This was a lot easier a year ago.
Gonzaga didn’t leave much room for discussion last season, posting a 16-0 West Coast Conference mark with a record-setting 27-point average margin of victory.
That translated into four Zags on the 10-man All-WCC first team and a sweep of the four individual awards: Mark Few, coach of the year; Rui Hachimura, player; and Brandon Clarke, top newcomer and defender.
This season? Gonzaga (27-2, 13-1 WCC) is on pace for another outright conference title, but there doesn’t appear to be any locks as far as projecting individual award winners.
The Zags could sweep again or even get shut out, though neither scenario seems likely.
Player of the year
Gonzaga sophomore Filip Petrusev, who made the WCC All-Freshman team last season, could very well graduate to conference player of the year.
The 6-foot-11 post has had an outstanding season, averaging 17.4 points and 7.8 rebounds. He’s put foul pressure on opponents in nearly every game and has attempted 208 free throws, fifth nationally. He’s shooting 56.3% from the field.
He’s been a consistent force with just two single-digit scoring games – nine points vs. Michigan and five vs. BYU in January (played 15 minutes before leaving with a sprained ankle).
Petrusev, who is a candidate for Naismith, Wooden and Robertson player of the year awards, rates as the front-runner with Saint Mary’s guard Jordan Ford as his primary competition. Ford’s numbers are strong: 20.5 points, 48% from field, 41% on 3-pointers, 81% at the foul line. The Gaels are in good shape to make the NCAA Tournament field.
BYU’s Yoeli Childs might have played his way into the discussion with his 28-point effort in Saturday’s upset over Gonzaga. The senior forward averages 21.2 points and 8.6 rebounds, but he missed the first nine games due to an NCAA suspension and four conference games with a finger injury.
Coach of the year
Few obviously has the credentials to win the award for the 14th time. The Zags were expected to take a step back after losing first-round picks Hachimura and Clarke, Zach Norvell Jr., all-time assists leader Josh Perkins and key reserves Jeremy Jones and Geno Crandall.
Returning players in larger roles and newcomers meshed quickly as Gonzaga climbed to No. 1 in late December and built the nation’s highest-scoring offense.
Few has Gonzaga positioned for a No. 1 seed. He’s one of 15 finalists for Naismith Coach of the Year, but he has competition for the WCC’s coaching honor.
Pacific’s Damon Stoudamire has guided an unexpected turnaround with a revamped roster after finishing ninth in 2019. The fourth-place Tigers (21-9, 9-5) earned the program’s first 20-win season since 2013.
Mark Pope’s first year at BYU has produced impressive results. The Cougars are close to clinching second place. BYU ranks 14th in the NET rankings and has been projected as high as a six seed.
Some of Pope’s best work came during the offseason, convincing Childs to return for his senior season and bringing Jake Toolson aboard from his previous stop at Utah Valley.
Newcomer of the year
BYU’s Toolson appears to be in the driver’s seat for this award, open to freshmen, grad transfers and sit-out transfers.
Toolson is fourth nationally in 3-point percentage (46.2). The 6-foot-5 wing averages 15.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Toolson and TJ Haws led BYU to key nonconference wins with Childs on the sidelines.
Gonzaga’s Ryan Woolridge (10.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists) and Drew Timme (9.9 points, 5.6 rebounds) merit consideration, along with San Diego’s Braun Hartfield (14.6 points, 5.6 rebounds).
Defensive player of the year
There is no high-level rim protector like Clarke, so our attention goes to backcourt players.
Woolridge tops the list. He’s faced a who’s who of quality guards, including Oregon’s Payton Pritchard, Michigan’s Zavier Simpson, Arizona’s Nico Mannion, Pepperdine’s Colbey Ross, BYU’s Haws and Ford of Saint Mary’s.
Woolridge hasn’t won every matchup, but he’s been huge for the Zags on the defensive end. He leads the team with 45 steals. The point guard ranks third with 111 defensive rebounds and second in minutes (32.7).
Other contenders include Pacific do-everything guard Jahlil Tripp and San Francisco’s Jamaree Bouyea and Khalil Shabazz. The two Dons have combined for 103 steals. Tripp has 44 steals and leads the conference in rebounding (8.7) as a 6-5 wing.
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