In eight of the past nine years, Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s has always either won the league or finished no worse than a tie for second in the regular season. That’s a trend expected to prevail in 2016-17, as the Zags, now No. 6-rated by the coaches, are the league favorite, while Saint Mary’s (10-1) is No. 19 in both polls.
The league underwent a 40-percent upheaval in head coaches last spring. WCC commissioner Lynn Holzman would tell you that’s reflective of a new wave of presidents unwilling to accept the dominance of Gonzaga, and to a lesser extent, Saint Mary’s.
So veteran Herb Sendek is now installed at Santa Clara. Ex-Saint Mary’s assistant Kyle Smith has taken over at San Francisco. And former NBA point guards Terry Porter and Damon Stoudamire are in place at Portland and Pacific, respectively.
A Cliffs-Notes look at the league as it begins play, alphabetically in order:
Brigham Young (9-4)
Coach -- Dave Rose (12th season as BYU head coach).
Best win -- Beat Colorado 79-71 at Provo.
RPI -- No. 147.
Key stat -- C Eric Mika, returned from a church mission in Italy, leads Cougars with 20.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
Coach -- Mark Few (18).
Best win -- Beat Arizona, 69-62.
RPI -- No. 6.
Key stat -- Pick one: Zags are No. 2 nationally in 3-point FG defense at .267, they’re shooting .744 on free throws and have a 1.32 assist-turnover ratio.
Loyola Marymount (7-4)
Coach -- Mike Dunlap (3).
Best win -- Won at Colorado State, 69-66.
RPI -- No. 199.
Key stat -- Shooting has been an issue; Lions make .332 from three and 65.8 percent of their free throws.
Coach -- Damon Stoudamire (1).
Best win -- Beat Wyoming 73-65 in Stockton.
RPI -- No. 246.
Key stat -- Team shoots only 40.4 percent.
Coach -- Marty Wilson (6).
Best win -- Beat Little Rock, 66-65, on neutral floor.
RPI -- No. 256.
Key stat -- Chris Reyes, 6-7 Utah transfer, averages 14.7 ppg, shoots .619 and leads Waves in rebounding at 8.1 a game.
Coach -- Terry Porter (1).
Best win -- Beat Oregon State 53-45, at the Moda Center in Portland.
RPI -- No. 192.
Key stat -- G Alec Wintering’s 21.5 ppg leads four players in double figures.
Saint Mary’s (10-1)
Coach -- Randy Bennett (16).
Best win -- At Dayton, 61-57.
RPI -- No. 30.
Key stat -- Lots to like here: Big man Jock Landale has either led the Gaels in scoring or rebounding in all but one game. SMC has a 1.7 assist-turnover ratio and 9.4 rebound margin.
San Diego (7-5)
Coach -- Lamont Smith (2).
Best win -- Beat Cal-Santa Barbara, 77-68.
RPI -- No. 160.
Key stat -- Spokane University High product Brett Bailey, 6-6, has made quantum leap to lead Toreros in scoring (18.6) and rebounding (7.2).
San Francisco (10-3)
Coach -- Kyle Smith (1).
Best win -- Beat Utah 89-86 in Diamond Head Classic.
RPI -- No. 142.
Key stat -- Dons shooting .484, and .413 behind the arc.
Santa Clara (6-7).
Coach -- Herb Sendek (1).
Best win -- At Valparaiso, 87-80.
RPI -- No. 272.
Key stat -- Broncos have launched 104 more treys than opponents. Foes shoot 40.5 percent on threes.