Here are five storylines worth tracking in the WCC this season:
1. Gonzaga taking on all comers
Not that it’s at all surprising, but it’s good to see Mark Few embrace the challenge of adding Mountain West powerhouse BYU to the league. Gonzaga loves competition, and even though it’s a program that has won 11 straight WCC titles, it welcomes another quality team to the fold. Does that mean the streak will end soon? Maybe, but Gonzaga isn’t shying away from the threat to its supremacy.
So the games at The Kennel in Spokane and the Marriott Center in Provo are must-see events. BYU already owns bragging rights from their rout of Gonzaga to advance to the Sweet 16, but without Jimmer Fredette, the Zags are favored to win their 12th straight championship. It’s a rivalry that should develop, assuming BYU has a long stay in the league.
Gonzaga’s nonconference schedule is jam-packed with quality opponents as usual, as it will host Butler, Michigan State and Notre Dame while traveling to Illinois and Xavier. There’s also a game against Arizona in Seattle and a hometown game for senior Robert Sacre in Vancouver against Hawaii.
2. Who steps up in place of The Jimmer?
To be clear, it will be impossible for BYU to replace the legendary, once-in-a-generation qualities that Fredette brought to the program during his national player of the year campaign -- one that ended with the Cougars in the Sweet 16.
But BYU has shown over the years capable of being consistently good, and while not one player can replace Fredette, collectively they will try to make up for the loss of his scoring production.
Who steps forward? Is it Brandon Davies, the team’s top big man who, after being reinstated following a nationally-discussed honor code violation, puts together a breakout season? Is it a veteran forward like Stephen Rogers or Noah Hartsock, whose quiet contributions should become more noticeable? Or is it the new-look backcourt of Charles Abouo and Brock Zylstra, who led the team in scoring during a preseason tour of Greece? Can top freshman Damarcus Harrison make a significant impact?
These are questions for coach Dave Rose and the players themselves to sort out, and the intriguing answers won’t come until the season progresses.
3. What’s next for Saint Mary’s?
The Gaels barely missed out on going to the NCAA tournament, and now they no longer have WCC player of the year Mickey McConnell, so coach Randy Bennett will ask for more out of his returning players.
Matthew Dellavedova is expected to handle the ball a lot more, and it’ll be interesting to see how the offense changes as he shifts over to another position. The backcourt isn’t very deep after Southern Methodist transfer Paul McCoy went down with a knee injury, as the Gaels will have to rely on Stephen Holt and Jorden Page coming back from an injury-plagued season himself.
Rob Jones, the team’s top returning scorer, should be counted on to produce, and his versatility -- along with that of Clint Steindl -- gives Saint Mary’s a number of options when it comes to giving opponents different looks on the floor.
4. Santa Clara’s backcourt
Santa Clara was down to its final possession and trailing by thee points in the opening game of their preseason Canadian tour when it naturally turned to Kevin Foster, who sank a turnaround 3-pointer to send the contest into overtime. Similar scenarios during the season could very well play out that way, even as defenses converge on Foster knowing he’s the nation’s leader in made 3-pointers from last season.
Foster will not only keep on shooting at record-setting paces, but also could show off a more all-around game that was improved in the offseason. With top forward Marc Trasolini out for the season, Foster will be even more in the spotlight.
But the Broncos also have an emerging point guard in sophomore Evan Roquemore, who has gone from a late-signing recruit to a reliable option for Kerry Keating’s team. With Roquemore’s development and current chemistry with Foster, Santa Clara still looks strong.
5. A healthy Elias Harris
Gonzaga's Harris entered last season with some All-American consideration based on the eye-popping athleticism he displayed as a freshman. But due to nagging shoulder and Achilles injuries, Harris wasn’t the same player as a sophomore despite coming on strong late in the season and averaging 12.4 points and 6 rebounds. He reportedly was still bothered by the ailments over the summer.
But coach Mark Few, after an offseason of having Harris on campus, appears high on his 6-7 forward after he got into better shape and was able to focus on his own game rather than playing overseas with the German national team.
With a rejuvenated Harris, the Zags might have one of the strongest frontcourts in the nation with him playing alongside 7-foot center Sacre and another emerging center in Sam Dower.