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West Coast Preview

December 7, 2001 Columns No Comments

2001-02 West Coast Conference Preview

by Don Weinstein

The West Coast Conference has Long been known as the conference of tournament sweetheart teams. Who can forget the 1990 Loyola Marymount team sans Hank Gathers, the various Pepperdine teams and the recent Gonzaga crews zigzagging deep into the tournament? Some perceptions are hard to break, and unfortunately, the conference in ’01/’02 bears the same potential.

Gonzaga is still strong, returning tournament standout guard Dan Dickau. The Zags look like a lock to win the conference title, but watch out for the tough press defense of the Pepperdine Waves, lead by first year coach, NBA great and former head coach Paul Westphal. This former USC All-American guard will pit his team against teams coached by former UCLA alumni stars Brad Holland (San Diego) and Michael Holton (Portland). Unlike in the O.J. case, I don’t think those two Bruins will successfully defend this Trojan.

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs: Only Michigan State and Duke join the Zags as the only teams to make the Sweet 16 in the last 3 years. Senior guard Dan Dickau takes over where John Stockton and Casey Cavalry left off, leading this year’s version of the adorable Cinderella team. Dickau averaged 18.9 points per game and 6.3 assists per game for a team that went 13-1 in conference, 26-7 overall last year, and bowed to Michigan State in the Sweet 16. Gonzaga will miss Cavalry’s leadership and 19.0 points and 6.7 boards per game. However, they return guard Blake Stepp, and Coach Mark Few certainly feels more comfortable with a new long term contract. Look for the Zags to win the conference going away.

2. Pepperdine Waves: Former NBA great and recent Sonics head coach Paul Westphal decided that being a beach bum could wait, and took the head coaching positon at his son Mike’s team and university. The Wave fans couldn’t be more pleased, as he’s generating big waves already. Pepperdine, an early 3rd place projection, now looks like the team that will come closest to challenging Gonzaga for the WCC title. They’ve knocked off Top 25 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion and have jetted out to a 3-2 start. Their only losses are to Big West power UC Irvine and the perennialy-ranked Utah. The Waves showcase a balanced attack of Terrance Johnson, Craig Lewis and Micah McKinney. They are also joined by newcomer, 6’9″ freshman guard Robert Turner. Westphal’s press defense is posing difficulties for opponents who can’t always match up with the combination of athleticism and effective strategy.

3. Santa Clara Broncos: Before this year, the Broncos were selected to be second place in the conference behind Gonzaga. In the first 5 games, Santa Clara hardly looks like the team to beat at all, as they start 1-4. Granted, they played Pac-10 teams California and Washington, but they were blitzed by these relatively weak Pac-10 entries. The team that last season finished 10-4 in conference, and 20-12 overall is height-challenged this year and may be showing the strains already. Coach Dick Davey better dust off the 1966 UCLA team yearbook and find tips from a team with no one over 6’4″ that won an NCAA championship. He does bring back returning starter, point guard Kyle Bailey, but is he enough when you lose to Nevada by 25 points?

4. Portland Pilots: New coach Michael Holton (from UCLA’s coaching staff last year) must be feeling a little deja vu with the squad he inherited. In 1979, he and Rod Foster, freshman UCLA guards lead a Larry Brown coached Cinderella squad into the finals of the NCAA, only to lose to Louisville. Likewise, his Pilots are powered by their backcourt of Adam Quick and Casey Frandsen. In an overwhelming loss to top-ranked Duke, Frandsen scored 28 points. Without the loss to Duke and the overime loss to Idaho State, the Pilots would be a perfect 5-0. Prediction: this team will be competitive this year, and a couple more recruiting classes (Holton’s specialty) will make this team a powerhouse in this conference for many years to come.

5. Loyola Marymount Lions: It’s been a long drought for the Lions and a long time since the teams that averaged 120 points per game (and won, giving up an average of 100 points). Despite being destined for another mediocre year, the Lions will bring back enough experienced players for Coach Steve Aggers to make a strong run at improvement over last year. Last year was worth forgetting at 5-9 conference, and 9-19 overall. The Lions will be powered by returning starters guard Kent Dennis and forwards Greg Lakey and Miroslav Neskovic. The Lions are off to an unexpected start of 3-3, with an impressive win over Texas A&M at College Station, Texas. Watch for the Lions to finish in the top half of the conference.

6. San Diego Toreros: Important seniors have left an underachieving team that finished 7-7 conference, 16-13 overall. However, Coach Brad Holland, the two-time WCC coach of the year, hasn’t lost too much, returning forward/center Kevin Hanson, shooting guard Matt Delzel and point guard Roy Morris. The Toreros have started the season 2-3, but two of the losses were close calls against the Pac-10’s Oregon State and Washington schools. More than likely this is a rebuilding season with only Hanson as the only returning starting senior. Look for USD to finish around the .500 mark, middle of the WCC pack.

7. San Francisco Dons:For all of their shortcomings, this team is my winner for the best college nickname in all of basketball. All right, enough self serving tripe. The Dons have a good chance to improve on their ’01/’02 record of 5-9 conference and 12-18 overall. The only problem is they’ve been blessed with some pretty tough pre-season opponents: Xavier, Seton Hall and Fresno State. . . you guessed it, all losses so far. And then of course, there’s Michigan in the Pete Newell Classic December 29th. The team that is currently 1-5 will rebound so to speak with the extremely competent front line of Hondre Brewer and Darrell Tucker. This experienced front line is joined by some exciting newcomers in the backcourt – Scepter Brownlee and DeWayne Morris. The Dons will also finish around .500.

8. Saint Mary’s Gaels: Hey listen: what you can’t do in athletics, make up for it in spirituality. Saint Mary’s finished 0-14 in the WCC, and 2-26 overall last year. Who can forget the classic battle between Loyola Marymount and the Gaels last season (Feb. 24th, 2001) where the Lions edged the Gaels 65-61. Many said that it reminded them of the classic clash between the University of Judaism and Brandeis where the Killer Keepahs won a buzzer beater from the Happy Hannukkahs 4 chai to 3 chai. In all seriousness, Coach Randy Bennett’s team seems much more competitive this year than last, returning a strong sophomore front line of Ross Benson and Chase Poole. Indeed, the spreads this year have been much tighter against Nevada, UCI an UCSB. Saint Mary’s is my early-season pick to hit the 20 loss mark, but hey, it’s an improvement.

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