Why Saint Mary’s was picked over perennial favourite Gonzaga to win 2023-24 West Coast Convention championship

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For the primary time because the 2017-18 season, a staff apart from Gonzaga has been picked to complete atop the West Coast Convention within the league’s preseason ballot. Saint Mary’s edged the Zags 61-60 in complete factors within the coaches ballot, introduced Thursday. The Gaels acquired 5 first-place votes whereas the Bulldogs acquired 4.

The outcomes come after the rival packages completed tied atop the league standings final season earlier than Gonzaga edged Saint Mary’s within the WCC Event Championship Sport. Gonzaga proceeded to make the Elite Eight — marking its sixth consecutive run to the Candy 16 or past — however is shedding program legend Drew Timme and two different starters.

Saint Mary’s returns first-team All-WCC performers Aidan Mahaney and Mitchell Saxen from a staff that earned a No. 5 seed within the NCAA Event earlier than being eradicated within the second spherical. The Gaels have been a constant challenger to the Zags beneath longtime coach Randy Bennett, and the the coaches ballot underscores the sturdy standing of Saint Mary’s coming into the 2023-24 season. Bennett has posted a 53-16 (26-5 WCC) report over the previous two seasons whereas incomes consecutive No. 5 seeds for the Large Dance.

Whereas the coaches ballot is a ringing endorsement for Saint Mary’s from the friends of Bennett and Gonzaga coach Mark Few, it is also an indication of the uncertainty the Zags face coming into Few’s twenty fifth season. 

Gonzaga’s new faces

Gonzaga landed the No. 10 switch class, in line with 247Sports. The group is headlined by former Creighton level guard Ryan Nembhard, who was the No. 6 participant within the 2023 CBS Sports activities switch rankings. It additionally contains No. 34 switch Graham Ike, who was the most effective bigs within the Mountain West at Wyoming in the course of the 2021-22 season earlier than lacking final yr on account of damage. Former Large Sky Participant of the 12 months Steele Venters, who shot 40.3% from 3-point vary final yr at Japanese Washington, rounds out the category.

Whereas the veteran trio makes for a stable inflow of expertise, the Zags are coming into a brand new period with out Timme, who was a vital a part of the lineup for 4 seasons. The three-time All-American left as Gonzaga’s all-time main scorer after averaging profession highs in factors (21.2), rebounds (7.5), assists (3.2) and blocks (1.0) final season.

With No. 2 scorer Julian Strawther and No. 4 scorer Rasir Bolton additionally departed, Few should combine a mix of returners, led by fifth-year ahead Anton Watson and junior guard Nolan Hickman, with the incoming transfers and a gaggle of newcomers that features gamers from Croatia, Serbia and South Korea.

The Saint Mary’s precedent

Although it is uncommon for anybody apart from Gonzaga to be picked to complete atop the WCC, final season’s shared regular-season title between the Zags and Gaels was not unprecedented. The groups additionally cut up the regular-season title in 2016, and the Gaels received the league outright in 2012. Saint Mary’s additionally received the WCC Event in 2010, 2012 and 2019, offering temporary interruptions to Gonzaga’s regular stream of WCC dominance.

The groups are scheduled to play regular-season video games on Feb. 4 and Feb. 25, 2024. 

2023-24 WCC preseason ballot

1. Saint Mary’s (5)
2. Gonzaga (4)
3. San Francisco
4. Loyola-Marymount
5. Santa Clara
6. Portland
7. Pepperdine
8. Pacific
9. San Diego





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