5. San Diego Toreros
USD went an impressive 20-14 last season which was their first 20-win season since the 2007-2008 season when they went to the NCAA Tournament and lost in the second round to Western Kentucky, 72-63. Last year’s USD team was ranked 41st in the nation for points allowed at 66.6. Even through that great season for the Toreros, that wasn’t the highlight of the season. Previous head coach, Lamont Smith, was arrested for domestic violence in a hotel in San Francisco (literally hours after a win against USF). USD promoted Sam Scholl as the new head coach of the Toreros program. Lets see if they can capitalize on their best season in the last 10 years with the return of three star seniors: Isaiah Wright, Olin Carter III, and Isaiah Pineiro.
Key Player - Isaiah Pineiro (SR, F)
2017-2018 stats - 15.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.2 SPG
This 6’7 forward is what made this team click last season with his length running the floor alongside the talented backcourt of Wright and Carter III. Pineiro, a 1st-Team All-WCC selection, lives down on the block but can occasionally stretch out to the three-point line so he is a threat on the offensive side.
Key Game to Watch: USD @ Oregon on December 12
4. San Francisco Dons
USF just had their second straight 20-win season, something this program hasn’t done in nearly three decades. This is due to to the intelligence of head coach, Kyle Smith, who just signed a multi-year contract extension with the Dons. Although this team loses Chase Foster due to graduation and Souley Boum as he transferred to UTEP, the Dons are in good hands with the leadership of Frankie Ferrari who is the heart and soul of this program.
Key Player - Frankie Ferrari (SR, G)
2017-2018 stats - 11.4 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.0 SPG
I have had the pleasure of watching Frankie ball out since his high school days back in Burlingame, California. Frankie had his breakout year last season while making the 1st-Team All-WCC team. Frankie Ferrari (the best name in all of college basketball) had his top games of the season against the top-two teams in the WCC. In the first matchup against #15 Gonzaga, Ferrari had 18 points with 5 assists and only 1 turnover. In the second matchup and upset win over the #15 Saint Mary’s Gaels, Ferrari had 20 points, 7 assist, and 4 rebounds. He led USF to the championship of the College Basketball Invitational (the postseason tournament right below the NIT) but ended up losing to North Texas in a three-game series, 2-1. Ferrari lives (and dies) by the 3-point line while shooting 40% behind the arc in WCC play last season.
Key Game to Watch: Arizona State @ USF on November 16
3. Saint Mary’s Gaels
No Jock Landale (WCC Player of the Year, All-American), Emmett Naar (1st-Team All-WCC, 4-year staring PG), Calvin Hermanson (2nd-Team All-WCC, three-point specialist), Cullen Neal and Evan Fitzner (grad transfer to Indiana). Enough said. Even with all that star power gone, you can’t count the Gaels out of the WCC race (for second place). Last season, even with a 28-5 record and a win at #13 Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s didn’t receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Bennett hopes to change this by adding actual “true” road games as Saint Mary’s will travel to New Mexico State on November 14th and at Western Kentucky on December 21st. You know Randy Bennett will also still have his offense intact as Saint Mary’s has finished in the Top 20 in the nation for offensive efficiency seven out of the last nine seasons.
Key Player - Jordan Ford (JR, G)
2017-2018 stats - 11.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.6 APG
Ford will be the new leader of the offense as Naar graduates and he will have players around him to help. Tanner Krebs (RS JR, G/F) averaged 7.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG last season and will see an increase in his minutes this season. Aaron Menzies, a redshirt senior transfer from Seattle U, will look to be the replacement for Landale in the middle. Menzies is a 7’3 center who averaged 11.3 PPG, 8.9 RPG for Seattle last season and looks to be immediately eligible for the Gaels. Bennett also grabbed a 6’8 wing and slasher named Malik Fitts who is a transfer from South Florida. Fitts will be eligible this season after sitting out last year. Saint Mary’s looks like they have a lot of strong options to replace their star players that have moved on from the program.
Key Game to Watch: Saint Mary’s vs LSU in Las Vegas on December 15th
2. BYU Cougars
BYU looks like the team Gonzaga fans should be worried the most about in WCC play. BYU is coming off an impressive 24-11 record with a WCC Championship appearance. Dave Rose also scheduled some intriguing matchups in the preseason like @ Nevada, vs Houston, vs Utah, vs UNLV, @ SDSU, and @ Mississippi State in order to maybe grab an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. Rose may have lost Elijah Bryant but he still has a talented trio of players like TJ Haws, Nick Emery, and Yoeli Childs (1st-Team All-WCC, 17.8 PGG, 8.6 RPG).
Key Player - Nick Emery (RS JR, G)
2016-2017 stats - 13.1 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.6 SPG
Emery (and Haws) make up the best backcourt in the WCC in my opinion (extremely close race with Perkins, Norvell, and Crandall of Gonzaga). They for sure have the most chemistry out of any backcourt in the WCC as both Emery and Haws were apart of the 2012-2013 Lone Peak (Utah) High School national championship team.
Emery had a strange situation last year after choosing to sit out the entire season due to “personal reasons” and now has to sit out the first 9 games of this season for accepting benefits from a BYU booster. This suspension will truly show if this BYU team is the real deal. First, lets see how BYU plays without Emery in the first 9 games and then how they play with a full roster come WCC play. Expect BYU in an exciting WCC Tournament Championship in Las Vegas against Gonzaga this March.
Key Games to Watch: BYU vs Gonzaga on January 31st, BYU @ Gonzaga on February 23rd (Gonzaga’s Senior Night)
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Big shocker here. I think you’ve heard enough about this team (Also, I’m tired of talking basketball... for now).
Key Player - Geno Crandall (RS SR, North Dakota grad transfer, G)
2017-2018 stats - 16.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.6 APG, 2.1 SPG
Geno is the missing piece to this team and is one of the top grad transfers this season (right behind Reid Travis of Kentucky in my opinion). Crandall makes or breaks this team’s national championship odds come April.
Key Game to Watch: Gonzaga @ North Carolina on December 15th (4:00 PM, ESPN2)
*Arden Cravalho is a senior at Gonzaga University... Follow him on Twitter @a_cravalho