There’s a clear divide in the West Coast Conference between the haves and the have nots. That is not breaking news. While the top programs in the conference are comfortably ensconced in their positions, the bottom half of the league has consistently been inconsistent in the standings over the years.
Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, and BYU have all proven they can maintain their place in the conference as classes graduate and core players depart. Part of that, of course, has been the consistency with the coaching staff at those three programs so it will be interesting to see what BYU looks like under new leadership. The rest of the conference, however, has struggled to find the right formula and build on momentum year-to-year to try and close the gap with Gonzaga.
With that in mind, let’s look at the five programs ranked in the bottom half of the league as voted on by the WCC coaches in a preseason poll.
After hovering around 4th or 5th in the WCC standings over the last four years and three consecutive 20-win seasons under the leadership of Kyle Smith, the USF Dons are expected to slide down the conference ladder after losing Smith to Washington State and Frankie Ferrari, Nate Renfro, and Matt McCarthy to graduation. The Dons will get some continuity, though, as newly minted head coach Todd Golden ascends to the first chair after serving as Smith’s associate head coach and recruiting coordinator over the last three years. At 33 years old, Golden is the youngest head coach in the WCC. Though he doesn’t have years of coaching experience under his belt, USF’s Administration eschewed a national coaching search to replace Smith and quickly tapped Golden for his first head coaching gig. And while he’s a rookie head coach, Golden is a WCC veteran, having played his collegiate ball for Saint Mary’s from 2004-2007. The Dons are hoping they’ve found their coach for the next 10+ years, but if Golden proves to be as good as they hope, you have to wonder if he’s biding his time until the job down the road becomes available.
LMU got off to a strong start last season with eight consecutive wins to open the year, and 11-1 overall including victories over Georgetown and UNLV. That form didn’t quite carry over to conference play, however, as the Lions had to settle for an 8-8 campaign in the WCC. Nevertheless, it was the best season of Mike Dunlap’s five year tenure and a surprising turnaround following an uninspiring 11-win campaign the year prior. The big challenge for Dunlap will be scratching together another 20-win season without James Batemon, who rarely left the floor last year, and 7’3” center Mattias Markusson who is taking a redshirt in what should have been his senior year following the recent passing of his mother.
This will be Damon Stoudamire’s fourth year in Stockton, but he’s still looking for his first winning season after back-to-back 14-18 campaigns and an 11-22 record in his first year on the job. Jahlil Tripp earned pre-season all conference honors, and he’ll be expected to lead a team that got a pretty extensive makeover as it features nine new players. Stoudamire hit the transfer market hard to bolster the team’s depth, bringing in three graduate transfers, two juco transfers, and Justin Moore will be eligible to play after sitting out last season due to the NCAA’s transfer rules after leaving Georgia Tech. The Tigers also have three freshmen. Moore and grad transfer Austin Vereen out of VMI should be the most impactful of Stoudamire’s newly available players.
The last two seasons were San Diego’s best over the last decade, but second year coach Sam Scholl now faces a rebuild after losing his senior stalwarts in Olin Carter, Isaiah Pineiro, Isaiah Wright, and Tyler Williams. Scholl did not run a deep rotation last season, but he’ll be hoping that forwards Yauhen Massalski and Alex Floresca can shoulder a bigger load this season along with sophomore guards Joey Calcaterra and Finn Sullivan. San Diego did pick up a transfer in 6’11” center Vladimir Pinchuk who left New Mexico, but he’ll have to sit out a season and will then have two years of eligibility remaining.
The Pilots are coming off a very, very tough 7-25 season in which they failed to win a single WCC game. Frankly, I was surprised that Terry Porter was retained as head coach for a fourth season as Portland’s win total has decreased in each year he’s been on the job. While Porter kept his job, he lost his leading scorer as sophomore guard Marcus Shaver announced he was transferring to Boise State shortly after the season ended. Porter’s son, Franklin, also left as a graduate transfer. It will be another long year for Portland.