The West Coast Conference seems to have the same storylines each year:
Will Gonzaga continue its consecutive NCAA tournament appearance streak?
Will Saint Mary's overthrow Gonzaga at the top?
Will BYU finish ahead of third place?
More importantly, can BYU stop giving up 90 points to bad teams?
Lastly, can any of the bottom seven make a move towards the top three?
For the most part, the answers have been the same each year. But things have changed over the last couple of years. Gonzaga being the national runner ups brings more attention to the league. The Gaels have arguably the best team they ever had. Dave Rose of BYU has more heat on his seat after wasting Eric Mika's 20 and 9 season. And this is the first recruiting class of the four new coaches coming in from a year ago.
Each team has a storyline of their own coming into the season, whether it be good or bad. Let's take a look at the nine teams coming into this season.
Mike Dunlap enters his fourth season with the team and it could be his last. The Lions lost a ton of talent from a year ago, with Brandon Brown, Buay Tuach and Stefan Jovanovic all graduated. The 30 points between them is hard enough to replace, but former top 100 recruit and Oregon transfer Trevor Manuel left the team after just one season to play at a division three school near home.
Returning to the team is Steven Haney, the likely leading scorer for the team. He'll be joined by 6'10 Petr Herman and 76'3 Sweedish big Mattias Markinsson. LMU has for the most part finished around the 5-7 range the last few years, but this roster doesn't have the scoring to compete with the better teams. For Dunlap's sake, one of the new freshmen has to contribute and show signs of a future, otherwise another coaching change might occur.
The longest tenured coach of the "other seven", Marty Wilson will have to replace the leading scorer in the WCC in Lamond Murray Jr. Not only him, but the all time school assist leader Jeremy Major graduates as well along with Chris Reyes. With seven points a game, Nolan Taylor is the leading returner from last year.
Good news for the team is that senior point guard Amadi Udanyi will return after just playing six games. The real problem from last year was the defense, which finished last in the league. With the top three players gone and defensive concerns, the it'll be awhile before the Waves contest the Zags in a close game. But they still could beat BYU in Malibu, which they've done four times in a row.
Former NBA player and second year head coach Damon Stoudemire suffered a big blow with leading scorer Ray Bowles electing to transfer to Fresno State. Coming from a team who struggled to score at times last year, him along with TJ Wallace will be big losses. The good news is former Oregon player Kendall Small is now eligible to play. After not getting many minutes with the Ducks, he'll have a chance to excel in the WCC.
He'll be paired with returning frontcourt players Anthony Townes and Jack Williams to improve from their 4-14 conference record. Out of the seven teams the Zags played, Pacific gave them the biggest fight, and that same toughness should be there this season.
Terry Porter has an entire new roster on his hands. Besides the graduation of senior scorer Alec Wintering, a bunch of players including Jazz Johnson decided to transfer. This is a win-win situation for both sides, with the players choosing to play in a system that fits them, and Porter can now get the players he wants for his team, rather than dealing with those he inherited.
He's gotten off to a good start, getting a few intriguing young players for the future. Marcus Shaver is a three star guard who can score in bunches, and Tahirou Diabate is a 6'9 athletic forward from Japan. Originally from Mali, Diabate spent the last few years in the same country as Rui Hachimura and has similar traits on the court. He could be a real steal for the Pilots.
Throw in the two sons, Malcolm and Franklin Porter, and you can see the vision the coaching staff has. They've gone after athletes and players with raw talent and ability. There's a great chance that the Pilots will finish last in the league with all this youth, but it could very well pay off in a few years. This team is one to keep an eye out for in the future.
One issue as to why San Diego can't seem to take the leap is that they can't keep multiple good players at the same time. This time they'll have to replace Brett Bailey, who averaged 15 a game. But besides him the Toreros will return everyone else of significance, and get transfer Isaiah Wright from Utah.
One potential conference player is Olin Carter III, who as a freshman was second on the team with over 12 ppg. He's a speedy guard who can take it to the hoop and looks to be the new face of the team. He'll be joined by Cameron Neubauer and Jawun Gray up front. If this team can score at a proficient level, they may surprise some in the league.
While these teams may not seem like much threats, anyone who watches college basketball knows that a major upset can happen anywhere, anytime. Stay tuned for part two, where the top half of the league gets previewed.