as four double-digit scorers have moved on. However, they should still be very dangerous, especially if players like Killian Tillie, Rui Hachimura and Zach Norvell can play up to their potential, with the help of returnees Josh Perkins and Johnathan Williams.
- BYU – The Cougars could have made this a three way battle and an incredibly exciting season — if only Eric Mika had pulled his name out of the NBA Draft. Instead, the star forward who averaged over 20 points and almost 10 boards per game is now playing pro ball overseas, and there are tons of question marks down low. Still, BYU will be dangerous enough in the backcourt to make some noise with the combination of TJ Haws, Elijah Bryant and Nick Emery — assuming they can all stay healthy.
- San Francisco – Kyle Smith did a great job getting 20 wins out of this team in his first season as head coach. Although they lose their top scorer, Ronnie Boyce III, the majority of the team returns and junior college transfer Erik Poulsen could be a big factor. The Dons may not be able to crack the top three, but they will not be a pushover either.
- San Diego – The Toreros have a chance to surprise a few teams with this season with Olin Carter III back at guard and a pair of transfers, Isaiah Pineiro (Portland State) and Isaiah Wright (Utah), that could have big seasons.
- Santa Clara – Herb Sendek enters his second season as head coach of the Broncos, and will do so without his best player from last year, guard Jared Brownridge, who averaged over 18 points per game. He still has a few weapons though, led by KJ Feagin at guard and Princeton grad transfer Henry Caruso, who missed most of last season with an injury.
- Pacific – The Tigers are one of several West Coast Conference teams that had close to a complete roster turnover this past offseason. They do bring in Oregon transfer Kendall Small at point guard, and he will have a chance to shine here. However, the talent and depth is probably not enough for an upper division finish, and will be hurt for a few more years due to scholarship reductions from violations under the prior coaching regime.
- Portland – Terry Porter’s team is almost a complete mystery heading into this season, with a ton of new pieces (11 of them if you count redshirts and walk-ons). There is definitely some potential talent here, but it will probably take at least one full season for them to gel and learn how to win.
- Loyola Marymount – Mike Dunlap is entering his fourth season as head coach for the Lions, but it looks like he is going to be rebuilding once again with very few offensive options returning from last season.
- Pepperdine – The Waves only won 9 games last season, albeit in part due to a slew of injuries. Their top three scorers from last season are now gone, and it is tough to see any serious chance of success this year.