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WCC Preview: Gonzaga’s at the head of the class

Oct 19, 2012, 9:00 AM EST

Elias Harris, Cole Dickerson

Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last season the WCC welcomed BYU and to say the least it was a good season for the league, as it sent three teams to the NCAA tournament. Both the Cougars and Gonzaga won games in the Big Dance while Saint Mary’s suffered a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of Purdue, and all three are capable of making a return trip in 2012-13.

Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s both return four starters from last year while BYU can claim the same if you count Tyler Haws. Haws, after starting all 33 games as a freshman in 2009-10, returns from his two-year mission and will have a significant impact alongside Brandon Davies and Matt Carlino. Saint Mary’s has the reigning Player of the Year in Matthew Dellavedova while Gonzaga is led by All-WCC honorees Elias Harris and Kevin Pangos.

As for the rest of the conference there’s definitely talent with the point guard position looking especially deep. Whether it’s Anthony Ireland (LMU), Cody Doolin (San Francisco), Evan Rocquemore (Santa Clara) or Christopher Anderson (San Diego) the WCC has some skilled playmakers at the point beyond the likes of Carlino, Dellavedova and Pangos. Here’s a look at the WCC in 2012-13.

Five Things to Know
1. Gonzaga returns four starters from a team that won 27 games in 2011-12, with the lone departure being center Robert Sacre. Two of the key returnees are senior forward Elias Harris (13.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and sophomore guard Kevin Pangos (13.6 ppg, 3.4 apg), both of whom earned All-WCC honors (Pangos was also WCC Newcomer of the Year).

2. Reigning WCC Player of the Year and Olympian Matthew Dellavedova is back for his senior season at Saint Mary’s, but the defending WCC champions have to replace a key piece in forward Rob Jones not to mention rotation members Clint Steindl and Kenton Walker. But with four starters back Randy Bennett’s program is in good shape, and forward Brad Waldow is a player to keep an eye on.

3. Only one team returns all five starters and that’s a San Diego squad that went 13-18 (7-9 WCC) in 2011-12. But Bill Grier’s got some talent back on campus, most notably sophomore guard Johnny Dee. Dee led the Toreros with an average of 13.7 ppg and was a member of the WCC All-Freshman team.

4. BYU has to account for the departure of Noah Hartsock but led by forward Brandon Davies nine Cougars have starting experience. BYU also welcomes back wing Tyler Haws from his two-year mission, and he started all 33 games as a freshman in 2009-10 (11.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg). BYU’s perimeter depth should also be bolstered by the arrival of freshman guard Cory Calvert, who averaged more than 22 points per game as a high school senior.

5. Santa Clara, which went winless in conference play last season, welcomes back two vital pieces in guard Kevin Foster and forward Marc Trasolini. Trasolini was lost for the season during the team’s trip to Canada with a torn ACL while Foster was suspended for the second half of the season. Evan Rocquemore returns as well, and this trio should be enough to ensure a jump in the standings for the Broncos.

Impact Newcomers

C Przemek Karnowski (Gonzaga)
Robert Sacre’s graduated but with Karnowski on campus the Bulldogs become a more physical team in the paint immediately. The Torun, Poland native averaged 10.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game for Siarka Jezioro Tarnobrzeg last season, and the 7-1 305-pounder is ready to make an impact. Karnowski joins a deep front court, so while there are expectations it isn’t as if Gonzaga’s hopes rest solely on his shoulders.

G Cory Calvert (BYU)
BYU has depth on the perimeter, led by point guard Matt Carlino, Tyler Haws and Brock Zylstra. But Calvert can be a valuable contributor for the Cougars this season, as he arrives in Provo as a reliable scorer and distributor. Calvert, the Colorado Class 5A Player of the Year, averaged 22.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game at Chapparal HS last year.

F Nick Stover (Loyola Marymount)
The 6-6 Stover won’t lack for opportunities to contribute as the Lions look at life without wing Drew Viney, and the Winward HS product is capable of taking on whatever assignment Max Good gives him. Stover averaged 21.7 points and 9.1 rebounds per game for a team that won 20 games, and for his career Stover was a three-time All-CIF selection.

G James Walker III (Saint Mary’s)
Already deep on the perimeter, the Gaels get even better with the addition of the Citrus (CA) College transfer. Walker III helped lead Citrus to a 28-2 record with an average of 19.1 points per game (second-highest average in school history), and for his efforts he was named CCCAA and Western State Conference Player of the Year.

G De’End Parker (San Francisco)
Parker’s stint at UCLA was a short one as he had to return to San Francisco to care for his ailing mother, and now he’s a much-needed addition for a San Francisco program that was decimated by graduation and departures at the end of last season. At City College of San Francisco (2010-11) he averaged 12.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game, and Parker gives the Dons an athletic wing to help out point guard Cody Doolin.

Other newcomers of note: G/F Drew Barham (Gonzaga), G Chase Flint (Loyola Marymount), F Malte Kramer (Pepperdine), F Nate Kratch (Santa Clara), F Chris Reyes (Saint Mary’s)

Breakout Players

F Brad Waldow (Saint Mary’s)
As a redshirt freshman Waldow turned into a valuable piece for the Gaels alongside Rob Jones with averages of 8.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. But with Jones gone there’s room for Waldow to improve and become even more of a factor for Saint Mary’s, and if they’re to repeat as WCC champions he’ll need to do so.

G Johnny Dee (San Diego)
Dee’s name is well-known within the conference, and how can it not be given his team-best 13.7 points per game. But there’s the step of going from one of the best freshmen in the WCC to becoming one of its best players, and the Vista, California native can make that happen this season. With all five starters back USD can finish in the top half of the league standings, and Dee will have to be a leader in order for that to happen.

C Sam Dower (Gonzaga)
The presence of Dower is one reason why there shouldn’t be a ridiculous amount of pressure on Karnowski to produce immediately, and with Robert Sacre gone it’s Dower who will lead the way. A player many believe to have All-WCC level skill, Dower averaged 8.3 points and 3.7 rebounds per game last season. Sure the Bulldogs have Elias Harris, but they also have room for another double-figure scorer inside. That should be Dower.

G Jordan Baker (Pepperdine)
Baker averaged 9.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 29 games last season, but it’s what he was able to do in WCC play that makes him a breakout candidate. In league play the Tempe native averaged 11.3 points and ranked in the top ten in the WCC in minutes (32.0 mpg), assists (3.0) and steals (1.9). For a team that adds six newcomers and three redshirts (one of which being guard Lorne Jackson), Baker will be the one asked to lead the way.

F Ryan Nicholas (Portland)
Nicholas started all 31 games for the Pilots last season, averaging 11.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per contest. But those numbers weren’t enough to merit mention on either the ten-member All-WCC team or its honorable mention list. Nicholas shot 50.4% from the field in 2011-12, and with the year of experience for both he and his teammates (Eric Reveno’s team was very young) he should be mentioned for All-WCC honors.

Player of the Year: F Elias Harris (Gonzaga)
Some of the national conversation involving Harris seemed to focus on his “regression.” Question: where? Harris averaged 13.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in 2011-12, and both numbers were an improvement over his averages as a sophomore. If Harris isn’t banged up he’s a very difficult match-up for opponents, and as a senior this is his chance to go out with a bang. The prediction here is that he’ll do just that.

All-Conference Team
G Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga)
G Matthew Dellavedova (Saint Mary’s)
G Anthony Ireland (Loyola Marymount)
F Elias Harris (Gonzaga)
F Brandon Davies (BYU)

Coach under pressure: Bill Grier (San Diego) 
Since beginning his tenure with a 22-win campaign in 2007-08 it’s been a struggle for Grier at USD, as his teams have gone just 46-79 in the four seasons after. With five starters back the Toreros should be able to improve on their 7-9 WCC mark of a season ago. Going at least .500 shouldn’t be too much to ask of San Diego, but if it turns out to be that could mean trouble for Grier.

Predicted Finish

1. Gonzaga (Mark Few’s team welcomes back most of their key contributors from last season, and freshman big man Przemek Karnowski will contribute immediately)
2. Saint Mary’s (The Gaels lose Rob Jones but Dellavedova returns, and could be a breakout player)
3. BYU (Matt Carlino’s a year older while Brandon Davies anchors things in the paint. The return of Tyler Haws will definitely help the Cougars on the wing)
4. San Diego (Bill Grier welcomes back his top four scorers from last season with guard Johnny Dee leading the way)
5. Santa Clara (With Kevin Foster (suspension) and Marc Trasolini (torn ACL) back look for the Broncos to make a jump)
6. Loyola Marymount (Anthony Ireland runs the show, and freshman Nick Stover can be one of the WCC’s best newcomers)
7. Portland (Ryan Nicholas leads a team that returns four of its top six scorers, but the Pilots (allowed 76 ppg) must improve defensively)
8. Pepperdine (the return of guard Lorne Jackson (knee) will surely help the Waves as they look to account for the loss of three starters)
9. San Francisco (The return of senior point guard Cody Doolin will help matters, but the Dons simply lost too much after last season)

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.