Five offseason storylines in the WCC

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
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Editor's note: ESPN.com’s Summer Shootaround series catches up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For more on the West Coast Conference, click here.

Five offseason storylines in the WCC...

Gonzaga never truly left … but boy is it back: Last March, for the first time in more than a decade, Gonzaga finished a season without winning either the West Coast Conference regular-season or tournament titles. Finally, Saint Mary's -- a steadily rising program that could never quite unseat the big-brother Zags -- did exactly that. But the 2012-13 season portends a restoration of order. Gonzaga returns essentially everyone -- guard Gary Bell Jr., forwards Elias Harris and Sam Dower, and hugely impressive freshman point Kevin Pangos (among others) -- from a team that finished one win away from a share of 2012's regular-season crown.

Even better? Coach Mark Few got Polish forward Przemek Karnowski to sign with the program. Astute international hoopsniks have labeled Karnowski "a McDonald's All-American-type recruit" (credit Draft Express' Jonathan Givony) in the Marc Gasol mold (ESPN's Fran Fraschilla). Harris and Dower formed a potent frontcourt combination on their own; if Karnowski lives up to his billing, this team's ambitions should reach far beyond the reclamation of their usual spot atop the WCC.

The song says you're supposed to go to San Francisco, not leave it: The Dons posted a perfectly respectable, even surprising, 20-win season in 2012, but this offseason brought a sudden, unexpected and potentially devastating exodus from the program. Perris Blackwell, Charles Standifer, Michael Williams, Avery Johnson, Khalil Murphy and Justin Raffington all transferred away from San Fransisco. Blackwell and Williams were the team's two leading returning scorers expected to help plug the gap presented by the graduation of 2012 leading scorer Angelo Caloiaro. Head coach Rex Walters will enter the fifth season of his tenure with a major rebuilding project on his docket.

[+] EnlargeTyler Haws
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireAfter two years away on a LDS mission, Tyler Haws hopes to give BYU a boost in the backcourt.
Is BYU's Tyler Haws still the real deal? In 2009-10, Haws submitted one of the best freshman seasons in school history: He started 33 games at guard, averaged 11.3 points and 4.2 rebounds, and set a still-running school record of 48 straight made free throws. Then, in keeping with his Mormon faith, Haws interrupted his career to serve a two-year LDS mission in the Phillipines. Now he's back in the gym, getting back in shape and shaking off the rust, and BYU coach Dave Rose is thrilled. The Cougars lost their two most efficienct players (Noah Hartsock, Charles Abouo) to graduation this spring. After two seasons off, can Haws make up the difference?

Don't sleep on the WCC: For much of the past decade, Gonzaga has hegemonically lorded over a league with few challengers (save the SMC insurgency). But the days of the WCC existing merely as the Zags' warm-up for the NCAA tournament are officially over: Nationally speaking, this is now a top-eight hoops league. The conference added BYU last offseason, and in March, announced that Pacific would join in 2013-14. In coming seasons, Nevada and Utah State will be in the Mountain West, while Memphis will leave Conference USA for the Big East. Those shuffles should position the WCC among the nation's 10 best leagues for years to come.

Goodbye, double-bye: Another sign the WCC likes where it stands? It no longer feels the need to protect its top two teams with double-byes into the semifinals. In June, WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich told ESPN's Andy Katz that the league would be reformatting its conference tournament when Pacific joins the league next season, morphing it into a traditional 10-team tournament with the No. 7 vs. No. 10 seeds and No. 8 vs. No. 9 seeds playing on the first day. Why? Zaninovich told Katz the league "feels it can now earn multiple bids without having to overprotect the favorites." And you know what? He's right.

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