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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

WCC basketball picks: Gonzaga on top in 2024-25 as Washington State, OSU enter the fray

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

Washington State and Oregon State made all the right strategic decisions after the Pac-12 collapsed and they were left behind in the realignment game. The list of shrewd moves included placing their basketball teams in the West Coast Conference as affiliate members for the next two seasons.

But from a competitive standpoint, the timing of their WCC partnership couldn’t have been much worse for the Cougars and Beavers.

The WCC looks loaded in 2024-25, with a powerhouse at the very top and a strong collection of contenders.

Meanwhile, the Cougars lost their head coach, Kyle Smith, to Stanford; the Beavers are fresh off another desultory season; and both programs were battered by attrition, with their best players entering the transfer portal.

Put another way: The ‘Pac-2’ schools face steep climbs to the top tier of their new conference precisely when success is central to long-haul viability.

Football is the priority, of course. And in that regard, the Cougars and Beavers will compete as a two-team conference supported by a scheduling agreement with the Mountain West.

But men’s basketball matters, too. It offers Washington State and Oregon State an opportunity to generate respect, relevance and revenue.

We foresee mediocrity for both.

Our WCC projections account for transfers and NBA draft decisions.

1. Gonzaga. There is zero debate about the best team in the WCC. In fact, the Zags might be the best team in the country with a fabulous mix of returnees and transfers. The former features guards Ryan Nembhard and Nolan Hickman, plus big man Graham Ike; the latter includes transfers Michael Ajayi (from Pepperdine) and Khalif Battle (Arkansas). Add up the pieces, and the result is conference dominance.

2. San Francisco. The Dons would have been the clear choice for No. 2 had Jonathan Mogbo opted to return instead of declaring for the NBA draft. We still favor USF as the closest pursuer to Gonzaga, but the gap is narrow (and the likelihood of the Hotline regretting this pick is high). Coach Chris Gerlufsen has a load of proven returnees, with guards Marcus Williams and Malik Thomas atop the list.

3. Saint Mary’s. As long as Randy Bennett controls the joysticks, SMC will contend for the WCC title and an NCAA bid. At the heart of his roster next season are two of the conference’s best players in guard Augustus Marciulionis and big man Mitchell Saxen. But SMC’s success hinges on the emergence of sophomore guard Jordan Ross, whose production must offset the loss of Aidan Mahaney.

4. Santa Clara. The Broncos are firmly entrenched in the WCC’s top tier, and we don’t expect that to change with the additions of WSU and OSU. But does SCU possess enough playmakers to squeeze into the top three? The return of top scorer Adama Bal certainly helps the cause, as does having a steady hand in charge. Coach Herb Sendek last reached the NCAAs a decade ago, with Arizona State. This is arguably his best shot at SCU since taking over in 2016.

5. Loyola Marymount. Fifth-year coach Stan Johnson was responsible for one of the most important offseason additions in the WCC: The hiring of former Pepperdine head coach Lorenzo Romar, an ace recruiter, as a key assistant for the Lions. Three days later, they landed San Jose State guard Myron Amey, who had multiple 20-point games in the Mountain West. A few weeks later, the Lions grabbed UCLA guard Jan Vide. They won’t be lacking for talent.

6. Washington State. The Cougars changed more than conferences. They have a new coach, David Riley, and an entirely rebuilt roster after losing all their top players, including dazzling point guard Myles Rice, to the transfer portal or the NBA. The new lineup is heavy on transfers from Riley’s former school, Eastern Washington. But the Eagles didn’t face any WCC opponents last season, so context is nonexistent, conclusions are difficult and Hotline skepticism is high.

7. Oregon State. The Beavers lost the one player they absolutely had to retain, guard Jordan Pope, who fled for Texas after two impressive seasons in Corvallis. But Pope wasn’t the only impactful departure, as productive forward Tyler Bilodeau entered the portal and materialized at UCLA. Coach Wayne Tinkle retooled his rotation but doesn’t have nearly enough playmakers to contend. At least OSU fans are used to long seasons.

8. San Diego. Steve Lavin’s second year produced an uptick for the Toreros, who produced their first winning season of the decade. That said, USD’s top four scorers entered the transfer portal. What remains on the roster? Not much. Lavin will have to draw water from stone if he hopes to continue USD’s momentum. His saving grace? Several teams are in worse shape. Much worse shape.

9. Portland. The Pilots lost their top scorer the old-fashioned way: Tyler Robertson (16.9 points per game) used up his eligibility after five seasons. We don’t see a clear path to replacing his production, leaving another difficult season ahead for fourth-year coach Shantay Legans. The gap between the top teams and bottom feeders in the WCC could be larger than normal in 2024-25.

10. Pepperdine. The trajectory for next season was set immediately after last season, when top scorers Michael Ajayi, Houston Mallette and Jevon Porter fled Malibu for the transfer portal. New coach Ed Schilling faces steep odds in his quest to rehabilitate a program that has won eight conference games (total) in the past three seasons. Even if everything breaks perfectly for Schilling, a former Grand Canyon assistant, the Waves will be hard-pressed to crack the top five.

11. Pacific. The Tigers hired Dave Smart in late March based on his success as a college coach in Canada. Within days, he added transfers from Minnesota, DePaul, Nevada and Texas Tech. Will that be enough to propel Pacific out of the WCC gutter following a winless season in conference play? We’ll believe it when we see it. Check back in the spring of 2026 for an assessment of progress in Stockton.