- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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As part of our Summer Shootaround series, here are the best- and worst-case scenarios for the West Coast Conference:
Best-case: Losing your two most experienced and offensively accurate players is never a good thing, but there's plenty of reason to believe the Cougars could have a more balanced overall lineup in 2012-13. All-WCC forward Brandon Davies is back, as is promising point guard Matt Carlino, while the return of former All-Mountain West freshman Tyler Haws from his two-year mission in the Philippines should give BYU lights-out shooting from the perimeter. If Carlino steps into his sophomore season with panache, this team is much better than last season's trip to the First Four.
Worst-case: The Cougars like to run -- they ranked fifth in the country in adjusted tempo last season -- but, counter to the stereotype of most run-and-gun teams, this team was actually much better on the defensive end of the floor. Noah Hartsock's floor-spacing knock-down touch will be missed, and this team wasn't all that fluid on offense in the first place. Stagnancy seems the only conceivable reason this team might not exceed last season's largely forgettable post-Jimmer campaign.
Best-case: A deep NCAA tournament breakthrough. Let's be honest: Gonzaga hasn't been Cinderella in a decade. Soon after the Dan Monson-led 1999 Elite Eight appearance, coach Mark Few took the program to back-to-back Sweet 16s and savvily parlayed that rise into lasting national success, complete with the creation of a national brand. (As a longtime college shorts connoisseur, let me assure you: You can buy Gonzaga shorts just about anywhere.) But for all the steady success of the Few era -- 11 straight conference titles, 13 straight NCAA tournament appearances -- this program hasn't cracked the Elite Eight since 1999 kicked the whole thing off. With all this talent and experience (Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, Elias Harris, Sam Dower, and now Przemek Karnowski form a truly elite rotation) this could, and maybe even should, be the season the Zags finally break through.
Worst-case: It's really all about the tournament. Gonzaga's days of singlehandedly dominating the WCC are over, but by all rights this team should return to the top of the league standings this season. The question is whether the Zags can notch enough early nonconference wins, and avoid bad losses in league play, in order to assure a favorable NCAA tournament position. Another first-weekend tourney exit would be massively disappointing.
Best-case: Can Max Good's team break the Gonzaga-BYU-Saint Mary's stranglehold on the top of the WCC standings? If any non-triumverate member can, it might be the Lions, who have the benefit of an experienced point guard in Anthony Ireland and the arrival of Nick Stover, whose crafty game could be an ideal match for his new league.
Worst-case: More likely than not, Ireland will be solid, Stover will be highly intriguing, but in general LMU won't have enough all-around firepower to keep from finishing around .500 in the league. Anything significantly worse than that is probably the worst-case scenario.
Best-case: Pepperdine lost two senior starters from a team that finished No. 289 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings. Improving last season's putrid offense in coach Marty Wilson's second season is the real focal point here.
Worst-case: A last-place finish in the WCC not only seems possible, but it's probably the most likely outcome. Pepperdine is years away from competing on a level basis with most of its West Coast Conference counterparts.
Editor's note: ESPN.com’s Summer Shootaround series is catching up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For the rest of the best- and worst-case scenarios for the WCC, click here.