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2016-17 West Coast Conference Post-Mortem

June 8, 2017 Columns, Conference Notes 1 Comment

The West Coast Conference is, as a whole, a conference in some transition. There was not a surprise in who the top three teams in the standings were, as it is a continuation of a recent trend. However, this year figured to be a year that would start to shape the potential of teams outside of those three to try and crash the party one day. The verdict there is a bit mixed at first glance.

Last off-season, a few noteworthy coaching hires were made. The conference suddenly had some coaches who resembled household names, something that doesn’t happen often. While there’s no reason to think they were hired on their names alone, there’s no question the name recognition is thought to be helpful in the attempt to make them competitive with Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and Brigham Young.

Santa Clara had a good first year under Herb Sendek, going 10-8 in conference play. The Broncos had a big year from Jared Brownridge and rode that to a tie for fourth. The challenge is building on this as Brownridge departs, as he was a guy who consistently scored against anybody and everybody. K.J. Feagin showed promise in between injuries, and he could be their go-to guy going forward.

Then there is Pacific, which just went through the first year under Damon Stoudamire. They struggled mightily to shoot the ball, and they couldn’t make up for it defensively. There are some pieces for Stoudamire and his staff to build around, and next year will tell us more about their ultimate direction.

The one program with a “name” head coach who had a tough year was Portland, as Terry Porter’s team struggled to a 2-16 conference mark. Injuries played no small role in that, especially as they lost Alec Wintering to a torn ACL in January. With that, they proceeded to turn the ball over more than all but two teams in the conference. They return a good deal, so next year should be better.

The one new head coach who didn’t have a big name had the best season. San Francisco, with new head coach Kyle Smith, tied for fourth and won 20 games en route to a CBI bid. In addition, the Dons shouldn’t take a step back next season, as two of their top players were freshmen and Smith continues to prove himself to be a very good coach.

One thing we know is that this conference has plenty of top-to-bottom potential. All ten teams have seen postseason play over the last eight seasons, with all but Pacific and San Diego making multiple appearances. (Pacific has only made one appearance as a member of the WCC, but made two others while still in the Big West.) There is also great stability for now at least, as Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett did not go for the opening at nearby Cal, and Mark Few will probably retire in Spokane. No coach enters next season appearing to be on a hot seat, and the conference tournament has a good home in Las Vegas.

About the only thing that could put the conference in an even better place would be Gonzaga winning the final game of this season. The fact that they lost a tough one there is not a blemish in the least.

Final Standings

West Coast
Overall
Gonzaga
17-1
37-2
Saint Mary’s
16-2
29-5
Brigham Young
12-6
22-12
Santa Clara
10-8
17-16
San Francisco
10-8
20-13
Loyola Marymount
8-10
15-15
San Diego
6-12
13-18
Pepperdine
5-13
9-22
Pacific
4-14
11-22
Portland
2-16
11-22

Conference Tournament

The West Coast Conference Tournament opened with underdogs winning on the first day, but that was the last time it would happen.

In the opening round, No. 9 Pacific made sure No. 8 Pepperdine would be the only team with a single-digit win total as they knocked off the Waves 89-84, then No. 10 Portland edged No. 7 San Diego 60-55.

The next day began with No. 3 BYU knocking off No. 6 Loyola Marymount 89-81, then No. 4 Santa Clara held off No. 5 San Francisco 76-69. The evening consisted of two blowouts from the top to seeds as No. 1 Gonzaga blasted Pacific 81-50 and No. 2 Saint Mary’s blew out Portland 81-58.

In the semifinals, Gonzaga had a little tougher time with Santa Clara but won 77-68, then Saint Mary’s won another blowout, this time 81-50 over BYU.

That set up the championship game, a rematch from a year ago, but this time with Gonzaga having won the two meetings during the regular season. The Bulldogs, who were making their 19th straight appearance in the title game, were in control for a lot of the game and coasted to a 74-56 win and their fifth straight tournament title.

Postseason Awards

Player of the Year: Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga
Newcomer of the Year: Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga
Coach of the Year: Mark Few, Gonzaga
Defensive Player of the Year: Joe Rahon, Saint Mary’s

All-West Coast Team
Jared Brownridge, Sr. G, Santa Clara
T.J. Haws, Fr. G, BYU
Calvin Hermanson, Jr. F, Saint Mary’s
Przemek Karnowski, Sr. C, Gonzaga
Jock Landale, Jr. C, Saint Mary’s
Erik Mika, So. C, BYU
Lamond Murray, Jr., Sr. G, Pepperdine
Joe Rahon, Sr. G, Saint Mary’s
Johnathan Williams, Jr. F, Gonzaga
Nigel Williams-Goss, Jr. G, Gonzaga

Season Highlights

  • Gonzaga reached the national championship game, marking the first time in 60 years a WCC team made it to the Final Four.
  • Gonzaga started the season 29-0, losing only their regular season finale.
  • Gonzaga head coach Mark Few won four national Coach of the Year honors.
  • Gonzaga led the nation in scoring margin and was second in field goal percentage, while Saint Mary’s was third in the nation in rebounding margin.
  • Saint Mary’s joined Gonzaga in being ranked in both major polls every week of the season.
  • Santa Clara guard Jared Brownridge became the WCC’s all-time leading scorer in conference games with 1,276 points.

What we expected, and it happened: Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s ruled the conference. That’s been the case for a while now, but this year both were expected to be clear front-runners more so than other years and were just that. Second-place Saint Mary’s finished four games ahead of third-place BYU.

What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Pepperdine was thought to be a team that could push the three stalwarts, but the Waves were the worst defensive team in the conference and didn’t win a game in December. They lost nine in a row and 14 of 15 to sink their season.

What we didn’t expect, and it happened: Picked ninth in the preseason poll, San Francisco finished fourth and had an impressive season, reaching the CBI. The Dons were younger and had a new coach, but Kyle Smith did a great job getting the most out of this team. They’re in a good place, too, with two freshmen leading the way.

Team(s) on the rise: BYU and San Francisco. It’s hard to call a team that annually finishes in the top 3, and did so this season, as a team that fits this description. But this BYU team was much younger than recent Cougar teams and started to bloom late in the season, highlighted by their win at Gonzaga to close out the regular season. The Cougars should be in better shape next year, though getting ahead of Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga will be easier said than done. For their part, the Dons look like they have the best chance in the immediate of cracking the top three, as Charles Minlend and Jordan Ratinho made instant impacts as freshmen.

Team(s) on the decline: Pepperdine. The Waves seemed to be on their way up last year, but this year they were the only team with a single-digit win total. Lamond Murray Jr., Chris Reyes and Johnny Major are all gone from this team, so they also have a lot to replace.

 

2017-18 West Coast Conference Outlook

Looking ahead to next year, there is little reason to forecast a drastic change at the top of the standings. Gonzaga will look very different with heavy personnel losses, but they will still be the pick to win. Saint Mary’s returns the bulk of their team and should again be strong, though replacing Joe Rahon will not be trivial, while BYU emerged as their young core gained experience and should be even better.

Looking past those three, San Francisco looks to be in the best position with their young talent. If anyone can find a way into the top three, it would seem to be the Dons. From there, it is wide open. Santa Clara has to make up for a couple of key losses and needs to rebound better, while San Diego looks to be progressing as they head into Lamont Smith’s third season.

It’s going to be a challenge for the other teams to make a jump into the top half at first glance. We saw what Portland looks like without Alec Winterling, and he graduated. Pepperdine loses significant pieces from a team that had a tough year, as does Loyola Marymount. Pacific is early in their building phase.

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Jon Ralston says:

    Regarding your comment that, “All ten teams have seen postseason play over the last eight seasons, with all but Pacific and San Diego making multiple appearances.” In regards to Pacific that statement is inaccurate. Pacific made the semi-finals of the CIT in 13-14, the NCAA Tournament 1st round in 12-13, and the CIT semi-finals on 09-10. Please correct that statement in your article, thanks!

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