Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few doesn’t long for the good old days of the West Coast Conference because, well, they weren’t always all that good.
Gonzaga was tabbed WCC favorites for the umpteenth time in the coaches’ preseason poll and four Bulldogs made the 10-player All-WCC preseason team. The poll was released Monday just before the conference’s annual tip-off event in Los Angeles, where nine head coaches were joined by one of their top players for 10-minute interviews streamed live on YouTube.
Coaches voted Gonzaga first, followed by BYU, defending champion Saint Mary’s, Loyola Marymount, San Diego and Santa Clara.
GU’s Elias Harris, Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Sam Dower were joined on the preseason team by Saint Mary’s Matthew Dellavedova and Stephen Holt, Loyola Marymount’s Anthony Ireland, BYU’s Brandon Davies, Santa Clara’s Kevin Foster and San Diego’s Johnny Dee.
One by one, coaches praised the emergence of the conference from top to bottom and its elevated status nationally.
“I think it’s the deepest this conference has been since I’ve been in it,” said San Diego coach Bill Grier, who has 22 years of WCC experience. “The addition of BYU, where Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga are and how other programs have raised their level of their play … this league has become very, very difficult.”
“What’s changed over the years is it’s really helped our NCAA profile, whereas before when we went into league after playing a really tough preseason we’d watch as our RPI dropped and dropped,” Few said. “That hasn’t been the case. To get three teams (into the NCAA tournament) last year was something very well deserving, but also it’s what we expect to do year in, year out within the league.”
Gonzaga’s 11-year run of WCC regular-season titles was clipped last season by Saint Mary’s, which also captured the WCC tournament title with an overtime victory over the Bulldogs. Gonzaga received seven first-place votes, BYU and Saint Mary’s one each.
“Over the last 5-6 years this league has kind of taken off,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “So many of the games, not just ours and Gonzaga’s, but the whole conference has so many games televised. Kids see those. The freshmen class last year was terrific. Our league is going to be good for years to come.”
After six second-place finishes from 2004-10, Saint Mary’s has won or shared the last two WCC titles. The Gaels return 13 players, including conference player-of-the-year Dellavedova, but must replace All-WCC selection Rob Jones.
“You’re going to lose good players – you’re not going to do the things we’ve been able to do without really good players – and hopefully the guys underneath are ready to take over when it’s their time,” Bennett said. “I think that’s where we are, but time will tell.”
BYU finished third last season, its first in the WCC.
“It’s extremely competitive. I think the players are very talented, the coaches very strategic and there are a lot of adjustments you have to make in a game,” Cougars coach Dave Rose said. “As far as learning those things and trying to get a feel for what other guys are doing, that was a real learning experience for us last year.”