| ||Sunday, October 31|
|This is the model mid-major or low-major conference. Eight teams. Eight
rivalries. Quality coaches. Chemistry on nearly every squad. And plenty of
Forget for a moment the chaos that sometimes surrounds big-time college basketball and spend a day in Moraga at Saint Mary's or in Spokane at Gonzaga. This is where the true student-athletes exist.
Gonzaga's run to the Elite Eight was no fluke. The Bulldogs had the talent to be there and certainly were as cohesive a team as any in the tournament, with Connecticut being the only team that might have had a bit more. The problem with the West Coast Conference is the same for every other mid to low-major league: attention doesn't come until the tournament.
Remember Santa Clara beating Arizona in the first round in '93? How about Loyola Marymount's run in '90? Gonzaga has been the team of the late '90s and that should continue in 2000. But, like the WCC's best from the early '90s, Gonzaga will have to go on the road in November and December to get quality games because one will play the Bulldogs at home. They won't because they know they'll lose.
The race to the title will largely come down to Gonzaga and Santa Clara, but Pepperdine, San Francisco, Saint Mary's and San Diego will be just as tough to beat.All-conference team
Richie Frahm, senior, G, Gonzaga: 14.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg
Matt Santangelo, senior, G, Gonzaga: 12.7 ppg, 6.5 apg
Brian Jones, junior, G, Santa Clara: Redshirt in 1998-99
Nathan Fast, senior, G, Santa Clara: 15.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg
Kelvin Gibbs, junior, F, Pepperdine: 11.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg Player of the year: Matt Santangelo
He's one of the top point guard/shooting guards in the nation. Santangelo led the World University Games team in 3-pointers last July and is on target to being a first-round pick in June. He's savvy, can get to the basket, spot up for the 3-pointer and is a proven winner. He may lack a step defensively but he has the vision to play as good helpside defense and pick up steals as his former backcourt mate Quentin Hall. All-newcomer team
Jimmy Tricco, freshman, G, Gonzaga
Jovan Harris, freshman, G, Saint Mary's
K.T. Turner, junior, G, Saint Mary's
Kenyon Jones, junior, C, San Francisco
Zach Gourde, freshman, F, Gonzaga Newcomer of the year: Kenyon Jones
The Cal transfer didn't buy into Ben Braun's system. But he has to play defense under Phil Matthews. If he does, the Dons will have one of the most athletic players in the WCC. The league lacks swatting forwards who can change the direction of shots. Jones brings a presence to the middle only seen by the Big Continent (Brad Millard) at Saint Mary's. Best backcourt: Gonzaga
Forget the WCC. The Zags may have the best combination in the nation. Santangelo and Frahm can knock down 3s at will. Hitting the mid-range jumper isn't a problem, either. The one criticism could be defense, when Frahm has to guard a quicker wing. Best frontcourt: Pepperdine
Sorry, Saint Mary's. Millard needs to play more often for the Gaels to earn this honor. The Waves have three frontcourt players in Gibbs, Nick Sheppard and David Lalazarian who should be as productive a threesome in the league. Gibbs is the scorer, Sheppard the defender and Lalazarian the blender, who can make the offense work.
Team on the rise: Santa Clara
Is it fair to dump on a team that finished fifth in an eight-team league? Well, the Lions lost four starters and return only one reliable scorer in Elton Mashack. The Lions need a point guard to survive in this league. Unsung player: Casey Calvary, Gonzaga
He scored the putback over Florida to send the Bulldogs to the Elite Eight. He's a spirited locker room leader and one of the team's toughest players. He worked on his physique and his 3-point shot over the summer, which will force teams to extend their defense. Toughest road game: Gonzaga
The Kennel will be rocking this season, especially with 90 percent of the home games in the WCC. Gonzaga couldn't get high-profile teams to come to Spokane, putting a premium on the tickets for league games. Postseason teams
NCAA: Gonzaga, Santa Clara
NIT: Saint Mary's, Pepperdine