For the primary time because the 2017-18 season, a workforce aside from Gonzaga has been picked to complete atop the West Coast Convention within the league’s preseason poll. Saint Mary’s edged the Zags 61-60 in complete factors within the coaches ballot, introduced Thursday. The Gaels obtained 5 first-place votes whereas the Bulldogs obtained 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 Match Championship Sport. Gonzaga proceeded to make the Elite Eight — marking its sixth consecutive run to the Candy 16 or past — however is dropping program legend Drew Timme and two different starters.
Saint Mary’s returns first-team All-WCC performers Aidan Mahaney and Mitchell Saxen from a workforce that earned a No. 5 seed within the NCAA Match earlier than being eradicated within the second spherical. The Gaels have been a constant challenger to the Zags below longtime coach Randy Bennett, and the the coaches ballot underscores the robust standing of Saint Mary’s getting into the 2023-24 season. Bennett has posted a 53-16 (26-5 WCC) file 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 getting into Few’s twenty fifth season.
Gonzaga’s new faces
Gonzaga landed the No. 10 switch class, in keeping with 247Sports. The group is headlined by former Creighton level guard Ryan Nembhard, who was the No. 6 participant within the. It additionally contains No. 34 switch Graham Ike, who was the most effective bigs within the Mountain West at Wyoming throughout the 2021-22 season earlier than lacking final 12 months resulting from harm. Former Large Sky Participant of the 12 months Steele Venters, who shot 40.3% from 3-point vary final 12 months at Jap Washington, rounds out the category.
Whereas the veteran trio makes for a strong inflow of expertise, the Zags are getting into a brand new period with out Timme, who was a necessary 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 aside 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 break up the regular-season title in 2016, and the Gaels received the league outright in 2012. Saint Mary’s additionally received the WCC Match 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
5. Santa Clara
9. San Diego