Here are five things I can’t wait to see in the West Coast Conference this season:
1. Gonzaga’s nonconference schedule
The league’s preeminent program lined up one heck of a slate. Early on, watching the Zags in the CBE Classic should give viewers a good gauge of where they stack up in the early going. They host San Diego State in the regional round before heading to Kansas City to play Kansas State, with either a game against Duke or Marquette after that. Gonzaga also hosts Xavier, Oklahoma State and Memphis, plays back-to-back road games at Washington State and Notre Dame, takes on Illinois in Seattle and Baylor in Dallas, allowing Steven Gray, Elias Harris and Robert Sacre to get plenty of national attention.
2. The transformation of Saint Mary’s
Saint Mary’s made its magical run to the Sweet 16 last season behind the oversized personality of Omar Samhan and an offense centered around his post moves. The Gaels, who overcame the loss of Patty Mills to the professional ranks in 2009, now can turn their focus back on their talented backcourt. Point guard Mickey McConnell and shooting guard Matthew Dellavedova are the team’s top two returning scorers and led the WCC last season in assist-turnover ratio. McConnell also led the conference in 3-point shooting, while Dellavedova proved he could handle the adjustment coming over from Australia.
3. How good is Loyola Marymount?
Loyola Marymount lost in the first round of the CIT last season, but it marked the program’s first postseason tournament appearance since going to the Elite Eight 20 years earlier. The question then becomes, are the Lions ready to take the next step under coach Max Good? They certainly have the roster to do it, returning top three scorers Drew Viney, Vernon Teel and Jarred DuBois while getting back 6-foot-10 forward Edgar Garibay after a torn ACL ended his freshman season. The collection of talent has impressed the coaches in the conference, who picked LMU to finish second to Gonzaga, a team it upset a year ago.
4. Elias Harris’ development
Harris decided not to declare for the NBA draft after an impressive freshman season, but further growth from the 6-foot-7 forward could very well make him one of the more coveted players in the NBA draft. First comes helping Gonzaga soften the blow of losing Matt Bouldin. The aggressive, ultra-athletic Harris, after coming over from Germany to average 14.9 points and 7.1 rebounds, certainly has the ability to take on a leading role and become the next Zag to win conference player of the year honors. In Gonzaga’s final game last season, Harris led the way with 24 points and eight rebounds in the second-round loss to Syracuse.
5. Santa Clara with Kevin Foster
Foster suffered a season-ending injury when he fractured his foot last December. Without its leading scorer, Santa Clara fell apart and it quickly became a rebuilding year. The return of the sophomore guard and how well he plays nearly a year after his last organized game will determine to what degree the Broncos can be a threat in the WCC. Foster spent the offseason healing from surgery and also losing weight. He could be better than ever and doesn't necessarily have to carry the team, which saw Marc Trasolini and Robert Smith emerge as frontline players last season in his absence.