College hoops is almost upon us. Finally. It seems like forever since the last time fans have had the chance to watch the Zags in action and what better way to kick off the season with a matchup against the blue-blood Kansas Jayhawks on Thanksgiving in Fort Myers, Florida. Forget watching the Cowboys play, my eyes will be glued to college basketball all day.
Gonzaga is obviously the favorite but what other teams will be the toughest competition for the Zags in the WCC? I discuss the programs that fans should be keeping an eye on this season.
#1 Gonzaga Bulldogs - The favorite to not only win the West Coast Conference but to win the whole damn thing for the first time in school history. The Zags are putting themselves to the test during the preseason with matchups against #2 Baylor, #5 Iowa, #6 Kansas, #12 Tennessee, and Auburn. I don’t want to hear that Mark Few and company plays a “cupcake” schedule anymore. Don’t give me that.
Gonzaga’s starting five now consists of four players that have been named on a preseason award watch list for their respective position as well as the Naismith award watch list (Jalen Suggs - PG, Joel Ayayi - SG, Corey Kispert - SF, Drew Timme - PF). But who am I most excited to watch? It has to be incoming freshman Jalen Suggs (#6 recruit in 2020 ESPN 100). This kid is a stud. He is not only a gifted scorer but he is quite the facilitator and with all the talent that’s going to be around him, it’s only going to make Suggs look even better. He will be a highlight machine as fans saw during Kraziness in the Kennel. Make sure everyone knows you shouldn’t be jumping with Suggs cause he’ll put you on a poster.
This roster is deep with talent and at all positions. This is most likely not only the deepest team in school history but in the nation this season. And it’s with a variety of different types of players. Highly-touted freshmen, a grad transfer, veterans, a star four-year player. Zag Nation has high expectations for this squad and with good reasoning.
BYU Cougars - I really like this squad. Mark Pope should’ve made his first appearance in the NCAA Tournament as a head coach last season but for obvious reasons, the postseason was cut short. This time around, the Cougars will end up dancing.
BYU loses a lot of veteran leadership and talent with Yoeli Childs, TJ Haws, and Jake Toolson but this season still isn’t a restructure. Matt Haarms (transfer from Purdue) is going to be the big man on campus in Provo. He’s already receiving preseason recognition by being listed on the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar award watch list. With Gonzaga possibly being a bit undersized at the 5 position at times, Haarms will look to attack where the Zags could be most vulnerable.
It’s not just going to be all Haarms. Brandon Averette is a transfer from Utah Valley and will once again be coached under Mark Pope. Gavin Baxter, Connor Harding, Kolby Lee, and Jesse Wade all return from last year’s squad. The Cougars will be the biggest road block for the Zags as they make their run to a WCC title.
Pepperdine Waves - I believe this is the year that the “Big Three” of the WCC comes to end. Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, and BYU have finished within the top 3 spots of the WCC standings every year since 2011-2012 (that was also the season when the Cougars joined the conference).
The biggest reason why? Colbey Ross, my favorite player to watch in the league right now. I have had the chance to talk to Ross last season and to see his growth over his career which has been spectacular. Colbey, like Haarms and numerous Zags, has been receiving national recognition as he was named to the Bob Cousy award watch list and the Naismith award watch list. His senior year will be his best yet (by far) as Ross looks to break every record in Pepperdine school history.
Lorenzo Romar returns Kessler Edwards, Andre Ball, and Sedrick Altman along with Ross. The Waves look to move up the WCC standings once again. Don’t sleep on Pepperdine.
Saint Mary’s Gaels - The loss of Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts is really going to hurt the Gaels.
Matthias Tass and Thommy Khuse will be the 1-2 punch for Saint Mary’s but that could be really it. I see the Gaels struggling to put up points this year with Randy Bennett’s halfcourt offense. This is obviously a lot different from past seasons where the Gaels had one of the best offenses in the nation. This season, Saint Mary’s just doesn’t have that go-to scorer like Jock Landale or Jordan Ford.
I do like the burst off the bench for Saint Mary’s with a couple of big-time transfers, Logan Johnson from Cincinnati (and nearby Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, CA) and 7’4” Matt Van Komen from Utah. The future of Gaels looks brighter than its present.
San Francisco Dons - This is the dark horse team in the West Coast Conference. Todd Golden has really got something going on “The Hilltop” and is becoming one of the biggest up-and-coming head coaches in all of college basketball. It starts with recruiting and Todd has put together quite the collection. Golden’s roster is full of talented guards like Jamaree Bouyea and Khalil Shabazz. He has also snagged a couple of big-time transfers such as Damari Milstead from Grand Canyon, Samba Kane from Illinois, and Julian Rishwain from Boston College. Josh Kunen and Taavi Jurkatamn return from last year’s squad while jumping into bigger roles with the Dons this time around.
Once you get the recruits coming in, the next step is to put together a respectable non-conference schedule and that’s exactly what Todd has done. USF will play LSU, Nebraska, Nevada, Long Beach State, and Grand Canyon this season.
Coach Golden is starting to bring back a legit program to the City by the Bay.
*Arden Cravalho is a Gonzaga University graduate from the Bay Area... Follow him on Twitter @a_cravalho