Tuesday , Nov , 09 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – West Coast Conference

*** College Basketball Preview – West Coast Conference ***
The Sports Network

By Brian Mason, College Basketball Staff Writer

OUTLOOK: The Gonzaga Bulldogs remained the cream of the crop in the West Coast
Conference after posting an unprecedented 14-0 mark in league play last
season. Coach Mark Few guided his troops to an amazing 28-3 overall mark and
at one point the team that registered its fifth consecutive WCC title, was
ranked second in the entire nation. The Zags are again considered to be the
team to beat in the conference and with one of the top frontcourts in the
nation returning for Few and Gonzaga, it’s easy to see why. Saint Mary’s and
Pepperdine each tallied 9-5 marks in conference play last season, but the
Gaels posted the more impressive 19-12 overall record (Pepperdine, 15-16).
They should once again be fighting for second place with the Waves, as both
squads return talent at nearly every vital position. Santa Clara and San
Francisco could also have solid seasons, while San Diego, Loyola Marymount and
Portland will be fighting to stay out of the basement in the WCC standings.
Expect Gonzaga to have another impressive campaign, but the Bulldogs will not
come close to repeating last season’s outstanding performance. In fact, the
Gaels could very well come out on top in the conference standings if the Zags
are unable to find some consistency in their backcourt.

CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Gonzaga

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Gonzaga; 2. Saint Mary’s; 3. Pepperdine; 4. San
Francisco; 5. Santa Clara; 6. San Diego; 7. Loyola Marymount; 8. Portland

TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:

GONZAGA – This program has shined brighter than any other small school in the
nation over the past few seasons and much of the success can be directly
attributed to the outstanding coaching ability of Mark Few. Not only is Few an
outstanding teacher, but he is also one of the most impressive recruiters in
the country. He regularly gets the most out of his players and has done an
excellent job finding players who fit his style of play each year. The return
of All-Conference forwards Ronny Turiaf (15.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Adam Morrison
(11.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg) gives Gonzaga arguably the best frontcourt in the
conference. Turiaf is the better of the two forwards and he could really take
off this year, as he has had a superb offseason. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs
lost two players who have been instrumental in the Zags’ impressive seven-year
run as the dominant team in this conference, as Blake Stepp and Cory Violette
have moved on. Stepp was an All-American guard and one of the best pure
shooters in the nation, while Violette gave the team size and intimidation in
the frontcourt. Forward Sean Mallon (5.8 ppg) and guard Erroll Knight (5.9
ppg) will now be thrust into starting roles and should thrive in them, helping
to keep the Zags’ run-and-gun style of offense alive.

SAINT MARY’S – The Gaels have shown signs of improvement in each of their
three seasons under current head coach Randy Bennett, who nearly guided his
squad to an NCAA Tournament berth last year. Saint Mary’s finished the season
with 19 wins last season and most of its success was due to the play of Daniel
Kickert and Paul Marigney. Kickert, who is one of the best forwards in the
WCC, averaged 14.9 ppg last year and was second on the team with 5.9 rpg.
Marigney, who shot an impressive 41.6 percent from behind the arc, led the
Gaels with an average of 16.0 ppg. He also proved to be a solid rebounder (5.1
rpg) and finished as the team’s MVP despite starting only 11 of the Gaels’ 31
games. Guard E.J. Rowland will also be back for Saint Mary’s, which returns
its three leading scorers from a year ago. Although Rowland was not overly
impressive from long range (.314) or from the foul line (.640), he was able to
contribute with 13.3 ppg and dished out a squad-best 4.5 apg. Center Blake
Sholberg received little playing time last season, but the 7-1 sophomore
should be a defensive force in the middle for the Gaels this time around.

PEPPERDINE – Coach Paul Westphal’s squad had a terrible showing in the 2002-03
season, but the Waves rebounded last year and were able to finish with nine
wins in conference play. However, a lack of defensive stopping power and
rebounding efficiency still plagued Pepperdine, which is 52-38 in three
seasons under Westphal. The former NBA coach needs to address the defensive
and rebounding issues this season, but his offense should still be one of the
most potent in the WCC, led by forward Yakhouba Diawara. The 6-7 senior missed
17 of the team’s 31 games last year, but was able to lead the Waves in both
scoring (18.9 ppg) and rebounding (6.6 rpg). He shot an impressive 50.9
percent from the field and also showed a shooting touch from behind the arc
(.481). Fellow forward Glen McGowan is also back for his senior season and
should improve on his 17.8 ppg and 5.4 rpg from a year ago. McGowan earned
all-conference honors last season, but he still needs to work on his long
range shooting (.299). Guard Alex Acker on the other hand was solid from
behind the arc (.368) and also was an above-average scorer (13.6 ppg),
rebounder (5.3 rpg) and passer (3.8 apg). Acker and the Waves have an
excellent chance at coming away with the WCC title if the Bulldogs stumble
this season and they actually learn to play defense.

SAN FRANCISCO – The Dons were ravaged by injuries last season, but they still
were able to finish with a respectable 7-7 mark in conference play and an
overall record of 17-14. The biggest loss of the year for San Francisco was
former All-Conference member John Cox, who went down in the team’s first game
of the season and never returned. Cox was able to file for another year of
eligibility and should be back to 100 percent to start this season. In
2002-03, Cox was widely considered one of the top guards in the conference,
scoring 15.3 ppg on 40.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Coach Jessie
Evans, who was handed the job this past offseason, will have the luxury of
having Cox back on the court alongside fellow guard Andre Hazel, who averaged
8.1 ppg and 4.7 apg last season. The frontcourt will be led by Tyrone Riley,
who ranked second on the squad with 11.2 ppg on 35.1 percent shooting from
beyond the arc. Riley is also the team’s best rebounder (7.0 rpg), but will
have to make up for the loss of James Bayless (12.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg), who
graduated at the end of last season.

SANTA CLARA – Dick Davey’s Broncos went just 6-8 in conference action last
season, but they could be the turnaround story of the 2004-05 campaign. Santa
Clara nearly upset Gonzaga in last year’s WCC Tournament and it returns four
of the five starters from that squad, including guards Doron Perkins and Kyle
Bailey. Perkins has a chance to receive All-Conference honors this year after
averaging 13.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 2.5 apg last season. Bailey had a rough
campaign shooting the ball from the field for Santa Clara (.381), but was one
of the team’s most reliable performers in terms of scoring (12.4 ppg) and
rebounding (4.7 rpg). He is also the Broncos’ best passer, having dished out a
squad-best 110 assists last year. The backcourt is littered with depth, as
both Brandon Rohe (5.8 ppg) and Ethan Rohde (5.3 ppg) can handle the ball and
drive to the basket effectively. However, the frontcourt is thin in terms of
talent for Santa Clara, even with the return of Travis Niesen (9.0 ppg, 4.3
rpg). Sean Denison will likely take over at center for the Broncos and
although he had an impressive offseason, he was not effective last year in
limited playing time (3.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg).

SAN DIEGO – The Toreros were the surprise of the conference in 2002-03, going
10-4 in WCC play and upsetting Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament championship
game, which sent them packing for the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately for San
Diego, they were once again the whipping boys of the conference last season
after winning only one of their 14 WCC matchups. The Toreros also went just
4-26 overall, which was one of the lowest win totals in school history. Now
that San Diego has been at both extreme ends of the spectrum over the past two
seasons, coach Brad Holland must find a way to get his squad back to its
2002-03 form. It may not be as hard for Holland to pull off as most would
think, as both Brice Vounang and Brandon Gay return for their senior seasons.
Vounang led the Toreros last season with 16.9 ppg and ranked second on the
squad with his 6.8 rpg. Only Brandon Gay (14.3 ppg) was a better rebounder
(7.0 rpg) than Vounang and he was even more dominant in conference play,
producing 16.5 ppg and 8.1 rpg against WCC foes. The squad will also get some
much needed help from Corey Belser, who missed last season with a knee injury,
and Floyd North, who transferred to San Diego from Oregon State. Belser is an
outstanding defender, while North is extremely athletic and could be the best
player to join the WCC this season.

LOYOLA MARYMOUNT – The Lions were able to go 15-14 overall last season, which
was their best finish since the 1996 season. However, they also finished their
conference campaign with a disappointing mark of 5-9 and coach Steve Aggers’
squad looks like it could be heading down the same road this season. Loyola
lost a pair of outstanding forwards in Sherman Gay and Keith Kincade, who
accounted for 28.5 ppg last year. Point guard Charles Brown now takes over as
the team’s most reliable scoring option, having posted 11.5 ppg last season
despite shooting just 38.4 percent from the floor. Brown may not be a great
shooter, but he is an excellent passer, dishing out a team-best 3.8 apg.
However, he is not a good rebounder (2.6 rpg) and turnovers have plagued his
development (3.6 tpg). Guard Wes Wadrop also shot poorly from the field last
year (.301) but he should improve on his 7.2 ppg in a starting role this
season. The frontcourt is terribly thin, as Matthew Knight and Chris Ayer will
be relied upon to start at forward and center, respectively. Ayer ranked
second on the team last season in rebounding (5.5 rpg) and although he is not
a gifted scorer down low (6.1 ppg), he has shown signs of improvement in that
area this offseason.

PORTLAND – The Pilots had another tough campaign last season, finishing just
11-17 overall and only 5-9 in conference action. That being said, Michael
Holton’s squad was able to post impressive road wins against the likes of
Oregon State and Boise State. Four of the team’s top seven scorers from a year
ago return for Holton, including talented guard Eugene Jeter. One of the
conference’s top three-point shooters (.444), Jeter led the Pilots last season
with 16.6 ppg and ranked second on the squad with his 3.2 apg. Donald Wilson
will start at the other guard position and should improve on his 12.8 ppg and
4.7 rpg. Although the Pilots will likely finish with a record below .500 in
conference play, they could surprise a lot of teams if Drewshawn Vance
continues to improve. The 6-8 forward was named to the WCC All-Freshman team
last season after contributing with 4.5 ppg and 3.6 tpg. While his numbers
weren’t flashy, Vance has proven to be a physical player in the paint, leading
the team with 33 blocks last year despite starting only 14 of the squad’s 28
contests.