As expected, Gonzaga is heavily favored to repeat as WCC men’s basketball champions.
Conference coaches picked Gonzaga to win its fourth straight title and 15th in the last 16 years. GU received nine of 10 first-place votes – coaches can’t vote for their own team – and 81 points, followed by BYU with 73. The poll was released Monday as part of the WCC’s annual Tip-Off event in Los Angeles.
There is a new look near the top with Pepperdine picked third, breaking up the “Big Three” of Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary’s in recent seasons. The Gaels were selected fourth, followed by Portland, Santa Clara, Pacific, San Francisco, San Diego and Loyola Marymount.
Gonzaga’s frontcourt of Kyle Wiltjer, Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski made the 10-player preseason All-WCC team. They were joined by BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth and Chase Fischer, Santa Clara’s Jared Brownridge, Pepperdine’s Stacy Davis, San Francisco’s Tim Derksen, Pacific’s T.J. Wallace and Portland’s Alec Wintering.
“The cool thing about it is they each bring something totally different,” Zags coach Mark Few said of his trio of bigs. “Kyle is as skilled a player as there is in college basketball, as skilled as I’ve ever coached. With Domas, you get the heart of a lion. The guy is so physical, tough and aggressive and yet has a good feel for the game. Shem is the unsung hero in all this and a guy I think will be a solid NBA guy for years. He’s big, very physical but so fundamentally sound. An excellent passer, great footwork and a high-level defender.”
The Zags lost starting senior guards Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Byron Wesley from last year’s 35-win team.
“These guards have high-level talent and ability,” coach Mark Few said. “Now it’s a matter of getting them to value the ball and making simple plays. If we can do that, you’ll see a team that’s very balanced and probably be a little more athletic with what we’re able to do defensively.”
BYU returns versatile guard Collinsworth and Fischer, who made a WCC-best 103 3-pointers last season. Jamal Aytes and Utah State transfer Kyle Davis should boost the inside game.
“They’re so deep,” Cougars coach Dave Rose said of Gonzaga. “They have an injury, illness, things go a little wrong and that 8, 9, 10 player can really step up and have an impact. Hopefully that’s what we’ve got this year and we’ll be able to compete with them.”
Pepperdine returns all five starters from last year’s fourth-place squad, led by two-time All-WCC forward Davis. Saint Mary’s graduated all five starters, including All-WCC center Brad Waldow. The Gaels have six freshmen and no seniors.
“No seniors doesn’t bother me, six freshmen concerns me,” coach Randy Bennett said. “We have enough (experienced) guys that they can carry the load until the freshmen develop.”
Gonzaga, ranked 11th in the USA Today coaches’ poll, entertains Eastern Oregon for an exhibition game Nov. 7. The Zags open the season against Pittsburgh on Nov. 13 in Okinawa, Japan, in the Armed Forces Classic.
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