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WCC preview: Notable coaching changes suggest a strong desire to catch Big Three

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few is the envy of the rest of the league, having led the Zags to the NCAA Tournament for 16 straight years. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few is the envy of the rest of the league, having led the Zags to the NCAA Tournament for 16 straight years. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Is the West Coast Conference actually getting serious about basketball?

Four head coaches were axed at the end of the 2016 season – the biggest churn in the league in 45 years – and now 60 percent of the programs have turned over head coaches in three years. It seems the league’s underclass is getting a little tired of the Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s-Brigham Young dominance at the top.

Which isn’t going to change in 2017. But stay tuned.

The disparate approach taken by the four schools in their hiring is intriguing enough. Santa Clara – having unwisely dumped reliable Dick Davey years ago – rethought its strategy and brought in a proven winner in Herb Sendek, most recently of Arizona State, and pledged more resources to the cause. Just up the freeway, San Francisco went for pedigree and hired Kyle Smith, a recent success at Columbia but just as important, one of Randy Bennett’s lieutenants in building the power at Saint Mary’s.

Pacific and Portland, meanwhile, went for name-brand splash – NBA names, that is – in Damon Stoudamire and Terry Porter, respectively. It’s Porter’s first college coaching stab; Stoudamire has apprenticed at Memphis and Arizona.

Only Smith had the available openings to make serious roster changes this year, however – and that means more of the same in the WCC: Big high end, and some RPI killers on the low end.

Both Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are showing up in preseason Top 25s – often with the Gaels ahead of the Zags. That will be the WCC’s great drama: how Saint Mary’s veteran lineup with all five starters and every significant sub back from its winningest team matches up with Gonzaga’s remade roster that includes three high-level transfers and what may be Mark Few’s best recruiting class.

But don’t count out BYU. The Cougars may have lost Player of the Year Kyle Collinsworth, but have restocked with a couple of transfers themselves and the usual mission returnees.

And when it comes to Selection Sunday, the WCC has the makings of a three-bid league.

Brigham Young Cougars

Coach: Dave Rose (283-99), 12th year

2015-16 record: 26-11. WCC: 13-5, 3rd

Key newcomers: Elijah Bryant (6-5, G), T.J. Haws (6-4, G), Yoeli Childs (6-8, F)

Key losses: Kyle Collinsworth, Chase Fischer, Zac Seljaas

Outlook: The LDS mission shuttle brings back Eric Mika, who’ll combine with Kyle Davis and freshman Yoeli Childs to give the Cougars their most potent frontcourt in several years. T.J. Haws, little brother of BYU’s career scoring leader, also rejoins the program, but the heart-and-soul of the attack will be guard Nick Emery, who sometimes needs a governor on his emotions.

Loyola Marymount Lions

Coach: Mike Dunlap (350-145), 3rd year

2015-16 record: 14-17. WCC: 6-12, 7th (tie)

Key newcomers: Stefan Jovanovic (6-11, C), Trevor Manuel (6-9, F)

Key losses: Adom Jacko, Marin Mornar

Outlook: Adom Jacko’s premature pro jump is a big hit to the Lions, the league’s worst rebounding team. Transfers Stefan Jovanovic (Hawaii) and Trevor Manuel (Oregon) should help that, and little Brandon Brown is an underrated point in a guard-strong league. Shamar Johnson made big gains late, too, when Jacko was injured.

Pacific Tigers

Coach: Damon Stoudamire (0-0), 1st year

2015-16 record: 8-20. WCC: 6-12, 7th (tie)

Key newcomers: K.J. Smith (6-2, G), Jack Williams (6-8, F)

Key losses: Alex Kobre, Eric Thompson

Outlook: New coach Damon Stoudamire’s NBA pedigree will take some time to pay dividends on the recruiting trail, and thus in the standings. Guards T.J. Wallace and Ray Bowles are solid performers in a league where better is needed, and there’s no scoring threat up front at all. Canadian newcomer Keshon Montague’s 3-point touch will help.

Pepperdine Waves

Coach: Marty Wilson (76-91), 6th year

2015-16 record: 18-14. WCC: 10-8, 4th

Key newcomers: Nolan Taylor (6-7, F), Elijah Lee (5-10, G), Chris Reyes (6-7, F)

Key losses: Stacy Davis, Jett Raines, Shawn Olden

Outlook: Big roster churn may suggest the Waves’ window of opportunity to break up the WCC’s Big Three has closed, but don’t write them off yet. Lamond Murray Jr. is one of the league’s best offensive talents, and Kameron Edwards should blossom in his sophomore year. But the Waves need a big man – maybe Nate Gehring – to make an impact.

Portland Pilots

Coach: Terry Porter (0-0), 1st year

2015-16 record: 12-20. WCC: 6-12, 7th (tie)

Key newcomers: Chier Maker (6-7, F), Alec Monson (G, 6-5)

Key losses: Bryce Pressley, Jason Todd

Outlook: Trail Blazers institution Terry Porter takes over after Eric Reveno ran out of time, but the roster is pretty much the same other than intriguing redshirt Chier Maker. Alec Wintering is among the WCC’s best point guards, and Jarrel Marshall has big-game potential, though not much in the way of consistency. Porter needs to do something about the defense, too.

Saint Mary’s Gaels

Coach: Randy Bennett (336-153), 16th year

2015-16 record: 29-6. WCC: 15-3, 1st (tie)

Key newcomers: Tanner Krebs (6-6, F), Jock Perry (7-1, C), Jordan Ford (6-1, G)

Key losses: None

Outlook: The winningest team to not make the NCAA Tournament, the Gaels return virtually the whole roster and have tweaked the nonconference schedule a bit to improve the resume. All-WCC guards Emmett Naar and Joe Rahon are among the nation’s most efficient playmakers, and forward Evan Fitzner is should make another big jump.

San Diego Toreros

Coach: Lamont Smith (9-21), 2nd year

2015-16 record: 9-21. WCC: 4-14, 10th

Key newcomers: Frank Ryder (6-10, F), Mark Carbone (6-2, G), Jose Martinez (6-10, F)

Key losses: Duda Sanadze, Jito Kok, Vasa Pusica

Outlook: Just plugging in the scoreboard was a challenge for last year’s Toreros and their best offensive players moved on, leaving promising guard Olin Carter III and Spokane veteran Brett Bailey. Coach Lamont Smith has bit the bullet by taking two transfers – Isaiah Wright (Utah) and Isaiah Pineiro (Portland State) – who have to sit out, so it’s likely to be another long year.

San Francisco Dons

Coach: Kyle Smith (101-82), 1st year

2015-16 record: 15-15. WCC: 8-10, 5th

Key newcomers: Jordan Ratinho (6-5, G), Charles Minlend Jr. (6-4, G), Chance Anderson (6-7, F)

Key losses: Devin Watson, Tim Derksen, Uche Ofoegbu

Outlook: The Dons finally had their fill of Rex Walters’ yearly roster upheaval, so they ousted him – and still had two more prominent underclassmen bail. So Kyle Smith, Randy Bennett’s former aide at Saint Mary’s, takes over with one notable holdover – streaky Ronnie Boyce III – and many new faces, plus Frankie Ferrari, a local favorite who returns after a year at JC.

Santa Clara Broncos

Coach: Herb Sendek (413-295) 1st year

2015-16 record: 11-20. WCC: 7-11, 6th

Key newcomers: Julian Roche (6-11, C), Akii Douglas (6-10, F)

Key losses: Brendyn Taylor

Outlook: Herb Sendek has taken three different programs to the NCAAs, but he’ll need time to get that accomplished here. At least he has some weapons, starting with WCC scoring champ Jared Brownridge and backcourt mate KJ Feagin, a late recruiting steal last year. JC import Akii Douglas will try to make an impact up front, where go-hard Nate Kratch is the mainstay.

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