WCC Preseason Power Rankings: The Maybe Not This Year Tier
With a new college basketball season set to tip off in just over a month, it’s time to start looking ahead in earnest. No more cooking up content with offseason scraps, instead it’s time to start gorging ourselves with real, honest to goodness previews.
Team previews. Previews of teams that will be taking the court in just a few weeks’ time. Previews for teams that will be taking the court, fingers crossed, with living, breathing (through a mask) human being fans in attendance.
It’s been a while, and it’s time to get excited… by starting with uh, the least exciting teams in the West Coast Conference? Yep. Save the best for last and all that.
There’s reason to be excited about these teams, though, even if you might have to do some digging to find it. You’ve got a new coach coming in to put out a dumpster fire, a new coach seemingly keeping continuity of culture and a rebuild that looks surprisingly like a reload — a rare situation for a team this low in the league. And then there’s one team I can’t really find a reason to get excited about, other than the fact that I didn’t pick them to finish last, I guess.
10) Portland Pilots
Last Season: 6–15 (0–11); 10th WCC
First off, Pilot fans, let me make something very clear. Last place this year is not the same as last place last year, or the year before, or the one before that. This year, last place is 10th place. In recent years, last place may has well have been 300th place.
Yeah, you might be the worst team in the WCC this season, but that won’t be this team’s fault (and also, you might not!). You just struggled through a three year stretch that saw the Pilots post an impressively awful 1–45 record against conference foes.
Those days are over, don’t worry. But the darkness remains, for now, because the hole to be climbed out of is so deep.
You could easily make the case that Portland has more reason to be optimistic about the future than any other team in this tier. Though the present is a different story.
Eleven players left the program during the offseason, and all 11 left as transfers. The only player back with any meaningful experience in a Pilot uniform is Clythus Griffith (4.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg), and last year was the JuCo transfer’s first at the D1 level.
The cupboard is incredibly bare for incoming head coach Shantay Legans. Short term, that’s going to make it tough. Long term, though, it should allow him to mold the program into what he wants it to be much quicker than normal. He’s already doing that, mind you, with an eight man incoming freshman class that is by far the largest in the league.
Legans also brought a few players with him from Eastern Washington, and remember, the Eagles nearly took down Kansas in the Round of 64. Jack Perry (4.3 ppg), Tyler Robertson (11.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.0 apg) and Mike Meadows (10.5 ppg) all followed their coach from Cheney to Portland. The familiarity those three have with Coach Legans will certainly elevate the program’s floor in the first year of what is otherwise almost a complete tear-down-rebuild.
Unlike in years past, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. No matter how dark this season may be, always remember that the man now piloting the ship is leading you out of the storm, not blindly around within it.
9) Pepperdine Waves
Last Season: 15–12 (7–6); 4th WCC
Colbey Ross and Kessler Edwards are gone. The CBI champs won’t be running it back again this season.
The Waves’ roster looks exactly like you would expect one would coming off a successful (I guess) season after which the program lost its best player of all time and an NBA Draft pick, and those two weren’t even the same player.
There’s a pair of transfers, each on the third team of their career, who have proven to be competent scorers at this level. Braun Hartfield is in from San Diego, where he scored 13.9 ppg two seasons ago. Before that, he put up 13.6 as a sophomore at Youngstown State. Then there’s Keith Fischer III, who scored 9.6 ppg two years ago at Illinois state and 10.4 as a freshman at San Jose State.
They’re the kind of veteran players, in their last season of eligibility, you can count on to keep an otherwise young team from taking on too much water. And young this team is.
There’s a six-man incoming freshman class, second most in the league behind only Portland. And, there is some talent in there. Lorenzo Romar’s single greatest asset as a college coach is his ability to recruit talent. He did it at Washington, and he’s done it at Pepperdine. He’s doing it again this year, with three of the six incoming freshmen being rated as three star prospects by 247sports.
The question is, and it’s more than fair, is can he do anything with that talent once he gets it to campus?
Romar’s last trip to the NCAA Tournament at Washington came in 2011. He spent six more seasons in Seattle and had eight NBA players over those six seasons. Not just cup of coffee guys, either. He had a №1 pick, two №8 picks, a №20, №25, №28, №29 and №55. The lone second rounder in that group was Nigel Williams-Goss. 2017 WCC Player of the Year Nigel Williams-Goss, that is.
Oh yeah, and with Ross and at least one Edwards brother over his first past three seasons back in Malibu, the Waves are one game over .500. Had they not managed to win the shrunk-down CBI last season, they’d .500 at best over that span.
That’s a decade-long track record of coaching elite talent to middling results. This year, the elite talent is gone. And with it, gone is my hope for the Waves this season.
8) Pacific Tigers
Last Season: 9–9 (6–7); 5th WCC
Since rejoining the WCC ahead of the 2013–14 season, Pacific has finished above .500 once, .500 once and below .500 six times. The Tigers have been respectable two, maybe three times, and each of those seasons saw Damon Stoudamire standing on the sidelines.
Well, Stoudamire left for the NBA where he’ll be an assistant on the Celtics. Perhaps attempting to keep the culture Stoudamire built in Stockton, Pacific promoted from within and elevated Leonard Perry to the top job after five years as an assistant. Luke Wicks, another longtime assistant under Stoudamire, stuck around as well, and so did the new director of basketball operations Justin Hawkins-Young. They also brought in Justin Brown, who coached a few former Tigers during his time at the JuCo level, and Jon Gilliam as video coordinator. Gilliam worked with new assistant coach Josh Newman at his previous stop, Texas-Permian Basin.
Which is to say, there’s reason to expect Stoudamire’s culture of success will survive. Even the new guys have ties to the Tigers or to each other.
The issue is, Stoudamire’s culture is the only thing that’s worked at Pacific since the legendary Bob Thomason retired just before the Tigers moved back to the WCC. Even then, Stoudamire’s rosters weren’t known for their continuity. He rebuilt with transfers seemingly every year, and that’s happening again.
Only four players return this year. Though, three of them are legitimate, if fringe, all-WCC candidates. Jeremiah Bailey (11.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg) was all-WCC Honorable Mention a season ago. Jordan Bell (8.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg) could wind up on that level in his final season and Pierre Cockrell II (10.1 ppg, 4.1 apg) looks capable of a breakout junior campaign.
If you’re only bringing back a handful of guys, that’s not a bad handful to rock with.
They’ll also get a boost from Alphonso Anderson (6.8 ppg), who was named Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year a season ago while at Utah State. He’s a proven contributor at the mid-major level. Their ceiling, though, may hinge on some low-major up-transfers. Luke Avdalovic averaged 9.6 ppg over three seasons, but his Northern Arizona teams weren’t very good in the Big Sky, and Greg Outlaw averaged 9.5 ppg over two seasons, but his Central Connecticut teams were flat out bad in the Northeast Conference.
If the culture carries over into a new regime, and the up-transfers upgrade their game to the WCC’s level, the Tigers will have real darkhorse potential. If not, well, what’s the name of this tier? Maybe not this year.
7) San Diego Toreros
Last Season: 3–11 (2–7); 9th WCC
Transfers are a part of the game now. Every season, almost every single team in the sport will lose players, key players, to the portal. Because it has become so common, simply losing players to the transfer portal isn’t enough to doom a team to a disastrous season… even if you do happen to lose eight or nine of them to the portal like the Toreros did.
What can hurt, though, is when you lose players to the transfer portal and they wind up landing at a league rival. That’s what happened with Yauhen Massalski (9.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and Braun Hartfield (13.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.2 apg in 2020), who transferred to San Francisco and Pepperdine, respectively. Massalski’s been San Diego’s anchor inside for the past two seasons, and Hartfield was their best player in his lone year as a Torero. Not only are they gone, but they’ll be helping teams fighting for position with the Toreros in the WCC.
When you’re stuck in the cellar, cleaning house isn’t the worst idea. Losing nine players from last year’s roster might not be too bad, considering what last year’s roster managed to accomplish.
The Toreros aren’t losing everything, though. Some important pieces are back this season. The top two scorers from last year — Joey Calcaterra (13.3 ppg) and Josh Parrish (10.5 ppg) — are back this season. As is Vladimir Pinchuk, fourth leading scorer at 7.6 ppg. All three are redshirt seniors, which means they’re veterans with one last chance to make a splash in San Diego.
While the incoming freshman class doesn’t jump off the page, with just three members and only one three star prospect, there will be an influx of talent thanks to the transfer portal. And, it should lead to some continuity going forward, as four of the five incoming transfers will have multiple years of eligibility remaining.
Pitt transfer Terrell Brown is the lone one-year player coming in. A true big man, the 6-foot-10, 235 pound forward was a part time starter over his first three seasons in the ACC before falling out of favor last season. As a sophomore he posted his best numbers, averaging 5.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.
A pair of Big East transfers come in as well. Sophomore guard TJ Berger saw spotty action last season at Georgetown, appearing in just 15 of 26 games. St. John’s wing Marcellus Earlington was a rotation player for the Johnnies the past two seasons, averaging between 17 and 18 minutes, 7 and 9 points and 4 and 5 rebounds per game as a sophomore and junior. He has two years of eligibility remaining.
Sophomore Bryce Monroe and senior Jase Townsend are transferring up to the WCC from Sam Houston State and Denver respectively. Monroe averaged 10 points in 21 minutes per game last season and earned Southland Rookie of the Year honors. Townsend is a proven high-level scorer and efficient three point threat who averaged 19.2 ppg last season and 17 ppg the year prior. He’s a senior with two years of eligibility remaining.
Personally, I like how head coach Sam Scholl has brought in experienced players with high-major pedigree or mid-major accolades, almost all of whom can stay in the program for multiple years. It’s an approach that should lead to greater immediate success and longer term stability than loading up on JuCo or grad transfers. As far as roster building through the portal goes, this is a pretty good way to do it.
Plus, while the past two years have been awful (4–21 in the WCC), Scholl has show the ability to find success at this level. He took the Toreros to the NIT three seasons ago. That veteran-laden team graduated its core following that run, and the rebuilding process was significantly hampered by the pandemic — the Toreros had to hit pause three separate times last season and managed just 14 total games. This should be considered the first real year of the rebuild, in Scholl’s fourth season.