While many of the college football superpowers were either changing conferences or contemplating making moves over the summer, the West Coast Conference seemed far, far removed.
The WCC doesn't even offer football. Basketball has always been its calling card and Gonzaga's run of success over the last decade and change has vaulted it the WCC into one of the top mid-major conferences.
"We talked about everything going on with the Pac-10 and the other conferences," WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich said of his meetings with his conference's school presidents. "We even talked about how all the fallout was certainly not going to have any effect on our conference. Yet, at the same time, our presidents also urged me to be on the lookout for opportunities that might arise that could help us strengthen our conference."
As it turned out, a big opportunity did present itself after all the football shakeout. Brigham Young University is the newest member of the WCC and will begin play in the 2011-12 seasons.
The whole process started last month when Brigham Young decided to leave the Mountain West Conference and have its football program become an independent. The rest of the Cougars' athletic teams were slated to jump to the Western Athletic Conference. However, the Mountain West then dealt the WAC a blow by luring Fresno State and Nevada after Boise State also agreed to jump to the MWC in June.
With the WAC down to five teams, it was no longer a viable option for Brigham Young, which turned to the WCC. Without hesitation, the WCC accepted the Cougars after 30 years with the same eight-member alignment of Gonzaga, Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Portland, San Diego, Santa Clara, Saint Mary's and San Francisco.
"We couldn't be happier about adding a member like BYU with its great tradition," Zaninovich said. "Six weeks ago, we could have never envisioned BYU being part of our conference. It is quite ironic that football would wind up having a bearing on our conference but BYU is really a good fit for us. It is a private, church-affiliated school, like the rest of our members."
Brigham Young certainly makes a good conference even better. The Cougars have been to four straight NCAA Tournaments and six in the last eight seasons. They rose as high as No. 12 in The Associated Press poll last season and No. 5 in Basketball Prospectus' The List rankings.
"From a basketball standpoint, they're going to raise the profile of the conference," Gonzaga coach Mark Few told the Spokane Spokesman-Review. "It will be nice to have another top-25 level program in the conference. We were going to fight any situation that brought in a sub-150 level RPI school. That doesn’t help you. This is a win-win in that regard."
There has been much speculation that the WCC might expand to 10 or even 12 teams. Among the schools being mentioned as possibilities are Denver, Pacific and Seattle. Zaninovich says the WCC isn't looking at expansion just yet, but ... .
"We're always open to possibilities of making our conference better," Zaninovich said. "We certainly didn't think BYU would be in our conference just two months ago, so you never know."
The Mountain West is also looking for a replacement for Brigham Young and has its eye on Houston and Southern Methodist of Conference USA.
Davidson Players Shining on European Stage
Davidson coach Bob McKillop traveled to Austria last month for the European Summer Championships. He liked what he saw from three of his players.
The star of the show from McKillop's perspective was Jake Cohen, a 6-10 sophomore forward who average 13.3 points/5.1 rebounds/0.8 assists 22.7 minutes last season when he was the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year. Cohen averaged 20 points and eight rebounds a game for Israel in the under-20 division, playing against strong competition that included professionals and other major college players. That is good news for Davidson as the most of the offense went through Cohen last winter when he was 28th in the nation in percentage of shots (32.7) and 43rd in percentage of possessions (30.2) as the Wildcats finished 16-15.
"It was a gold mine to help him learn how to play physically," McKillop told the Charlotte Observer. "He got roughed up by some very big, very physical guys every day in practice. He was exposed to more things than he would have been. He did it against European pros who were fighting to get spots on teams over there."
McKillop believes Cohen benefited more from playing in the tournament than he would have by staying in the United States all summer.
"The greatest thing for me was to see the way he assimilated himself into a different team and a different language," McKillop said. "It toughened his edge. That kind of progress you don't generally get from most kids. But he invested himself and he capitalized on his investment."
A pair of incoming Davidson freshman also played in the tournament. Chris Czerapowicz averaged 11.6 points for Sweden and Ali Mackay averaged 2.3 points for Great Britain.
Spartans Deal with Offseason Distractions
Michigan State has national title aspirations this upcoming season but the Spartans have had their share of distractions since losing to Butler in the national semifinals. The latest was junior guard Korie Lucious being arrested for driving under the influence last weekend. The biggest was coach Tom Izzo being courted by the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers over the summer before deciding to stay.
Michigan State also lost a key player off its Final Four team when guard Chris Allen transferred to Iowa State after being removed from the team over the summer. Allen had an 8.2/2.8/2.0/25.5 line as a junior but was suspended for the Big Ten tournament before being reinstated for the NCAA tourney.
Allen would not discuss why got the boot at Michigan State. However, he said he chose Iowa State over St. John's and UTEP because new Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg played in the NBA for 10 seasons then served in the Minnesota Timberwolves' front office before returning to his alma mater.
"My dream is to play in the NBA," Allen told the Des Moines Register. "He's been there and done that. He knows what it takes."
Allen is one of three transfers who will become eligible for Iowa State for the start of 2011-12 season along with Chris Babb of Penn State and Anthony Booker from Southern Illinois.
ESPN to Kick Off Season with Marathon
It should be worth the while to get up early on the morning of November 16. Of course, that is if you haven't already been up all night watch the beginning of ESPN's College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon.
Kent State will host Robert Morris in a game that features two good mid-major programs. The game will tip at 8 a.m. Eastern, though.
"It's obviously an unusual starting time but we're thrilled to be part of the marathon," Kent State coach Geno Ford said. "It's great exposure for our programs and a lot other programs that are similar to ours."
The full schedule looks like this (all times Eastern and games will be televised on ESPN unless noted otherwise):
- Miami (Fla.) at Memphis, midnight
- St. John's at Saint Mary's, 2 a.m.
- Central Michigan at Hawaii, 4 a.m.
- Stony Brook at Monmouth, 6 a.m.
- Robert Morris at Kent State, 8 a.m.
- Northeastern at Southern Illinois, 10 a.m.
- Oral Roberts at Tulsa, noon
- La Salle at Baylor, 2 p.m.
- Virginia Tech at Kansas State, 4 p.m.
- Marist at Villanova, 5:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
- Ohio State at Florida, 6 p.m.
- Miami (Ohio) at Duke, 7:30 p.m. (ESPNu)
- Butler at Louisville, 8 p.m.
- Belmont at Tennessee, 9:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
- South Carolina at Michigan State, 10 p.m.
- Nevada or Pacific at UCLA, 11:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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