October 20, 2011
Our WCC preview begins with conference projections and a look at the league's three most intriguing storylines entering the new season.
1. How will post-Jimmer BYU do in its WCC debut?
If the rise of Jimmermania overshadowed BYU's supporting cast during last year's historic 32-win season, this season will be the remaining Cougars' chance to demonstrate they can play a little bit too. Yes, Fredette and fellow guard Jackson Emery have graduated, but the Cougars still have enough returning and new talent to contend with Gonzaga and Saint Mary's in their inaugural WCC season.
BYU's strength will be a frontcourt trio that rivals Gonzaga for the WCC's best. Now back from suspension for his honor code violation, 6-foot-9 junior Brandon Davies will provide the Cougars double-digit scoring, capable rebounding and shot-blocking. He'll complement Noah Hartsock and Chris Collinsworth, the former a sharp-shooting senior and the latter a rugged sophomore who missed most of last season with a knee injury.
What will likely determine whether BYU returns to the NCAA tournament is the play of its backcourt. The player the Cougars will count on most is 6-foot-5 senior Charles Abouo, a perimeter defensive stopper earlier in his career who blossomed into a greater scoring threat late last season and averaged 14.8 points per game on BYU's August trip to Greece. Brock Zylstra and freshman Demarcus Harrison will also compete for playing time at wing, while UCLA transfer Matt Carlino should inherit Fredette's spot at point guard once he becomes eligible in December.
2. Can Gonzaga solve its point guard woes?
Gonzaga has the WCC's best center, an NBA prospect at power forward and a plethora of talented albeit unproven wings. About the only thing separating the Zags from a potential deep run in the NCAA tournament next March is steady production and capable defense from the point guard position.
Point guard was already Gonzaga's weakest position a year ago, so the decision of defensive stopper Demetri Goodson to transfer to Baylor to play football only amplified the problem. Now the Zags will have to rely on either sophomore David Stockton (John's son) or freshman Kevin Pangos to get the ball up the floor, distribute it to their playmakers and keep opposing point guards out of the lane.
A former walk-on whose increased role late last season coincided with Gonzaga's second-half resurgence, Stockton is a steady pass-first player whose lack of athleticism makes it difficult for him to guard explosive opposing point guards. Pangos has the greater upside and defensive ability, but the Canadian freshman may need a year of grooming before he's ready to take over the position.
3. Can Saint Mary's seamlessly replace another star?
What separates Saint Mary's from other successful mid-major programs is the Gaels have remained relevant despite the departure of a handful of stars. Even though Daniel Kickert, Patrick Mills and Omar Samhan have all come and went, Saint Mary's has managed to win at least 25 games each of the past four seasons and made the NCAA tournament twice during that span.
The next standout the Gaels will have to replace is guard Mickey McConnell, the reigning WCC player of the year who averaged 16.4 points and 6.1 assists and shot 45.6 percent from behind the arc last year. Fortunately for Saint Mary's, a trio of players appear to be collectively up to the challenge of leading the way for the Gaels the way McConnell did a year ago.
Guard Matthew Dellavedova showcased impressive versatility and playmaking skills last season, averaging 13.4 points, 5.3 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals. Undersized 6-foot-6 forward Rob Jones shot 56.5 percent from the field and averaged 13.8 points and a team-high 7.7 boards a year ago. And sophomore guard Stephen Holt led the team in steals last season and built momentum for this season by scoring 31 points in Saint Mary's first two WCC Tournament games last March.
More conference previews from the Dagger:
ACC: Lessons from the pros keep North Carolina humble and hungry, ACC projections and storylines to watch, Ex-Wake Forest star Ish Smith scouts the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league ACC games, Q&A with Florida State junior Michael Snaer
Atlantic 10: Temple's Micheal Eric hopes to seize his chance, A-10 projections and storylines to watch, Ex-Xavier star Byron Larkin scouts the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league A-10 games, Q&A with St. Louis guard Kwamain Mitchell
Big East: For Cincinnati's Yancy Gates, suspension was a turning point; Big East projections and storylines to watch; Ex-Notre Dame forward Jordan Cornette projects the league; Ranking the 15 best non-league Big East games
Big Ten: How Zack Novak became Michigan's emotional leader; Big Ten projections and storylines to watch ; Ex-Ohio State star Jim Jackson scouts the league; Ranking the 15 best non-league Big Ten games; Q&A with Michigan State forward Delvon Roe
Big 12: Big 12 projections and storylines to watch, Iowa State's Royce White aims to capitalize on second chance, Ex-Oklahoma guard Michael Neal projects the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league Big 12 games, Q&A with Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson
Mountain West: San Diego State out to prove it's no one-hit wonder; MWC projections and storylines to watch ; Ex-New Mexico forward Daniel Faris projects the league; Ranking the 12 best non-league MWC games; Q&A with UNLV guard Anthony Marshall