For once, there was a bit of intrigue about the predicted order of finish in the West Coast Conference men’s basketball preseason poll.
But once again, Gonzaga held down the top spot.
WCC coaches gave the Zags the nod for the 16th straight year with seven first-place votes and 79 points. Saint Mary’s, which returns every key player from last season’s co-championship squad, received three first-place votes and 75 points to finish second.
“We have depth at pretty much every spot,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said via livestream from the WCC Tip-Off in Los Angeles. “We’re really balanced; the guys are kind of equal ability across the board. I don’t know if any one guy is going to play 35 minutes every night and we can’t live without him. That hasn’t been the case in many of the years prior.”
Gonzaga has won or shared 15 of the last 16 WCC titles.
BYU was picked third, followed by Pepperdine, Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount, Pacific, Portland, San Francisco and San Diego.
Gonzaga senior center Przemek Karnowski and sophomore guard Josh Perkins were selected to the preseason All-WCC team. They were joined by Saint Mary’s Emmett Naar, Joe Rahon and Dane Pineau, BYU’s Eric Mika and Nick Emery, Santa Clara’s Jared Brownridge, Portland’s Alec Wintering and Pepperdine’s Lamond Murray Jr.
“I think (last season) was a huge life lesson for me, for the appreciation of things that you have every day,” said Karnowski, who had season-ending back surgery on Dec. 31. “It was hard to do any daily activities when I was injured. Appreciation, and perspective, too.”
Said Few: “To get to where we are right now it’s just a great story and a testament to him. You just wish for nothing but the best. You want a happy ending.”
The Zags’ priority is blending four transfers – Nigel Williams-Goss, Johnathan Williams, Jordan Mathews and Jeremy Jones – with key returners Karnowski, Perkins and Silas Melson, and four freshmen.
Few said the fun part of the job is watching Karnowski regain his health, being on hand to watch Domantas Sabonis play in Oklahoma City’s home opener and receiving the call that Kyle Wiltjer had made the Houston Rockets’ roster.
Few said the challenging part that occupies his thoughts “is getting the transfers dialed into the Zag way and getting the new guys (to do the same), and figuring out what we can do with the old guys.”
Saint Mary’s, ranked No. 17 in the AP preseason poll and No. 19 in the USA Today rankings, is dealing with higher expectations after last year’s squad won 29 games.
“Kind of be who we are, try and work hard and get better all the time,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said. “That’s where we’re trying to stay focused instead of worrying about rankings and all that stuff.”
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