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Sports >  NCAA basketball

College basketball 2022-23: BYU’s final WCC season opens door for another program to step up

Nov. 3, 2022 Updated Thu., Nov. 3, 2022 at 2:35 p.m.

By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

The Brigham Young Farewell Tour, anticipated for more than a year, finally kicks into gear this Christmas.

With 11 years in the West Coast Conference behind them, the Cougars make their last stops in Stockton and Portland and Moraga – but maybe not Spokane, as both BYU and Gonzaga have made noises about resuming their relationship outside the conference umbrella.

Then it’s off to the Big 12 for the Cougars – while the WCC tries to keep its NET ranking propped up without one of its heavy hitters.

In all likelihood, the Cougars will conclude their dozen years in the WCC without a regular-season or tournament championship – the Zags being overwhelming favorites again, and Saint Mary’s in its usual position as ambitious understudy. That’s undoubtedly frustrated a rabid fan base that expected more when BYU fled the Mountain West Conference. That there’s only been one trip to the NCAA Tournament in the past seven years – COVID-19 wiping out a sure-thing bid in 2020 – hasn’t improved the mood.

The WCC will have its own issues when the Cougars vamoose: odd-team travel logistics and scheduling strength. So while this is goodbye, it’s also an open audition for what program from the conference’s middle tier might be ready to step up in stature.

Could it be San Francisco? The Dons broke through for their first NCAA bracket appearance in 24 years last season, and were predicted to finish third – in a tie with BYU – in the preseason coaches’ poll. They will be playing for their third coach in five years – Chris Gerlufsen – but that’s a product of their success. His predecessors turned enough heads to merit promotions to power conference schools – Kyle Smith to Washington State and Todd Golden to Florida.

Or maybe it’ll be Portland. Former Eastern Washington coach Shantay Legans got the Pilots off the mat in a big way in his first season on the Bluff, and returns nearly every player of consequence. Of course, another good year could make him popular when the coaching carousel starts spinning again in March.

Or maybe it’ll be San Diego. The Toreros made a splash in the hiring department when they lured former UCLA and St. John’s coach Steve Lavin out of the broadcasting business. That should be good for some national attention – beyond what Gonzaga will bring during another attempt at that tricky summit, a national championship.

Brigham Young Cougars

Coach: Mark Pope (145-82), fourth year at BYU

2021-22 record: 24-11. WCC: 9-6, fifth

Key newcomers: Rudi Williams (6-2, G); Noah Waterman (6-11, F); Jaxson Robinson (6-6, G)

Key losses: Alex Barcello, Te’Jon Lucas, Caleb Lohner

Outlook: There’s a sense that the Cougars’ eyes are more on their future in the Big 12 than this last dance in the WCC. Not that Pope didn’t do his due diligence in the portal, landing a solid scoring guard in Williams (Coastal Carolina) and a stretchy arc shooter in Waterman (Detroit). But there does seem to be a lack of top-end firepower, unless rugged Fousseymi Traore breaks out on the offensive end. Wings Gideon George and Spencer Johnson will get chances to show they’re more than solid role players, and some help will have to come from the usual class of mission returnees.

Loyola Marymount Lions

Coach: Stan Johnson (24-27), third year

2021-22 record: 11-18. WCC: 3-12, ninth

Key newcomers: Justin Ahrens (6-6, G); Noah Taitz (6-3, G); Michael Graham (6-8, F)

Key losses: Eli Scott, Joe Quintana

Outlook: Johnson took the extraordinary step of apologizing to the Lions’ small constituency for his club’s performance midway through last season. Then it was off to the portal for more perimeter shooting and muscle. The former should come from Ohio State marksman Ahrens and Stanford’s Taitz; Graham (Elon) and 7-foot-1 Rick Issanza (Oklahoma) bring the size. But the Lions could also use a more productive year from Cam Shelton, who lit up the Big Sky at Northern Arizona but was a disappointment in his LMU debut. And it wouldn’t hurt if swingman Dameane Douglas could put together an injury-free year.

Pacific Tigers

Coach: Leonard Perry (56-119), second year at Pacific

2021-22 record: 8-22. WCC: 3-11, eighth

Key newcomers: Tyler Beard (6-2, G); Jordan Ivy-Curry (6-2, G); Judson Martindale (6-7, F)

Key losses: Alphonso Anderson, Jeremiah Bailey, Pierre Crockrell II

Outlook: Even in his days at Idaho, Perry may not have done a makeover this drastic – eight new players coming aboard, six of them out of the transfer portal. One, Beard (Georgetown), is the likely point guard; another, Ivy-Curry (UTSA) will be counted on for point production. They’ll join one holdover starter, deep shooter Luke Avdalovic, and slashing scorer Nic Blake, who was once a top-100 recruit. But the Tigers still don’t have much size and only one player with more than a year’s investment in the program.

Pepperdine Waves

Coach: Lorenzo Romar (445-355), eighth year at Pepperdine

2021-22 record: 7-25. WCC: 1-15, 10th

Key newcomers: Boubacar Coulibaly (6-10, F); Jevon Porter (6-11, F); David Mager (6-3, G)

Key losses: Jade Smith, Keith Fisher III

Outlook: Romar’s youth movement suffered the predictable struggles – 25 losses – but if he can keep all the kids together, the Waves could have quite a future. Guard Houston Mallette was the conference’s best freshman not named Chet Holmgren, and was only one of four in the starting lineup the last half the season. Point guard Mike Mitchell Jr. averaged nearly five assists a game, forward Maxwell Lewis proved an adept scorer and big man Carson Basham made big strides down the stretch. With veteran Jan Zidek and top recruit Porter – brother of the Denver Nuggets’ Michael Porter Jr. – the Waves have weapons.

Portland Pilots

Coach: Shantay Legans (94-64), second year at Portland

2021-22 record: 19-15. WCC: 7-7, sixth

Key newcomers: Vukasin Masic (6-5, G); Joey St. Pierre (6-10, C); Juan Sebastian Gorosito (6-1, G)

Key losses: Matheus Silveira, Matija Svetozarevic

Outlook: Though the Pilots were only .500 in conference, a coach of the year vote for Legans wouldn’t have been out of line, given the program’s lack of a pulse the previous five seasons. Now five starters return, including the two aces Legans brought with him from Eastern Washington, do-everything swingman Tyler Robertson and point guard Michael Meadows. Both Moses Wood and Chris Austin proved themselves to be WCC-quality shot-makers, and Chika Nduka is willing, if undersized, inside. Depth arrives in another versatile piece, Masic (Maine), and a much-needed big in St. Pierre (Milwaukee). Keep an eye on flamboyant Gorosito, too.

Saint Mary’s Gaels

Coach: Randy Bennett (483-202), 22nd year

2021-22 record: 26-8. WCC: 12-3, second

Key newcomers: Aidan Mahaney (6-3, G); Joshua Jefferson (6-8, F); Mason Forbes (6-9, F)

Key losses: Matthias Tass, Tommy Kuhse, Dan Fotu

Outlook: Bennett figures to win his 500th game in late January or early February. It is not true that Tommy Kuhse was a part of 400 of those, though it does seem as if the one-time walk-on has been in Bennett’s lineup for a decade. Now it’ll be Augustas Marciulionis – son of the Hall of Famer – behind the wheel, unless he gets displaced by highly regarded freshman Mahaney. But the real energy will come from Logan Johnson, who despite an unreliable perimeter shot and some turnover issues still stirs the drink. Bennett needs Mitchell Saxen to blossom as a scorer inside, and Harvard transfer Forbes should get a chance to produce.

San Diego Toreros

Coach: Steve Lavin (237-150), first year at USD

2021-22 record: 15-16. WCC: 7-9, seventh

Key newcomers: Jaiden Delaire (6-9, F); Seikou Sisoho Jawara (6-3, G); Eric Williams (6-7, F)

Key losses: Joey Calcaterra, Josh Parrish, Vladimir Pinchuk

Outlook: For all the new faces at USD – would you believe 10 players? – the one that will inspire the most curiosity is coach Lavin, back on the bench after eight years in television. Can a job outside the L.A. and New York glitz really hold his interest? Lavin starts with a capable holdover nucleus: big wing Marcellus Earlington and guards Jase Townsend and Wayne McKinney III. Portal catches Delaire (Stanford), Williams (Oregon) and Jawara (Weber State) will have instant impact, and 6-8 Bendji Pierre will provide help inside and out.

San Francisco Dons

Coach: Chris Gerlufsen (8-5), first year at USF

2021-22 record: 24-10. WCC: 10-6, fourth

Key newcomers: Tyrell Roberts (5-11, G); Toni Rocak (6-9, F); Marcus Williams (6-2, G)

Key losses: Jamaree Bouyea, Yauhen Massalski, Gabe Stefanini

Outlook: The Dons’ first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1998 didn’t last long, but it got Todd Golden a unlikely opportunity at Florida – and Gerlufsen a promotion. He’ll have to carry on without the exciting Jamaree Bouyea, but Roberts – who never met a 3 he didn’t take – arrives from Washington State to partner with the relentless Khalil Shabazz in the backcourt. Two other transfers loom large, too – Rocak (UC San Diego), who figures to inherit Yauhen Massalski’s minutes, and Williams (Texas A&M). Steady Julian Rishwain seems ready to make a jump, too.

Santa Clara Broncos

Coach: Herb Sendek (510-379), seventh year at Santa Clara

2021-22 record: 21-12. WCC: 10-5, third

Key newcomers: Carlos Marshall Jr. (6-6, G); Brandin Podziemski (6-5, G); Jake Ensiminger (6-8, G)

Key losses: Jalen Williams, Josip Vrankic, PJ Pipes

Outlook: Williams sprouted into one of the WCC’s biggest homegrown surprises in years, becoming the No. 12 pick in the NBA draft after three years. But Sendek has other big personnel losses to account for, too, and it looks like he’s counting on development from within. The top holdover, Keshawn Justice, is a tough matchup, shooting it well from 3 and boarding hard. Carlos Stewart is the likely heir to Williams, but slumped badly at season’s end. Wing Marshall Jr. does arrive from Tennessee State with some promise, but returnees Giordan Williams and Jason Bediako must expand their roles.

See Gonzaga preview, page 5

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