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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

West Coast Conference men: Experienced Saint Mary’s, BYU nipping at Gonzaga’s heels

The script is dog-eared, tattered and coffee-stained from two decades of re-use, as if plucked from the read-through table on the set of “Law & Order” or “Home Improvement.”

The same plot, the same characters – introduced in mostly the same order – and the same dialogue seem to be recycled every basketball season in the West Coast Conference.

There’s Gonzaga out front and high in the polls. There’s Saint Mary’s, either nipping at the Zags’ heels or a couple car lengths behind. There’s Brigham Young, wondering why parachuting into this little church league hasn’t allowed it to dominate the way its fans presumed.

Then there’s everybody else, wondering what they’ve signed up for – other than frustration, of course. None of the WCC’s other seven schools have made an NCAA Tournament appearance out of the league in the last 10 years, and for four of them the drought goes past 20.

Buckle in for another rerun.

There does figure to be drama at the top, what with Gonzaga returning but three players who spent any time in the regular rotation and seeing more than 70 percent of last year’s scoring go pro. Meanwhile, the Gaels return everyone but up-and-down center Jordan Hunter – and add two important pieces, point guard Kristers Zoriks and center Aaron Menzies, who missed last season with injuries.

And there always seems to be some drama with BYU – this time starting with the retirement of long-time coach Dave Rose, who surely felt a nudge after the Cougars failed to win 20 games for the first time in his tenure. The school went next door to Orem to poach Mark Pope from Utah Valley, and in turn Pope reeled All-WCC forward Yoeli Childs back from the draft – only to have a paperwork snafu result in the NCAA declaring him ineligible for nine games. And, finally, troubled guard Nick Emery opted to leave the program, an addition-by-subtraction situation.

One other new coach joins the WCC lodge – Todd Golden, who was promoted at San Francisco when Kyle Smith jumped to Washington State.

BYU Cougars

Coach: Mark Pope, 1st year

2018-19 record: 19-13. WCC: 11-5, 2nd (tie)

Key newcomers: Jake Toolson (6-5, G), Jesse Wade (6-1, G), Alex Barcello (6-2, G)

Key losses: Jashire Hardnett, McKay Cannon, Luke Worthington

Outlook: Right now, the most unsettled roster in the WCC belongs to the Cougars. Yoeli Childs, who will be in the conference MVP hunt, must sit for the season’s first nine games. TJ Haws, another all-WCC-level player, is just returning from knee surgery. Promising Gavin Baxter looks to be lost for the season, and BYU is still waiting on NCAA waiver rulings on transfers Alex Barcello (Arizona) and Richard Harward and Wyatt Lowell, two big men who followed new coach Mark Pope from Utah Valley. Right now, the one sure thing is Utah Valley grad transfer Jake Toolson, whose career began at BYU.

Loyola Marymount Lions

Coach: Mike Dunlap (70-87), 6th year

2018-19 record: 22-12. WCC: 8-8, 5th (tie)

Key newcomers: Parker Dortch (6-7, F), Lazar Zivanovic (6-6, G), Jonathan Dos Anjos (6-8, F), Reilly Seebold (6-1, G)

Key losses: James Batemon, Zafir Williams, Jeffery McClendon

Outlook: Without All-WCC guard James Batemon, the Lions will have to find a new go-to leader. Maybe it’s Dameane Douglas, a talented wing who could stand to broaden his game. Maybe rugged Eli Scott will bounce back from a disappointing 2019 marred by illness. Or maybe 7-foot-3 Mattias Markusson will take a final step into becoming a dominant force inside. In the meantime, the Lions will try to keep things close with a grinding style and improved firepower outside from JC import Parker Dortsch and freshman Reilly Seebold. But they’ll need a point guard to make it go.

Pacific Tigers

Coach: Damon Stoudamire (39-58), 4th year

2018-19 record: 14-18. WCC: 4-12, 9th

Key newcomers: Broc Finstuen (6-4, G), Gary Chivichyan (G, 6-4), Justin Moore (6-4, G)

Key losses: Roberto Gallinat, Anthony Townes, Lafayette Dorsey

Outlook: Some severe roster churn has brought a starting-over vibe to Damon Stoudamire’s fourth Pacific team, not an ideal circumstance. Six players with eligibility remaining left along with leading scorer Roberto Gallinat, and now the Tigers rebuild around Jahlil Tripp, an all-around talent if not a high-volume scorer. Justin Moore started as a freshman on Georgia Tech’s NIT runner-up team and will run the show, with much-needed 3-point marksmanship coming from Idaho State transfer Gary Chivichyan and junior college recruit Broc Finstuen. Massive 300-pounder Amari McCoy will provide some welcome muscle inside.

Pepperdine Waves

Coach: Lorenzo Romar (58-62), 5th year (1996-99, 2018-present)

2018-19 record: 16-18. WCC: 6-10, 8th

Key newcomers: Sedrick Altman (6-2, G), Skylar Chavez (6-5, F), Jan Zidek (6-9, F)

Key losses: Darnell Dunn, Eric Cooper Jr.

Outlook: If any team can break up the same old, same old atop the WCC standings, it figures to be the Waves, who ended 2019 with a three-win run in the conference tournament. Now they bring back a knotty three-man problem in Colbey Ross, the conference’s best point guard, and the Edwards brothers, Kameron and Kessler, who give opponents a completely different look from the wings. Skylar Chavez, California’s JC player of the year, will provide some new outside pop, but the Waves will need some of their slender big men to hold their own against the premium teams.

Portland Pilots

Coach: Terry Porter (28-69), 4th year

2018-19 record: 7-25. WCC: 0-16, 10th

Key newcomers: Lavar Harewood (6-3, G), Isaiah White (6-5, G), Cody Collinsworth (7-1, C)

Key losses: Marcus Shaver Jr., Josh McSwiggan, Franklin Porter

Outlook: It’s become a bit of a dumpster fire in Portland, where the Pilots became the first team since 2012 to go winless in WCC play. Then six players with eligibility remaining either left or got shown the door, leaving only little JoJo Walker as the only returnee among the top four scorers. Two grad transfers, Isaiah White from Maine and Lavar Harewood from South Carolina State, will help, but they come from programs in straits as dire as Portland. The Pilots are desperate for either Tahirou Diabate or Hugh Hogland to become a legitimate force up front.

Saint Mary’s Gaels

Coach: Randy Bennett (414-174), 19th year

2018-19 record: 22-12. WCC: 11-5, 2nd (tie)

Key newcomers: Kristers Zoriks (6-4, G), Aaron Menzies (7-3, C), Logan Johnson (6-2, G)

Key loss: Jordan Hunter

Outlook: The Gaels have won 414 games in the Randy Bennett era, but only once have reached the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years. This will make twice. Behind the WCC’s best guard, Jordan Ford, and versatile forward Malik Fitts, the Gaels return all but a smidgen of last year’s production. The key is how sophomore point guard Kristers Zoriks bounces back from a second knee surgery; the Gaels were last in the conference in assists a year ago, and he figures to change that. Getting Cincinnati transfer Logan Johnson an NCAA waiver to play immediately is another boost.

San Diego Toreros

Coach: Sam Scholl (23-17), 2nd year

2018-19 record: 21-15. WCC: 7-9, 7th

Key newcomers: Braun Hartfield (6-6, G), Marion Humphrey (6-3, G), James Jean-Marie (6-7, F), Jared Rodriguez (6-8, F)

Key losses: Isaiah Pineiro, Isaiah Wright, Olin Carter III

Outlook: Though they made the NIT, the Toreros were a disappointment in the WCC round-robin and now must replace four seniors who hogged the bulk of the floor time. They’ll try to move on behind the returning five-men, Yausen Massalski and Alex Floresca, and some new faces. Transfer Braun Hartfield averaged 13.6 points at Youngstown State, and JC recruit James Jean-Marie will try to fill the Isaiah Pineiro role. Getting a waiver for Idaho transfer Jared Rodriguez would be a nice bonus, but the Toreros really need a point guard. Maybe Belgian Noel Coleman will fill the bill.

San Francisco Dons

Coach: Todd Golden, 1st year

2018-19 record: 21-10. WCC: 9-7, 4th

Key newcomers: Khalil Shabazz (6-1, G), Isaiah Hawthorne (6-8, F), Josh Kunen (6-8, F)

Key losses: Frankie Ferrari, Matt McCarthy, Nate Renfro

Outlook: Kyle Smith became the rare coach who was able to use a WCC gig as a springboard for a better job. His top assistant, Todd Golden, now tries to carry on with a few holdover pieces, the best of which is Charles Minlend, a steady producer without the flash of the departed Frankie Ferrari. The Dons have a blossoming big man in Jimbo Lull, but if they’re going to get more scoring up front it’s going to have to come from newcomers Josh Kunen and Isaiah Hawthorne. They could also use a bounce-back year from Jordan Ratinho – or a surprise from Central Washington transfer Khalil Shabazz.

Santa Clara Broncos

Coach: Herb Sendek (44-51), 4th year

2018-19 record: 16-15. WCC: 8-8, 5th (tie)

Key newcomers: DJ Mitchell (6-8, F), David Thompson (6-0, G), Jaden Bediako (6-10, C), Juan Ducasse (6-9, F)

Key losses: KJ Feagin, Henrik Jadersten, Josh Martin

Outlook: Herb Sendek has had to do some rebuilds in his several coaching stops, but this one may start to pay some dividends. Guards Tahj Eaddy and Trey Wertz are problem-makers for WCC defenses – Eaddy as a volume shooter, Wertz as a playmaker. Up front, the Broncos have another all-conference candidate in Josip Vrankic, who somehow manages to hold up against brawnier big men. There are other intriguing pieces along the front line in Keshawn Justice and Guglielmo Caruso – along with Wake Forest transfer DJ Mitchell and Canadian prep Jaden Bediako.

See Gonzaga preview on page 3