West Coast Conference Preview
by James Burns
Life as a Mid-Major has been nice for some schools during the last few years, especially those from the West Coast Conference. Last season the WCC sent two teams dancing – Gonzaga and Pepperdine. This season postseason hopes are very high for several WCC teams, including San Francisco and San Diego.
Gonzaga and Pepperdine are everybody’s choice to finish atop the conference, but both programs can expect some heat from San Francisco and San Diego. Both programs have a legitimate chance for a run for the crown, because both programs boast legitimate talent.
2002-03 West Coast Conference Projections
There is life after Dan Dickau.
And Gonzaga won’t skip a beat. Only this time there won’t be any confusion, as Gonzaga and its low-post offense will repeat as West Coast Conference champs.
Dickau, selected by the Sacramento Kings with the 28th overall pick and then later traded to the Atlanta Hawks, led the WCC in scoring (20.8 points per game) last season and finished second in assists with 4.7.
Instead, the ‘Zags will boast one of the beefiest frontlines on the west coast, with two All-WCC players teaming with a promising transfer. Cory Violette and Zach Gourde, both 6-foot-8, posted similar numbers last season. Both post players netted 13 points per game, while Violette edged Gourde in rebounding, 8.1 to 6.4.
Richard Fox, a 6-foot-11, 270-pound transfer, may have a quick and considerable impact with the Bulldogs. Fox, a transfer from the University of Colorado, is a promising threat in the trenches and eats up rebounds. Before transferring, Fox was the fastest player in Colorado history to grab 100 rebounds.
Fortunately for Pepperdine, they didn’t lose much following the 2001-02 season. Pepperdine returns what should be an explosive lineup, with four of the top scorers in the conference suiting up.
The only problem facing head coach Paul Westphal is: Who gets the rock? Jimmy Miggins (15 ppg), Boomer Brazzle (13.1), last season’s Freshman of the Year Terrance Johnson (13.1) and point guard Devin Montgomery (12.7) compose one of the most potent line-ups in the WCC.
San Francisco Dons
San Francisco and big Darrell Tucker are picked to finish third in conference play. Tucker is the odds-on favorite for WCC Player of the Year and an All-American candidate by virtue of his knack for the double-doubles.
The Oakland, Calif. native grabbed 17 double-doubles last season for the Dons.
San Diego Toreros
San Diego is picked to finish fourth in the conference, but look for them to challenge that ranking even though the Toreros lost five players from last year’s squad, three of which were starters.
One very big reason why the Toreros could be threat this season is the addition of 6-foot-10 center Jason Keep. Keep sat out last season after transferring from Oklahoma State. Keep and forward Jason Blair, who averaged 14.4 points and 6. 8 rebounds last year, should give teams trouble on the blocks at both ends of the court.
Santa Clara Broncos
With Steve Ross graduated and gone, the fate of Santa Clara’s offense falls onto the shoulders of Kyle Bailey. Bailey, an all-WCC performer last season, will look to build on his scoring average of a season ago (13.4 points).
But Santa Clara, which finished third in the WCC last season, will only go as far as the sharp-shooting junior will take them. And with very little help returning, that might not be too far.
Saint Mary’s Gaels
The Gaels could be a sleeper at the No. 6 position. Saint Mary’s did just what they needed to do during the off-season and that was to address specific needs, particularly height.
The Gaels ranked last in the WCC in team rebounding and offensive rebounds. This season that should all change with the signing of 7-1 center Blake Sholberg and 6-10 Australian Daniel Kickert.
Sholberg finished his prep career ranked in the top 20 nationally in rebounding, while Kickert brings with him international experience.
Loyola Marymount Lions
Although they are young (one senior and four juniors), don’t look for the Lions to settle into a learning curve.
Kent Dennis and Keith Kincade, two returning starters, are out to prove something to the WCC. Dennis, a crafty 6-4 shooting guard, will be a presence from behind the 3-point arc and Kincade (10 points per game and 4 rebounds) is looking to erase any doubts about his health. Kincade missed the final eight games of the season, including the WCC Tournament, with an ankle injury.
This team is young but talented. Unfortunately for Michael Holton’s squad, youth will be too big an obstacle for the Pilots to hurdle this season.
Holton followed up a strong spring 2001 recruiting class, with an even stronger spring 2002 class. His latest recruiting endeavors include Eugene Jeter, a 5-10 point guard that emerged as one of the top prep players on the west coast.
Mark Your Calendars:
League play is scheduled to start Jan. 9 with two obscure match-ups, as two perennial cellar-dwelling clubs face off against the conference favorites. Loyola Marymount and Gonzaga jumpstart the 2002-03 season and will be followed by Portland at Pepperdine.
If there were ever a time to pull off an upset, this would be it, even if it is only the first week. Both Pepperdine and Gonzaga (especially) will be entering league play tired from a stringent non-conference schedule.
Above all, Gonzaga will endure one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation. The ‘Zags are scheduled to compete in the Maui Invitational (Nov. 26-27), the Jimmy V Classic (vs. NC State, Dec. 17) and the Pete Newell Challenge (vs. Stanford, Dec. 28). The Bulldogs will also butt heads with in-state rival Washington along the way (Dec. 2).
Darrell Tucker and San Francisco will be welcomed into their new season with a showdown against Seton Hall on Nov. 23. Tucker, who has yet to take his team to the NCAA Tournament, will get a mouthful of big time Big East basketball.
San Francisco and cross-bay rival Cal will duke it out Dec. 30. Anwar McQueen, a former guard for the Golden Bears and now an assistant coach with the Dons, will get his first look at the Bears from the other teams bench.
LMU will find themselves in an awkward position and state for that matter at the start of the season. The Lions will venture well north to Alaska for the Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 28-30). They will open tournament play against Villanova, another Big East school.
Once league play begins, all eyes are on Gonzaga-Pepperdine – literally. During Rivalry Weekend (Feb. 5), Gonzaga-Pepperdine will be featured on ESPN’s nightcap, following the Duke-North Carolina match-up. Their first encounter is slated for Jan. 12 in Spokane, Wash.
MVP: He is the big man on campus and, this season, he is the big man in the West Coast Conference. At 6-9, 245 pounds, San Francisco’s Darrell Tucker is your do-it-all forward. And he should be the WCC’s 2002-03 Most Valuable Player.
Tucker returns as the WCC’s leading scorer (18.9 points per game) and Windex-man, hauling down 10 rebounds per game. Last season, the Oakland, Calif. native made a name for himself by way of the double-double; at season’s end, Tucker amassed 17 double-doubles.
His play has improved every season and conference foes don’t expect him to take a step backward. If it weren’t for Dickau, Tucker would be in the running for his second consecutive MVP trophy.
Newcomer of the Year: San Diego’s Jason Keep might be the best-kept secret of the season. The former Oklahoma State recruit will be suiting up for the Toreros this season. The 6-10 center sat out last season after transferring from the Big 12 school.
In a conference where size is a commodity, the Toreros find themselves with a viable low post threat and an impact player. Look for Keep to jump to the front of the leader board in points and rebounds.