The WCC is one to watch this year, but not for the reason you might expect. The conference boasts the No. 1 team in the country heading into the 2021-22 campaign in Gonzaga, but it’s the right for relevance below the Zags that makes WCC men’s basketball interesting.
BYU and head coach Mark Pope have quickly solidified their identity as the next-best team, but who will step up and give this conference a third quality team? Saint Mary’s, San Francisco, and Loyola Marymount are sure to battle it out but all lacked the consistency to make a meaningful push in 2020-21. We also wonder, is this the year Portland punishes conference opponents for glossing them over?
Let’s dive deep into WCC basketball:
WCC Men’s Basketball Preview 2021-22
Head coach: Mark Few (23rd season)
2020-21 record: 31-1 (15-0 in WCC)
Conference finish: 1st
Mark Few and the Zags bulldozed their way to a national championship appearance last season, posting 31-straight wins and a 31-1 record before falling to Baylor in the title game.
Coach Few has an embarrassment of riches as his roster is loaded with talent from top to bottom. Like many coaches before him, the problem won’t be if he has the guys to win, it’ll be putting the right guys in the right spots so that the team can be most successful. With the losses of Joel Ayayi, Aaron Cook, Corey Kispert, and Jalen Suggs, the team will look to a transfer (Rasir Bolton, Iowa State) and two freshmen (Chet Holmgren, Hunter Sallis) to bolster a strong core. All three are projected to make an immediate impact and compete for spots in the starting five.
The big question surrounding Gonzaga heading into this season is if it can win the national championship. A WCC championship, rightly or wrongly, is viewed as a forgone conclusion.
Contenders: BYU, Saint Mary’s, San Francisco, Loyola Marymount
Head coach: Mark Pope (3rd season)
2020-21 record: 20-7 (10-3 in WCC)
Conference finish: 2nd
Mark Pope has quickly returned BYU to national relevance, and while Gonzaga is the clear-cut favorite to win the WCC men’s basketball crown, BYU may be the only team in conference that can give the Zags a real game this year.
The loss of center Matt Haarms will be felt immediately on the defensive end, and only time will tell if Richard Harward can fill those shoes. Expect transfer Te’Jon Lucas to start immediately alongside Alex Barcello in the backcourt, bolstering what is expected to be a very high-scoring offense.
This team has depth, experience, and was able to retain a core of last year’s talent, but we’ll see if the defense can match the offense to provide a deep postseason run.
Head coach: Randy Bennett (21st season)
2020-21 record: 14-9 (4-6 in WCC)
Conference finish: 7th
Saint Mary’s is returning just about everyone from last year’s 14-9 season, which is quite an anomaly in this conference. Head coach Randy Bennett also brought in two freshmen who appear to be depth pieces at this point, while the rest of the WCC will rely heavily on freshmen and transfers to make an immediate impact.
This will be one of the most consistent teams in WCC men’s basketball this season, playing stifling defense and a “wear you down” style of offense. The Gaels have the talent and right strategy to compete, but do they have enough top-end talent to compete with BYU and Gonzaga?
Head coach: Todd Golden (3rd season)
2020-21 record: 11-14 (4-9 in WCC)
Conference finish: 8th
How do you go from eighth place last year to possibly fourth? The 2020-21 squad lacked size, so USF added two 6-foot-10 players, another one at 6-foot-9, and one more who stands at 7-foot-1 – that’s an immediate upgrade and changes the presence of the team on the court. Add in the fact that San Francisco’s top-six players are seniors and redshirt seniors, and you have one of the most experienced teams in the country.
The Dons build this program overnight with the transfer portal, rostering only one freshman but five transfers. Expect this team to be more balanced than ever, and head coach Todd Golden will experiment early in the season in an attempt to find the proper chemistry a transfer-heavy team can sometimes lack.
Head coach: Stan Johnson (2nd season)
2020-21 record: 13-9 (7-5 in WCC)
Conference finish: 3rd
Loyola Marymount returns all of its key players from 2020-21 and has added four transfers who essentially make up the entire playing end of the bench.
My concern isn’t the ability of head coach Stan Johnson to get his team to repeat the success of last year, it’s size. LMU doesn’t have a single player taller than 6-foot-8, and that concerns me when teams like San Francisco, BYU, and Gonzaga are your competition. The Lions have plenty of talent to create opportunities, but are they built to get second-chance opportunities for themselves and restrict them from their opponents? I’m not convinced.
I expect a very streaky LMU team in 2021-22. When its shooting percentage is on, it can hang with anyone, but I’m afraid that it won’t be able to compete on poor shooting nights.
Stuck in Purgatory: Santa Clara, Pacific, Pepperdine, San Diego
Head coach: Herb Sendek (6th season)
2020-21 record: 12-8 (4-5 in WCC)
Conference finish: 6th
A perennial middle-of-the-conference team, expect the addition of Green Bay transfer PJ Pipes to add a court general who can also stretch the defense with his three-point shooting ability, both things Santa Clara could have used last season.
This roster has some build-in fluidity, meaning one of the four freshmen have a chance to make an impact early on, but which one will it be?
Head coach: Leonard Perry (1st season)
2020-21 record: 9-9 (6-7 in WCC)
Conference finish: 5th
After five years as an assistant in the program, this will be Leonard Perry’s first campaign as Pacific head coach. I expect the overall identity of the program to remain the same under him. That means physical defense and a team that tries to pound the paint with pick and rolls.
Pacific returns three starters and brings in five Division I transfers, which means the ceiling is high for Coach Perry’s first season in charge.
Head coach: Lorenzo Romar (4th season)
2020-21 record: 14-12 (6-6 in WCC)
Conference finish: 4th
The loss of Mr. Do Everything Colbey Ross means that head coach Lorenzo Romar will have to find a new leader for his offense and perhaps an entirely-new offensive identity.
Romar brought in two transfers in Keith Fisher and Braun Hartfield, who are both projected to start immediately. Graduation was tough for Pepperdine, and it might take a year (or two) to re-establish itself.
Head coach: Sam Scholl (4th season)
2020-21 record: 3-10 (2-6 in WCC)
Conference finish: 9th
Of all the teams near the bottom of WCC basketball, I think San Diego could surprise us all this season. The Toreros finished ninth last year but return starters Joey Calcaterra and Josh Parrish, along with a solid bench contributor in Vladimir Pinchuk. Add in five DI transfers, including three who will likely start right away, and you have what could be a completely new-looking program. It will all come down to staying healthy and how well the new pieces fit together.
Head coach: Shantay Legans (1st season)
2020-21 record: 6-15 (0-11 in WCC)
Conference finish: 10th
This might be the last time for a while that we see Portland finish last. The Pilots return only two players from last year’s roster, but new head coach Shantay Legans brings with him several players from his previous program (Eastern Washington). He also convinced two DI transfers to come to Portland, plus has rostered seven freshmen.
Give Legans a few seasons, and I expect Portland to climb out of the cellar, but not yet.
2021-22 WCC Men’s Basketball Players to Watch
Chet Holmgren – Center – Freshman – Gonzaga
When you play for the consensus No. 1 team in the country, it’s easy to be overshadowed by a slew of future NBA draft picks. That is, unless you’re the No. 1 recruit in the country and are a future lottery pick yourself.
Chet Holmgren comes to Gonzaga measuring in at 7-feet, 190 pounds with a skillset that reminds me of a young Kevin Durant. He has all of the skills needed to compete immediately, and my only real concern is that his body will be punished while he adapts to the college game. I project him to win Freshman of the Year in the WCC with a real shot at Newcomer of the Year as well.
Eli Scott – Guard/Forward – Senior – Loyola Marymount
While his team may not win any postseason awards, Eli Scott was recently announced to the watchlist for the Karl Malone Award, making him one of the nation’s top-20 forwards.
Scott is near the top at LMU for career scoring, rebounding, assists, and games played, but his game transcends the Lions. He’s been one of the best players in the WCC, and he should be one of the nation’s best players who casual fans don’t know about in the 2021-22 campaign.
Alex Barcello – Guard – Senior – BYU
Alex Barcello is the engine that makes BYU go offensively. In 2020-21, he averaged 16 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game while shooting 47.7 percent from behind the arc and 52 percent overall from the floor.
Without him, BYU probably drops in the middle of the pack in the WCC, and if he brings his best game, he gives the Cougars a chance to hang with rival Gonzaga.
2021-22 Men’s & Women’s College Basketball Conference Previews
Learn more about the upcoming 2021-22 men’s and women’s college basketball seasons with Nothing But Nylon’s extensive conference previews, with a new conference covered every week before the campaign tips off in November.