The college hoops' season is almost upon us and that means another exciting year of BYU Basketball to look forward to. There will be plenty of question marks for the Cougars as they enter their third season as a member of the West Coast Conference, still looking to capture their first WCC title.
This year's version of the WCC will be missing names like Kelly Olynyk, Matthew Dellavedova, and Brandon Davies, but there should still be plenty of excitement with the addition of the University of Pacific Tigers to the league and players like Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos, BYU's Tyler Haws, and LMU's Anthony Ireland now having the spotlight all to themselves.
We caught up with Greg Crawford, college basketball insider and NBA draft insider for CSNNW.com and Comcast SportsNet, to get his take on how the WCC will play out this season. Greg picked the Cougars to finish first in the WCC this season. You can read his WCC Hoops season preview at CSNNW.com.
Vanquish the Foe: Most people are picking Gonzaga to finish first in the WCC this season. In your recent article, you picked BYU to take that crown. What do you see in this year's BYU squad that makes you think they can dethrone the Zags a top the WCC?
Greg Crawford, CSNNW.com: I like the talent on BYU. I think Tyler Haws is the best player in the WCC and I think for the first time, the BYU roster might be stronger than Gonzaga. David Rose is a great coach and with this talent, it might just be BYU's year. Of course, predictions are like officiating, no matter what the call, someone is always unhappy.
VTF: The WCC lost some of its star power with players like Matthew Dellavedova and Kelly Olynyk to graduation or the NBA draft. Are they're any newcomers to the league this year that we can expect to step up and fill some of those star roles.
GC: Besides the obvious players as newcomers, I think someone who might surprise would be Jeremy Major at Pepperdine. He is an outstanding scorer, something the Waves really need badly, even if he comes off the bench. And Alec Wintering should really help the backcourt of U of Portland, he can create some havoc on the offensive end.
VTF: In your article, you mention the lack of rivalries in the WCC. With Gonzaga and BYU being the league's top dogs and sporting the largest fan bases is that a natural rivalry we can expect to develop over the next few seasons?
GC: As per rivalries, as much as people love to claim there are WCC rivalries in men's basketball, there are none. For it to be a true sports rivalry, there needs to be equal winning. If people want to see a true rivalry in college basketball, they need to look at North Carolina/Duke.
I do not see anyone stepping up and really challenging Gonzaga's dominance in the next few years, even though I picked BYU to win the regular season. Also once someone starts winning in Spokane, then I will think about a true rivalry. What Gonzaga has done during the regular season, as per WCC league dominance is unmatched in any sports on any level, at the present time.
VTF: Tyler Haws had a huge sophomore season after returning to the Cougars from his LDS mission last season. What do you expect from Haws this year?
GC: I think Tyler Haws is destined to be the MVP of the league, he is so talented and we will be seeing him play at the next level. I love his overall game. WCC fans should just appreciate watching him while they can.
VTF: What kind of effect do you expect the NCAA sanctions on Saint Mary's and Randy Bennett's suspension will have on the Saint Mary's program and the league's overall depth?
GC: I really feel bad for St. Mary's and Randy Bennett. I think the NCAA hammered them pretty good and right now it appears it will have some implications on the team, even beyond this year. Not having Bennett on the sidelines for five games, which include four league games, has to hurt as well.
Randy Bennett is such an underrated coach. But, obviously the NCAA felt there was some major violations, which only time will tell on the impact for the future.
VTF: Anthony Ireland is one of the WCC's best players. Will Ireland be able to get LMU into contention this year?
GC: Anthony Ireland is a major talent, obviously one of the best players on the entire West Coast and I have seen all the good ones in person. At the same time, I love the way Max Good coaches, especially the adjustments he makes during a game. With all that said, I do not feel that Ireland has the supporting cast for the Lions to finish in the top three in the league. They will win a game during the year they are not suppose to win, but unfortunately not enough of those wins will come.
VTF: Any teams in the conference that may surprise us this year?
GC: Not cause I live here, because the last two years have been really sad, but Portland could be a surprise team. They should be improved over last year, but in the WCC you just can't improve, you have to jump over people to really make a dent. This year also has the promise for San Diego to move up in the standings, so I would watch the Toreros.
My string of picking on the record in October the last four years of both the regular season champions and tournament champions for the WCC, Mt West and Pac-12 is bound to end sometime, so since I picked BYU to win the regular season, probably Gonzaga will run the table.
Thanks again to Greg Crawford for his insight. Make sure to check out all his work at CSNNW.com and follow him on Twitter.