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ESPN.com WCC ShootAround

Sept. 3, 2008


By Nate Dinsdale
Special to ESPN.com

  • Vegas, baby
    The WCC tournament will be held at a neutral site (Orleans Arena in Las Vegas) for the first time in league history after years of using a host school system that favored programs (like San Diego and Gonzaga) with the largest arenas. The move is intended to both eliminate homecourt advantage and to draw more fans to a host site that offers more enticing amenities than might be found in, say, Spokane. If any team loses from the new arrangement, it's San Diego, as the Toreros earned their last two trips to the Big Dance by winning the auto bid on their home floor.

  • Baptism by fire
    For years, Gonzaga has boosted its reputation (if not its RPI) by scheduling tough nonconference foes (including Memphis, Washington State and Tennessee last season), and now other WCC teams are following suit. Saint Mary's and San Diego had big résumé-boosting wins (Oregon for Saint Mary's and Kentucky for San Diego) that helped pave the way to their NCAA bids. That trend continues this season with Gonzaga (Connecticut, Oklahoma State), Saint Mary's (Oregon, Wooden Classic, Newell Challenge) and San Diego (UNLV, Oregon, Mississippi State, Paradise Jam) all putting themselves to the test early.

  • What I did on my summer vacation
    Gonzaga star Jeremy Pargo's flirtation with the NBA draft notwithstanding, the WCC's biggest wave-maker this offseason was Saint Mary's sophomore guard Patrick Mills. Not only was Mills the only NCAA player to compete in the 2008 Olympics, but he averaged 14.2 points for Australia in Beijing and dropped 20 points on Team USA (admittedly renowned for its olé defense), earning praise from NBA stars like Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant. Another big season and it might be Mills pulling a Pargo next summer.

  • Cha-cha-changes
    Three teams (Pepperdine, San Francisco and Loyola Marymount) welcome new coaches, but the league itself is also under new leadership. After more than two decades under the guidance of Michael Gilleran, the WCC has a new commissioner in Jamie Zaninovich. The commish has already implemented a few changes, like moving the conference tournament to Las Vegas and changing the format of league games from Saturday/Monday to Thursday/Saturday. Zaninovich is expected to be aggressive about marketing the league, which should translate to even more national exposure.

  • Wild cards
    Several teams will get a significant boost from transfers this season from both junior colleges and major conferences. Among the more intriguing eligible new faces are Saint Mary's junior center Ben Allen (a transfer from Indiana), San Diego forward Roberto Mafra (junior college), Portland junior guard T.J. Campbell (a junior college all-American last season), Santa Clara junior forward Decensae White (from Texas Tech) and San Francisco junior forwards Blake Wallace and Dontae Bryant.

    By Andy Katz

    I was a huge proponent of protecting the top teams in the league for years. But that was when Gonzaga was the lone dog in this pack that could stand out. Now, advancing to the semifinals is no longer a necessity for the Zags. The WCC placed three teams in the NCAA tournament last season. That's two at-large berths for the league. Granted, one of them was regular-season champ Gonzaga, but the league is strong enough to handle a full eight-team tournament with everyone playing their way to the final. Losing to a team in the quarterfinals might not cost an at-large bid if the league continues to stay strong. Testing the league tournament at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas will be interesting. The homecourt advantage in the WCC -- whether it's in San Diego, Santa Clara or Spokane -- is an issue. While this move proves the league has grown up enough to handle a neutral court, I still want to see how it draws before making a final decision on any permanent site.


    By Nathan Dinsdale
    Special to ESPN.com

    2007-08 RECORD
    GonzagaJeremy Pargo -- the reigning WCC Player of the Year -- did the Zags (and himself) a solid when he opted out of the NBA draft. Now the senior guard leads a deep Gonzaga team that returns six of its top seven scorers (only all-WCC guard David Pendergraft is gone), including all-WCC junior guard Matt Bouldin, senior forward Josh Heytvelt and senior guard Micah Downs. GU fans held their collective breath earlier this summer when sophomore forward Austin Daye had an ACL scare but catastrophe was averted and now Daye is poised to have a breakout season after a strong freshman campaign. Overall: 25-8


    The only direction is up for Loyola Marymount after suffering through a dismal 5-26 season in which the team was outscored by more than 16 points a game on average. LMU loses seven players from the 2007-08 roster (which maybe isn't a bad thing) with the void being filled by freshmen, transfers and redshirts. The biggest addition is new head coach Bill Bayno, who took UNLV to the postseason in four of his five seasons with the Rebels. But Bayno will have more modest goals for a team whose top returning scorer (sophomore forward Tim Diederichs) averaged 8.2 points a game. Overall: 5-27


    If Pepperdine has anything, it's the element of surprise. New/old head coach Tom Asbury welcomes six freshmen and one sophomore transfer but lost his top two scorers after Malcolm Thomas (12.5 ppg) and Tyrone Shelley (15.1 ppg) both transferred to San Diego State. With nine underclassmen (including sophomore forward Mychel Thompson, son of former Laker Mychal Thompson), Pepperdine will rely heavily on senior guard Rico Tucker to provide a steady hand for a team looking to improve on an 11-21 record. Overall: 11-21


    Portland hasn't seen the sunny side of .500 this century, but hopes are high (relatively speaking) that the Pilots can edge closer to the break-even mark this season. UP returns seven of its top eight scorers and will look for big contributions from junior guard Nik Raivio (brother of former Gonzaga star Derek) and sophomore forward Luke Sikma (son of former NBA big man Jack). What the team lacks in standout talent, it makes up for in size with four players standing 6-foot-9 or taller, including behemoth freshman center John Hegarty (7-1, 365). UP could surprise some teams, but with nine underclassmen and no seniors, the Pilots may still be a year away from making a more serious run. Overall: 9-23


    Fresh off their first national ranking in nearly two decades, the Gaels won't have to worry about a sophomore slump as they return four of five starters and two all-WCC selections in Patrick Mills and senior forward Diamon Simpson. Mills may get the most ink, but Simpson -- the reigning WCC Defensive Player of the Year who nearly averaged a double-double last season (13.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg) -- is the most critical to the team's success, while junior center Omar Samhan and senior forwards Ian O'Leary and Yusef Smith will also make an impact. With nine upperclassmen (including six seniors) and Mills poised to possibly make an early exit after the season, now is the time to carpe the diem. Overall: 25-7


    USD returns its entire roster from a team that made an improbable run through the WCC tournament and into the second round of the NCAA tournament (after a dramatic upset of Connecticut in the first round). But the Toreros still found room to add freshman guard Patrick McCollum and transfers Luciano de Souza and Roberto Mafra. Mafra will help buttress all-WCC senior forward Gyno Pomare in the paint, while all-WCC senior guard Brandon Johnson and junior guard De'Jon Jackson roam the perimeter along with the inside/outside threat of sophomore forward Rob Jones. San Diego's tough nonconference schedule (UNLV, Oregon, Mississippi State and potentially Miami-Fla., UConn or Wisconsin in the Paradise Jam) could also go a long way toward improving their at-large credentials if Gonzaga or Saint Mary's runs away with an automatic bid. Overall: 22-14


    USF looks to new head coach (and former Kansas star) Rex Walters to provide a stabilizing presence after the Dons limped through last season trying to cobble together enough victories to give legendary fill-in Eddie Sutton (who took over after Jessie Evans stepped down in December) 800 wins. The bad news for Walters? Two players accounted for more than half of USF's scoring last season. The good news? Both of them are back. All-WCC junior forward Dior Lowhorn led the league in scoring (20.5 ppg), while senior guard Manny Quezada chipped in 13.9 points per game. Two transfers -- junior forwards Blake Wallace and Dontae Bryant -- will look to punish teams for doubling up Lowhorn. Overall: 10-21


    The Broncos have a shot to be the WCC dark horse after being the only team outside the top three within spitting distance of .500 (with a 15-16) record. Their hopes to improve on that mark rest squarely on the sturdy shoulders of senior center John Bryant, who averaged 18 points and 9.6 boards a game last season and passed the incomparable Kurt Rambis for career blocks at SCU. The frontcourt is shored up by sophomore forward Ben Dowdell and transfer Decensae White, but the biggest hole to fill is the one left in the backcourt by graduated all-WCC guard Brody Angley. Overall: 15-16