West Coast Conference preview for the 2021-22 season

Previews

1.) Gonzaga

PG: Andrew Nembhard

SG: Rasir Bolton

SF: Hunter Sallis

PF: Chet Holmgren

C: Drew Timme

Bench: Anton Watson, Nolan Hickman, Ben Gregg, Kaden Perry, Martynas Arluaskas, Julian Strawther, Dominick Harris

The Bulldogs were ranked first the entire season before the final poll after Baylor steamrolled them in the title game. Three starters from that final four appearance depart, Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, and Joel Ayayi, all moved onto the NBA. In that shellacking, Baylor tossed together an intelligent plan of attack for the title game in the championship game. It was simple — Have rotating five-men Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Flo Thamba set high-ball screens, leading to Drew Timme switching onto agile guards, three of which are currently in the NBA. That game was the worst of Timme’s sophomore season, only scoring 12 points with five turnovers, paired with immense struggles defensively. That rough game prompted his return to Gonzaga for his junior season, where he’s the heavy favorite to notch national player of the year honors. Timme’s shifty footwork, passing ability, and ball-handling make him a matchup nightmare for opposing WCC teams. 

Aside from Timme, the other returning starter is Andrew Nembhard, who’s now played three college seasons between Florida and Gonzaga. Despite starting only 16 games last year, Nembhard played starter minutes the entire season. Nembhard’s main point of struggle is shooting from outside; the talented guard hasn’t eclipsed the 34 percent mark from three throughout his career — That’s the final piece of his toolkit that hasn’t come together quite yet. There’s a legitimate case that three players make an All-America team from the Zags next season — Nembhard & Timme being two.

Four former top-60 recruits at the back of the Bulldogs bench would play substantial roles for other teams. If Kaden Perry, Ben Gregg, Dom Harris, snd Julian Strwather would start on 320 other teams in the country. On this Gonzaga team, the only one that will play minutes in close games is Strawther, as the others are buried behind established players at this level.

So, who’s the third?

None other than consensus top recruit in the Class of 2021, Minnesota native and Jalen Suggs’s best friend, Chet Holmgren — Holmgren is incredibly unique, 7-foot-1, tremendous ball-handling ability, elite shot-blocker, and knockdown shooter. Sure, the knock on him is his extremely slight frame, but he’s going to thrive at the college level—Holmgren’s in for a huge season in Spokane. 

Holmgren isn’t the lone five-star player in this Gonzaga recruiting haul, as Hunter Sallis is a top-ten recruit, and several other high-end talents give the Bulldogs a top-five recruiting class for the second consecutive season. 

One thing weighing in Gonzaga’s favor is their extensive guard depth. Between one-time Kentucky commit and fantastic facilitator Nolan Hickman and Iowa State transfer Rasir Bolton (15.0 PPG at Iowa State) make the wealthy more wealthy.

The skepticism surrounding Gonzaga Basketball is ridiculous at this point. Look, I know Baylor ran them out of the gym in the title game — that doesn’t mean Gonzaga wasn’t head-and-shoulders above nearly everybody last season. This team might be even more loaded. 

Gonzaga X-Factor: Hunter Sallis

Considering how loaded the team is, it’s tough to pinpoint one player who single-handedly could change the Bulldogs season. If I had to choose one, give me Sallis, a consensus five-star recruit that Holmgren overshadows.

2.) BYU

PG: Te’Jon Lucas

SG: Alex Barcello

SF: Gideon George

PF: Caleb Lohner

C: Richard Harward

Bench: Fouss Traore, Atiki Ally Atiki, Seneca Knight, Trevin Knell, Spencer Johnson, Hunter Erickson, Gavin Baxter, Nate Hanson, Trey Stewart

Mark Pope transformed Cougars Basketball entirely. Throughout his two in Provo, the Cougars combined for a dazzling 44-15 record. Returning is leading scorer Alex Barcello, who averaged 16.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.2 assists in the Cougars’ run to the NCAA Tournament. His partner in the backcourt will be Milwaukee transfer Te’Jon Lucas replacing the outgoing Brandon Averette. The most substantial loss from last season is 7-foot-3 Matt Haarms. Not having Haarms leaves a giant void surrounding the Cougs big men. Sure, Richard Harward will play solid minutes, but is subpar defensively and never averaged more than 15 minutes per game in a season. What’s the answer? Pair of freshman big’s, Fouss Traore from the esteemed Wasatch Academy and 6-foot-11 Atiki Ally Atiki. If those two emerge as key pieces throughout the year, the Cougars’ ceiling exponentially rises. 

Gideon George returns for his senior season after showing flashes in his 13.7 minutes per game last season but looks poised to produce big-time this season. George’s switchability on the defensive end, paired with relentlessness on the boards, and his massive 7’1 wingspan makes him an intruging player to monitor next season. He’s not the lone BYU player that could take a rise in production this season — The other is sophomore Caleb Lohner, who played pivotal minutes down the stretch last season. The one-time Utah commit could average a double-double this season, with the ability to hit threes if open. 

The coaching is legit, and the depth is deep — BYU can go 11 players deep this season as names like Seneca Knight (SJSU/LSU), Trevin Knell, and Spencer Johnson add critical bench minutes. The Cougars aren’t long for the WCC since The Big 12 accepted them last week and will join the conference in 2023-24 along with Cincy, UCF, and Houston.

BYU X-Factor: Fouss Traore

Despite Traore’s height listing him at 6-foot-7, his wingspan measuring out to 7-foot-1 exceeds his listed size. His shot-blocking presence could be the main difference for this Cougars roster, as there isn’t much in that aspect besides Traore.

3.) Loyola Marymount

PG: Cameron Shelton

SG: Joe Quintana

SF: Dameane Douglas

PF: Eli Scott

C: Keli Leaupepe

Bench: Alex Merkviladze, Kwane Marble, Jalin Anderson, Quentin Jackson Gary Harris, Ivan Alivpiev, David Elliott, Lamaj Lewis, James Nobles, Kodye Pugh

If you want 1,500 words on why I’m bullish on the Lions, here you go. 

LMU X-Factor: Alex Merkviladze

Merkviladze produced impressive figures during his freshman campaign at Cal State Northridge in an otherwise disastrous season. His relentless force on the boards and shooting ability could be the difference-maker on a team that doesn’t have shooting forwards.

4.) Saint Mary’s

PG: Tommy Kuhse

SG: Logan Johnson

SF: Alex Ducas

PF: Dan Fotu

C: Mattias Tass

Bench: Jabe Mullins, Matt Van Komen, Kyle Bowen, Leemet Bockler, Quinn Clinton, Mitchell Saxon, Judah Brown, Augusts Marciulionis, Chris Howell

By Randy Bennett’s standards, last year could be considered a “Down Year” The Gaels fell short of 20+ wins for the first time since 2006-07 but played only 24 games. The Gaels offense finished 178th in KenPom’s offensive efficiency while finishing 11th in defensive efficiency. One of the biggest problems surrounding Saint Mary’s offensive struggles was the lack of three-point shooting, clocking in at 29.4 from deep (the worst a Bennett-led team posted since his 2022.) Part of the shooting woes was top-shooters Alex Ducas and Leemet Bockler dealt with injuries. 

Thanks to breakout seasons from the aforementioned Bockler, fellow sophomore forward Judah Brown, a healthy Alex Ducas, and Jabe Mullins, I’d expect the shooting woes to subside this season. Brown’s the most intriguing player of the bunch based on his minimal numbers of minutes last season — in those sparse minutes, he only tallied double-digit points one time in a decisive loss to the Zags, but Brown dropped 16. 

The showrunner of one of the more deliberate offenses in the country “runs it back” for one last ride. Tommy Kuhse is ready to lead an NCAA Tournament team — Kuhse posted impressive figures of 12.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 5.0 assists last season. Kuhse isn’t the most skilled player of all time, but he knows how to make plays. 

SMC’s leading scorer was Logan Johnson, the younger sibling of former Fresno State standout and NBA player Logan Johnson; the younger Johnson is phenomenal on the defensive end and tallied up points despite shooting struggles.

The frontcourt mix of Estonia native Matthias Tass and Dan Fotu should serve as a formidable unit once again in 2021-22. Last year, Tass found his pre-injury form to average 10.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, the latter leading the team. The Gaels needed a stretch-four on the roster to replace Malik Fitts, that ended up being Fotu. Weirdly enough, the Auckland native drilled 21 threes during his freshman season, then only attempted three in his sophomore season — I’m happy to report Fotu didn’t forget his shooting capabilities entirely, as his shooting form reemerged in 2020-21, as he drilled 31 percent of his triples.

The baton from superstar player at St Mary’s gets passed on year after year during the Bennett era. Whether it’s Mills to Dellevadova or Landale to Ford, this time it’s Kuhse to Augustus Marciulionis from Lithuania. If you’re an older Hoops fan, the last name Marciulionis might ring a bell — if so, it’s because Augustus’s father, Sarunus, played eight seasons in the NBA and is one of the more well-known basketball players to come from Lithuania. Augustus’s feel for the game will allow him to slide right into the mix as the starting point guard once Kuhse’s time is up — for now, he’ll likely find a sizeable bench role this season.

Randy Bennett is unquestionably an elite head coach, which was proven last season if anyone had doubts in their mind. 

Saint Mary’s X-Factor: Leemet Bockler

The sophomore guard from Estonia showed his shooting prowess in only eight games before the dreaded injury bug ended his season. Bockler went 11-26 from deep in those games, and his not being on the floor was noticeable.

5.) San Francisco

PG: Jamaree Bouyea

SG: Khalil Shabazz

SF: Julian Rishwain

PF: Zane Meeks

C: Yauhen Massalski

Bench: Patrick Tape, Gabe Stefanini, Josh Kunen, Volodymyr Markovetskyy, Dmitry Ryuny, Jonas Visser, Isaiah Hawthorne, Nwendo Newbury, Maj Dusanic

 Year two of the Golden’ era in the Bay was interesting, to say the least — beginning with a devastating loss to UMass Lowell, and two games later, the Dons took down Virginia in Bubbleville. They finished the year 11-14 but finished 93rd in KenPom’s rankings and the bottom 20 of his luck rankings, indicating things seldom went the Dons way in tight games.

Super-senior Jamaree Bouyea leads the charge on San Fran’s potent offensive attack after averaging 17.3 points last season, finishing top-five in the conference in scoring. Filling out the dangerous guard tandem of USF is former Junior College standout, Khalil Shabazz, who saw an uptick in scoring last season — that came with it’s downsides too, as his shooting numbers drastically dropped from his sophomore season. 

The Dons had trouble replacing program mainstay Jimbo Lull last season, and there wasn’t a real back-to-the-basket option — Taavi Jurkataam and Josh Kunen filled in admirably. Still, they didn’t provide the low-post impact a guy of Lull’s caliber did. Golden and his staff tirelessly worked to haul in intra-conference transfer Yauhen Massalski from San Diego, an effective post-presence on the defense-end, and brings valuable offensive rebounding prowess on potentially missed three-pointers. However, Massalski isn’t the lone post-player donning the Dons colors this season, as Columbia/Duke transfer Patrick Tape made the trip to the Bay, and Wazzu 7-footer Volodymyr Markotveskyy finds more playing time after getting buried on the depth chart in Pullman. 

There’s plenty of shooting to go around on the roster even with the focus on hauling in traditional big-men, as Belarus native Dzmitry Ryuny returns to the program and Nevada stretch-four Zane Meeks joined the program. And I haven’t mentioned the last-season surge of former Boston College transfer wing Julian Rishwain, who compiled two 20-point outings in the final six games. 

San Francisco X-Factor: Gabe Stefanini 

Stefanini hasn’t suited up on the court since the 2018-19 season. Missing the entire 2019-20 after suffering an injury, the Ivy axed the season before it began, eventually leading to Stefanini’s transfer. The Italian native can run the offense if needed or play a spot-up shooter role.

6.) Santa Clara

PG: P.J Pipes

SG: Christian Carlyle

SF: Jalen Williams

PF: Keshawn Justice

C: Josip Vrankic

Bench: Parker Braun, Parker Holt, Brenton Knapper, Carlos Stewart, Cameron Tongue, Miguel Tomley, Carlos Stewart, Max Besslelink, Jaden Bediako, Vittorio Reynoso-Avila

Santa Clara lost its entire starting backcourt heading into last season, which posed problems in the shooting department. Nobody on the roster shot with more than 50 attempts shot over 33 percent from outside. Herb Sendek solved that issue by adding Green Bay transfer PJ Pipes, a dynamic guard that displays shooting range from the parking lot. Pipes shot over 40 percent from deep and 95 percent from the foul line for the Phoenix in 2020-21. The Broncos’ lone constant on the offensive end was first-team all-conference forward Josip Vrankic — a physical forward that traveled to the foul line over five times per game last season and averaged 17 points. The rest of the starting five consists of rangy, athletic wing Jalen Wiliams, junior forward Keshawn Justice, who’s aiming to find his shooting form after his three-point-percentage nosedived to 30 percent last season. The starting lineup doesn’t feature elite shooting outside of Pipes, and Justice can shoot, but there’s a ton of length in the lineup. 

Santa Clara’s biggest deterrent right now is the lack of experienced players in the bench unit. Sophomore guard Miguel Tomley and Junior forward Jaden Bediako serve as the lone returning players who saw actual minutes last season. Aside from those two, the bench features freshman newcomers, and Missouri transfer Parker Braun will bring shooting and athleticism in the fold. 

The Broncos are clearly behind the top-five in the WCC — they are clearly above the next grouping of teams in the conference. 

The Broncos 

7.) San Diego

PG: Jase Townsend

SG: Joey Calcaterra

SF: Josh Parrish

PF: Marcellus Earlington

C: Terrell Brown

Bench: Vladimir Pinchuk, TJ Berger, Bryce Monroe, Wayne McKinney, Muon Reath, Yavuz Guletkin, Alijah Kuehl

Sam Scholl’s Toreros’s sneakily had one of the best offseason hauls of any Mid-Major team in the country. Firstly, adding go-to scoring option Jase Townsend (19 PPG at Denver) landing him over several high-major teams. St John’s transfer Marcellus Earlington comes in after averaging 6.6 points, 4.1 rebounds for the Red Storm last year. Earlington’s addition is way too under the radar, his ability to shoot, paired with his strength, fits this league seamlessly. Two other high-major transfers are former Pitt Panther Terrell Brown, who averaged 16 minutes per game in four years in the ACC, and the other is sharpshooting sophomore TJ Berger from Georgetown. Rounding out the transfer pool is shifty 5-foot-11 guard Bryce Monroe from Sam Houston State. Those are five names that’ll play sizeable roles from the opening tip of the season, vastly improving the talent level on the roster in the process. 

San Diego X-Factor: Marcellus Earlington
Earlington played productive minutes for an above average St John’s team last season. Heading into his junior year he should shine in the WCC

8.) Pacific

PG: Pierre Crockrell

SG: Luke Avdalovic

SF: Alphonso Anderson

PF: Jeremiah Bailey

C: Jordan Bell

Bench: Khaleb Rouse-Wilson, Greg Outlaw, Nick Blake, Sam Freeman, Jaden Byers, Gabe Oliveria, Jalen Brown

Pacific didn’t lose much in the way of the roster, but Damon Stoudamire left to join newly-minted Celtics head coach Ime Udoka’s staff in the NBA. Replacing Stoudmaire is longtime assistant Leonard Perry, who aims to keep the team’s foundation intact. 

Dazzling playmaker Pierre Crockrell returns to lead the show after having the third-highest assist percentage in the conference, only trailing Colbey Ross and Tommy Kuhse. Crockrell doesn’t provide shooting but has capable shooters around him — Jeremiah Bailey returns after posting his career-best scoring output of 11.4 points-per-contest. However, lack of consistency plagued Bailey’s season at times — illustrated by his three games scoring 20 or more points and seven scoring fewer than double-figures. If he’s poised to make a real jump next season, finding a happy medium is important.

The Tigers hauled in several players that’ll change the trajectory of the season. Coming in from Utah State is former sixth-man of Alphonso Anderson, a valuable player on two NCAA Tournament teams down in Logan. Perhaps the top newcomer is New Mexico Military Institute (JUCO) product Khaleb Wilson-Rouse, who finished fifth among all NJCAA D1 players in scoring last season with 20.9 points. Adding an elite spot-up shooter was on the docket for this Pacific staff this offseason, and they delivered by hauling in NAU transfer Luka Avdalovic, who shot 44.3 percent from deep. Bringing in a shooter of that caliber on a team with abysmal shooting numbers last season changes things. UNLV Transfer Nick Blake should be a major piece of the future also.

9.) Pepperdine

PG: Mike Mitchell

SG: Jade’ Smith

SF: Keith Fisher

PF: Jan Zidek

C: Victor Ohia Obioha

Bench: Darryl Polk, Braun Hartfield, Majok Deng, Houston Maliette, Maxwell Lewis, Jalen Pitre, Sekou Gassama, Carson Basham

On the positive side – Pepperdine won the CBI championship, which means they’re hanging a banner inside Firestone Fieldhouse. 

On the negative side – That ended the illustrious career of Colbey Ross, and Kessler Edwards got selected in the NBA Draft. Those two accounted for most of the production on a team nowhere near the NCAA Tournament picture. 

Coach Romar’s offseason consisted of finding ways to replenish the 42 points-per-game lost between Ross, Edwards, and Sed Altman — one way was by hauling in the future of the Waves program, Mike Mitchell Jr, an accomplished high-school guard from Archbishop Mitty. Only two players join from the portal, Keith Fisher, who posted 9.6 points, 6.0 rebounds at Illinois State, and Braun Hartfield transferring within the conference from USD following his 13.9 PPG season.

Redshirt senior wing Jade’ Smith is the top candidate to lead the team in scoring without Ross and Edwards in the mix. Smith

10.) Portland

PG: Mike Meadows

SG: Chris Austin

SF: Tyler Robertson

PF: Kristian Sjolund

C: Matteus Silveria

Bench: Moses Wood, Jack Perry, Vasilje Vucinic, Matija Svetozarevic, Skylar Wilson, Nikola Milosevic

Shantay Legens comes in from Eastern Washington after the Eagles went 75-49 over four seasons at the helm. Along with the new coach comes an entirely new group of players, a total of zero players from last year’s return. That isn’t to say Legens isn’t familiar with anyone on the roster, as sharpshooters Taylor Robertson, Jack Perry, and lead guard Mike Meadows made a move with their head coach from Eastern Washington. 

It’s hard to be worse than the Pilots had been the past five years under Terry Porter, finishing an abysmal 43-104 overall and 7-70 in conference play. It’s hard to say how this team looks, considering none of these players played on the team last year, two have transferred several times (Moses Wood, Kristian Sjolund), and a slew of overseas recruits join the fold. What I do know — Legens will turn things around in Portland sooner rather than later. 

Player of the year:

Drew Timme, Gonzaga

Not much needs to be said here besides that Timme is the best player in the country. 

All-WCC team:

Drew Timme, Gonzaga

Alex Barcello, BYU

Andrew Nembhard, Gonzaga

Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga

Jamaree Bouyea, San Francisco

Cam Shelton, Loyola Marymount

Tommy Kuhse, Saint Mary’s

Josip Vrankic, Santa Clara

Eli Scott, Loyola Marymount

Hunter Sallis, Gonzaga

All-WCC second team:

Jase Townsend, San Diego

Caleb Lohner, BYU

Khalil Shabazz, San Francisco

Jeremiah Bailey, Pacific

Gideon George, BYU

Keli Leaupepe, Loyola Marymount

Mattias Tass, Saint Mary’s

P.J. Pipes, Santa Clara

Jade’ Smith, Pepperdine

Logan Johnson, Saint Mary’s

WCC Freshman of the year:

Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga

WCC Coach of the year: 

Stan Johnson, Loyola Marymount

Johnson, in my projection, leads Loyola Marymount to their first NCAA Tournament berth in 31 years — will be hard for anyone else to win Coach of the year if the Lions dance in March. 

Newcomer of the year:

Cam Shelton, Loyola Marymount

Shelton gives Stan Johnson a game-changing guard to pair aside from already established WCC standout Eli Scott. 

Defensive player of the year:

Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga

The highly touted freshman will make WCC foes second-guess shots thanks to his incredible shot swatting ability. 

Best shooter:

PJ Pipes, Santa Clara

The former Green Bay guard led the country in free-throw percentage while shooting over 40 percent from deep throughout his four-year career. 

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