Follow @WCChoops | TheW.tv | WCC on Instagram | WCC on Facebook | #WCCHOOPS
By John Crumpacker, WCC Columnist | @CrumpackerOnWCC
SAN BRUNO, Calif. - As West Coast Conference teams prepare to open their seasons this weekend, most preseason predictions have Gonzaga and BYU battling it out for the championship. That's as it should be.
The Zags and Cougars met in the WCC tournament title game last March and could well do so again in 2015. It's hard to bet against Gonzaga - it's won 13 of the last 14 conference championships. And BYU coach Dave Rose has a deep roster to draw from for a title run.
That puts Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett in a good position of being on the outside, but just barely, looking in at the presumed top two teams. Even better, the Gaels will have played six conference games before measuring themselves against BYU at home on Jan. 17 and Gonzaga in Spokane on Jan. 22.
"I think it's going to be similar to what we've been,'' Bennett said when asked about what kind of Saint Mary's team fans can expect. "We're more athletic and have better depth. I'm not sure who our second- and third-leading scorers are. Brad (Waldow), I imagine, will be our leading scorer. After that, I think we'll be pretty balanced.''
The 6-foot-10 Waldow has gotten himself in better shape for his senior season. He ended 2013-14 at 295 pounds but a change in diet allowed him to trim down to 268. "I just started eating more of the good things than the bad things,'' he said.
Bennett hopes that translates to even better results on the court. As a junior Waldow averaged 15.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, with 46 blocks.
"Expectations are high,'' Bennett said of his center. "He's improved. He gives us a very good low-post scorer but he can do more than that. I'd like to see him provide more leadership for us, both verbal and toughness.''
The Gaels open the season Friday night at 7 in Moraga against Cal State Los Angeles, followed by an 11:59 p.m. start in the last minute of Monday, Nov. 17 as part of ESPN's 24-hour marathon tipoff to the college hoops season.
STOP AND POP
At BYU, junior guard Kyle Collinsworth has been cleared to play after tearing his ACL in the WCC championship game against Gonzaga last March. In 13 minutes in an exhibition against Seattle Pacific he had two points, three rebounds, four assists and a steal.
GONZAGA'S Kevin Pangos is in good company. He was named as one of 36 guards on the preseason watch list for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the top backcourt player in the country. The field will be narrowed to 20 in February and to five in March, with the winner being announced on the day of the 2015 national championship game.
Breaking a bone in his right (shooting) hand in October forced PEPPERDINE'S Stacy Davis to work on his left hand, which coach Marty Wilson told NBCSports.com was "almost a blessing in disguise.'' The 6-foot-6 forward averaged 15.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game as a sophomore.
PORTLAND coach Eric Reveno has reason for optimism because his Pilots return four starters and seven of their top eight scorers from last season. Much is expected from 6-11 Thomas van der Mars and 6-5 guard Kevin Bailey. Just don't call van der Mars, from Gouda, in The Netherlands, a cheesy player.
At LOYOLA MARYMOUNT, new coach and alum Mike Dunlap is starting from scratch. His job was not made any easier when WCC all-freshman pick Gabe Levin decided to transfer.
While Pangos and backcourt mate Gary Bell Jr. of Gonzaga are highly touted as a tandem, the highest-scoring guard duo on the conference last season was SANTA CLARA'S Jared Brownridge (17.2) and Brandon Clark (16.9).
FOLLOW THE THREE DOTS...
Nine of the WCC's top scorers from 2013-14 return this season, led by BYU's Tyler Haws. Last season he made 46.3 percent of his field goal attempts, 40.4 percent from beyond the three-point arc and 88.1 percent from the free throw line. ... Transfer U: A number of schools around the conference will rely heavily on transfers this season, among them Gonzaga (Kyle Wiltjer/Kentucky, Eric McClellan/Vanderbilt, Byron Wesley/USC), Saint Mary's (Aaron Bright/Stanford, Desmond Simmons/Washington, Joe Coleman/Minnesota) and BYU (Chase Fischer/Wake Forest). ... In a conference noted for its guard play and guard tandems, the same is not true in the "bigs'' category. There are only four 7-footers on WCC rosters: Gonzaga's Przemek Karnowski and Ryan Edwards, Pacific's Sami Eleraky and Portland's Phillipp Hartwich. ... Last seen on the bench at Cal in 2013-14 as part of his father Mike's last staff in Berkeley, John Montgomery is now director of basketball operations at USF on coach Rex Walters' staff.
USF Unveils New Club
For USF games this season, fans 21 and older will be able to enjoy beer and wine and catered food at The Hilltop, a club level section on the upper mezzanine on the south side of venerable Memorial Gym. The cost for entry to The Hilltop is $25 per game and does not include the price of a ticket. The Hilltop will open one hour before tipoff and will remain open throughout games.
The Dons open the season Sunday at 5 p.m. against South Carolina State at Memorial Gym, preceded by the USF women hosting Sonoma State at 2 p.m.
WCC BY THE NUMBERS
0 - Number of international players on men's rosters at BYU, USF
1 - New coach in the WCC this season: LMU's Mike Dunlap
8 - Number of international players on LMU's men's roster
9-10-13 - National preseason rankings of Gonzaga in various publications
18 - Foreign countries represented on WCC men's teams in 2014-15
67 - Height, in inches, of WCC's shortest player, 5-7 Christopher Anderson of USD
85 -- Height, in inches, of WCC's tallest players, 7-1 Przemek Karnowski and 7-1 Ryan Edwards of Gonzaga
90.5 - Career free throw shooting percentage of USD's Johnny "Deadeye" Dee