Pardon my intrusion because I have been a Zag fan for over 20 years but as of recent, I have been following Santa Clara as well. Had it not been for Hickman having the best game of the year at Santa Clara, the Zags would have lost. I thought the forum would be interested in my take about the top five teams this year. By the way, I have Santa Clara as number 3.
Finally, St. Marys has posted their 2023-24 roster and they look impressive. There will be no lack of talented big men in the top half of the conference, not to mention backcourts and wings. This will be a very interesting year for WCC basketball because so many teams have brought in talent via the portal as well as bringing in some promising freshman and redshirts.
In one of the posts today concerning the first day’s practice, it was noted that Graham Ike has yet to practice. If that is true, it leaves us with only two big men and might force us on some occasions to use Watson at the 5 and Yeo at the 4. St. Marys, Santa Clara and Loyola Marymout all have greater size (not necessarily greater talent) in the front court than us and have plenty of backups. I think we will know a lot more by mid December on what I consider the top five of our conference: Gonzaga, St. Marys, Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount and San Francisco (that is my order for now). All of these teams, except St. Marys, and then Gonzaga, have so many new faces it will hard to judge how well they come up to speed and gel without seeing them play.
Here are just a few brief comments on two players from each team:
Ryan Nembhard will be the straw that stirs Gonzaga. Every time I have seem him play, he is awesome. He plays with great confidence, makes clutch play after clutch play and is definitely not easily intimidated. If any of you watched the Arkansas - Creighton game, you saw this on full display. I think he will absolutely thrive in the Zag offense and will elevate the whole team. I think Jun Seok Yeo will surprise. He has played on big stages before and against good competition. Not only is he aggressive in getting his shot, he is aggresive on the boards and plays with a high energy level. When he is on the floor, he will be giving 110% every minute he is out there.
Saint Marys is loaded at all positions, especially with the return of Alex Ducas. Personally, I think they will have the best backcourt in the league. At the end of last year, Marciulionis was coming on strong. If he gains more confidence with his outside shot, he will be deadly. He is not afraid to take it to the bucket and has good size and strength. When you add freshman Jordan Ross to the mix, you have three guys who can run the point if needed. If any of you have seen Jordan Ross in action, you know that this kid can ball. This kid started four years at point guard and lead his team in assists, he made back to back trips to the Geico High School Championship and helped MoKan Elite to the 1022 EYBL Peach Jam Title. In other words, he has competed at the highest high school levels and succeeded. This kid is quick, great ball handler and very athletic. He will be hard to keep on the bench.
Santa Clara has an absolute ton of new faces and who knows how they all will mesh. I think their top two players will be Christoph Tilly and Carlos Marshall, Jr. Tilly got better with each game last year and is ready for a breakout year. He has a great touch, plays smart, good length, well coordinated (and getting better) and passes well out of the post. If Santa Clara is the third best team in the league it will because of the veteran presence of Carlos Marshall. At 6-6 205, he has great size for a guard. He can shoot at all three levels, plays good defense and get rebounds. He was injured last year except for the first three games. While with Tennesses state he was a two time OVC selection. Santa Clara is probably one of the deepest teams in the league.
Loyola Marymount has brought in a ton of transfers also plus they have an excellent coach in Stan Johnson (really all the top five have excellent coaches). My first person of interest here is Dominick Harris. As we know, this kid has talent and drive. Now with an opportunity to play more (and probably start) he will have an opportunity to get those game reps that he has needed to get in the groove. We know he is athletic and aggressive on defense plus he can score at all three levels. I think he will be playing with a chip on his shoulder to prove the type of standout guard he is. Time will tell but I wish him all the best. The othe player is Keli Leaupepe who the the Almanac calls “college basketball’s best version of a Charles Barkley clone - with a pristine mullet”. As we know he is one big load to slow down while being a great blend of power and finesse.
Finally we will take a brief look at San Francisco. The Almanac calls Mike Sharavjamts, sometimes referred to as Mongolian Mike, “effectively he’s a lead guard in a small forwards frame and drowning in tools”. He brings a new twist to the Dons because at 6-8 he will be totally differen in height compared to the Don’s guards over the last eight years. Joining him in the backcourt will be Marcus Williams who played his best against top-flight competition last year and now will be leaned on to do more scoring.
Looking forward to your thoughts.