Conference Preview: WCC

Conference Preview: WCC

This article is part of our Conference Preview series.

Gonzaga has long been at the head of the class when it comes to the WCC, but the Bulldogs lost a great deal of talent following their Elite Eight run last season. Conference Player of the Year Rui Hachimura and star big man Brandon Clarke were each selected in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft, though Killian Tillie's decision to remain in school provided a boost to the team's status heading into this year -- even though he underwent an offseason knee procedure that's worth keeping an eye on. The Zags' main challenger comes in the form of an experienced St. Mary's squad that is returning four starters, including All-Conference performers in Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts

Outside of these two NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago, BYU should enter the season as a top-three outfit in the conference with the return of star big man Yoeli Childs. Paired with senior guard TJ Haws and graduate transfer Jake Toolson (who initially started his career at BYU), the Cougars are hoping they have enough firepower to challenge for an appearance in The Big Dance. Although there's a couple of freshman to keep an eye on, expect to see most of the top-tier production around the league to come from familiar faces.

Key Players 

Center: Mattias Markusson, C, Loyola Marymount

Markusson has been a significant contributor for the Lions in each of the past two seasons and is expected to receive a larger role following

Gonzaga has long been at the head of the class when it comes to the WCC, but the Bulldogs lost a great deal of talent following their Elite Eight run last season. Conference Player of the Year Rui Hachimura and star big man Brandon Clarke were each selected in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft, though Killian Tillie's decision to remain in school provided a boost to the team's status heading into this year -- even though he underwent an offseason knee procedure that's worth keeping an eye on. The Zags' main challenger comes in the form of an experienced St. Mary's squad that is returning four starters, including All-Conference performers in Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts

Outside of these two NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago, BYU should enter the season as a top-three outfit in the conference with the return of star big man Yoeli Childs. Paired with senior guard TJ Haws and graduate transfer Jake Toolson (who initially started his career at BYU), the Cougars are hoping they have enough firepower to challenge for an appearance in The Big Dance. Although there's a couple of freshman to keep an eye on, expect to see most of the top-tier production around the league to come from familiar faces.

Key Players 

Center: Mattias Markusson, C, Loyola Marymount

Markusson has been a significant contributor for the Lions in each of the past two seasons and is expected to receive a larger role following the departure of do-everything point guard James Batemon. The 7-foot-3 Swedish big man chipped in 10.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in 2018-19 while playing just under 26 minutes per contest. Markusson hasn't developed a three-point shot, but that is par for the course for a team that accounted just 21.2 percent of its points from deep last year, which was a the fourth-lowest mark in the nation. Positively, Markusson is durable, having missed only one game since becoming a full-time starter in 2017. Don't expect anything out of the block column, but the center recorded at least six rebounds (averaging 8.6) over the Lions' final 11 games.

Also considered: Aaron Menzies, St. Mary's; Jimbo Lull, San Francisco; Drew Timme, Gonzaga

Freshman: Drew Timme, Gonzaga

Timme should contend for solid playing time right out of the gates due to the departures of Hachimura and Clarke in the Bulldogs' front court. Alongside Tillie and sophomore Filip Petrusev, look for Timme, the 36th-ranked recruit according to Rivals.com, to hunt his shot around the rim with the ability to handle the ball out in transition. In addition, Timme is an above-average passer out of the post and should help create opportunities for the rest of the squad from 3-point land. Look for the 6-10 freshman to play a major role for the Zags come conference season.

Also considered: Chase Adams, Portland; Anton Watson, Gonzaga; Isaiah Hawthorne, San Francisco 

Scoring: Jordan Ford, G, St. Mary's

The conference's leading scorer (21.3 ppg) from a season ago is back for his senior campaign, looking to lead the Gaels back to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year. Ford erupted for at least 20 points on 20 separate occasions, including a pair of 30-point outbursts. He finished the season shooting 49 percent from the floor and 41 percent from behind the arc, and totaled 18 games with multiple made 3-pointers. It certainly didn't hurt that head coach Randy Bennett elected to insert Tommy Kuhse as the team's starting point guard in early December, which led to Ford playing off the ball and focusing on scoring. Expect to see more of the same from St. Mary's this year.

Also considered: Yoeli Childs, BYU; Colbey Ross, Pepperdine; Killian Tillie, Gonzaga

Rebounding: Yoeli Childs, F, BYU

There's a very real possibility that Childs can lead the league in scoring and rebounding after finishing last season second in scoring (21.2 ppg) and first in cleaning up the glass (9.7 rpg). He tallied 17 double-doubles in 2018-19, including a pair of 16-rebound efforts in November outings. Childs also expanded a semi-reliable 3-point shot to his arsenal this past season, knocking down 32 percent on 3.1 attempts per game. Unfortunately, he will be forced to miss the team's opening nine games due to issues with the paperwork involving his return to the school after withdrawing from the NBA Draft in late May. With that in mind, Childs' first appearance is expected to come versus Utah on December 4. 

Also considered: Malik Fitts, St. Mary's; Josip Vrankic, Santa Clara; Yauhen Massalski

Assists: Colbey Ross, G, Pepperdine

The first-team All-Conference guard willed the Waves to the WCC title game a year ago, averaging 21.2 points and 6.9 assists in the final 11 games of the season. Ross has the ability to take over games when needed, though he's a selfless passer and can rack up double-digit assist totals if the rest of his team is hitting shots. Out of Pepperdine's 34 games in 2018-19, Ross had at least seven assists on 18 occasions. With forwards Kameron Edwards and Kessler Edwards, plus shooting threat Jade Smith back in tow, Ross should have plenty of opportunities to total high assist numbers, even though he's able to notch 20-point games on a nightly basis.

Also considered: TJ Haws, BYU; Ryan Woolridge, Gonzaga; Trey Wertz, Santa Clara

Sleepers

Jake Toolson, G, BYU

A 6-5 graduate transfer from Utah Valley, Toolson began his career with BYU before leaving and becoming the 2018-19 Player of the Year in the Western Athletic Conference. He will add an extra dimension to the Cougars' starting lineup after making 45 percent of his 3-point shots (on 4.4 attempts per game) last season, helping him average 15.7 ppg. Toolson will be a beneficiary of opposing teams looking to keep Childs in check down low, so it wouldn't come as a shock to see him repeat that output from a year ago. 

Khalil Shabazz, G, San Francisco

Shabazz redshirted last season after averaging 15.3 points and 3.2 assists as a freshman for Central Washington in Division II. The 6-1 guard has the ability to initiate the Dons' offense and isn't afraid to rise up from anywhere on the court. Following the departure of star Frankie Ferrari, Shabazz will have an opportunity to make his presence known in 2019-20. Alongside Shabazz, junior Jamaree Bouyea is also a name to keep an eye in the San Francisco backcourt with his skill at finishing around the rim. 

Also considered: Joe Quintana, Loyola Marymount; Justin Moore, Pacific; Braun Hartfield, San Diego

Top 10*

  1. Colbey Ross, G, Pepperdine
  2. TJ Haws, G, BYU
  3. Malik Fitts, F, St. Mary's
  4. Yoeli Childs, F, BYU (would slot in at #1 if not for suspension)
  5. Ryan Woolridge, G, Gonzaga
  6. Killian Tillie, F, Gonzaga
  7. Josip Vrankic, F, Santa Clara
  8. Charles Minlend, G, San Francisco
  9. Tahj Eaddy, G, Santa Clara
  10. Kameron Edwards, F, Pepperdine

*Note: These rankings are at the discretion of the article author and may not necessarily correspond with Rotowire's official 2019-20 player rankings.

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