The West Coast Conference is once again expected to be led by the same top-two teams as last year: the Saint Mary’s Gaels and Gonzaga Bulldogs. Saint Mary’s returns its top five scorers from last year’s 29-win squad, but the story is a little different for Gonzaga. Mark Few’s team lost standout forwards Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, but the return of Przemek Karnowski, who sat out much of last season with a back injury, will help the Zags fill up the frontcourt. They’ll also need to find suitable replacements for guards Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis in order to continue their perennial mid-major dominance. BYU again could emerge as a sleeper threat to the two power teams. Pepperdine was supposed to make big strides last year, but fell short and lost many players to transferring, and thus are unlikely to make waves (pun unintended) this season. A team for some consideration this year is Santa Clara, which returns elite scorer Jared Brownridge and an experienced roster, but the Broncos are largely unproven. Below these teams is a huge split in level of competition, and no other teams currently show much of the capabilities needed to usurp the triad of Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, and BYU.
Emmett Naar (G)
Naar is the latest example of the Australian pipeline Gaels’ head coach Randy Bennett has created within the program. He upped his production quite a bit last year, and posted averages of 14.0 points, 6.4 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.3 steals in 37 minutes per game. He was also notably able to increase his field goal percentage from about 39 percent to 49 percent from his freshman to sophomore seasons, and recorded two double-doubles last season, coming close many times. With St. Mary’s returning their entire starting five from last season, Naar is poised to have another big year for the Gaels.
Jared Brownridge (G)
Brownridge finished the 2015-16 season as one of second-leading scorer in the WCC, averaging 20.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in 36 minutes per game. He decreased slightly in shooting accuracy last season, but should still be consistent in terms of fantasy value. With new head coach Herb Sendek looking to turn the program around, and the experience of the roster around him, Brownridge has potential to create more opportunities this year. The Broncos’ frontcourt is especially loaded with experience with fellow senior Nate Kratch, alongside juniors Matt Hubbard and Emmanuel Ndumanya. Look for Brownridge to be their go-to-guy and again compete for the WCC scoring title.
Przemek Karnowski (C)
Karnowski is primed to be the most important part of the Bulldogs’ frontcourt in 2016-17. The big man sat out much of last season due to a back injury that required surgery to repair. Karnowski is not only a legitimate double-double threat this season, but truly makes everyone he plays with on the court better. His averages of 10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.3 assists in 25 minutes per game from his last full season in 2014-15 may not be eye-popping, but this guy can play. Now that Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis have both exited the stage, Karnowski will have more responsibility. His injury status should be monitored, but if healthy, the 7-foot-1 center’s experience should give him the edge in down-low looks over much of the competition the WCC has to offer.
Nigel Williams-Goss (G)
Williams-Goss’ transfer purgatory is over, and the former Washington standout will now be back on the court in a much less competitive conference. At Washington, Williams-Goss averaged 15.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 4.7 rebounds in 36 minutes per game. He isn’t super accurate from behind the arc, sporting a dismal 25 percent 3-point percentage, but makes 44 percent of his shots overall. He’ll most likely start at small forward, and alongside Karnowski, could prove to be a big obstacle for many opponents. Look for him to provide owners with value from the start.
T.J. Haws (G - freshman)
BYU fans are very familiar with Haws family. Tyler (T.J.’s brother) was the 2014 WCC Men’s Basketball Player of the Year, and Marty (T.J.’s father) played four years with the Cougars in the 1980’s. T.J. Haws has a lot to live up to, but upon his return from a two-year LDS mission in France, he is shaking off the rust and ready to go. Haws is also a former Mr. Utah Basketball, like his brother, Tyler. What can we expected from the red-headed freshman? An unbelieveable shooting range -- one that potentially rivals that of Jimmer Fredette. He is slated to play behind former high school teammate Nick Emery and Houston transfer L.J. Rose, but that could change very quickly if his development proves to be as strong as his family’s legacy at BYU.
Jimbo Lull (C - freshman)
Lull, 2.3 star (average), 7-foot recruit out of Manhattan Beach, California, has the opportunity to take over San Francisco’s depleted center position immediately. The big man is 20 years old, and will need to develop, but his ceiling as of right now is pretty high due to the fact that there should be openings in San Francisco’s frontcourt. His development will be something to watch this season, as he’ll need to learn to play against the bigger and faster competition in order to be a dependable fantasy asset.
A PAIR OF SLEEPERS
Eric Mika (F)
Mika’s return from an LDS mission in Italy has been long awaited. As a freshman, Mika was named to the 2013-14 All-Freshman team, and posted averages of 11.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.0 assists in 26 minutes per game. He’s in line to start at center for the Cougars this year, and already has proven chemistry with former high school-turned-college teammates Nick Emery and TJ Haws. Once he readjusts to BYU’s pace of play, Mika could help power the Cougars to create a conference shake-up and reach the peak of the WCC once more.
Alex Floresca (F)
Floresca played much of his freshman season behind Cameron Neubauer and top scorer Dude Sanadze. Now that he’s departed, Floresca will have a much bigger role in the Toreros backcourt. Despite averages of 2.5 points and 1.8 rebounds in 11 minutes per game, he showed potential to have a much bigger role with more minutes, scoring in double digits against conference opponents San Francisco and Pepperdine, and showing off rebounding prowess when he was given the time to do so. His development is something to watch, but down the line, Floresca could provide owners value as a double-double threat with enough playing time.