Loyola Marymount basketball coach Max Good has a tough time swallowing the notion that his West Coast Conference counterparts picked defending champion Saint Mary's College to finish third in the league this season.

"I'm here to tell you if Saint Mary's is third, our conference is somewhere between the ACC and Big East as one of the toughest leagues in the country," Good said during Monday's WCC basketball tipoff event in Los Angeles.

Gonzaga, which has advanced to the NCAA tournament 14 straight seasons, was chosen by the coaches to win the WCC title. BYU and Saint Mary's each secured one first-place vote and were picked second and third, respectively.

"It's a good league," said Gaels coach Randy Bennett, whose team won the WCC regular-season and tournament titles last season. "Somebody people don't even expect could sneak up and win the league. Santa Clara basically won 20-something games (24) two years ago."

The Broncos, winless in the conference last season after circumstances sidelined two key players, would love to be that team. The Broncos were picked sixth, one spot above USF.

"I think we're ready to really take on the challenge this year, have a stronger year than we've ever had," said senior forward Marc Trasolini, who returns after missing all of last season with a knee injury.


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Saint Mary's, which has averaged nearly 27 victories over the past five seasons, lost all-conference forward Rob Jones but returns 13 players, including Australian Olympic team starter and reigning WCC Player of the Year Matthew Dellavedova.

"You're going to lose good players," Bennett said. "Hopefully, guys sitting underneath them are ready to take over when it's their time. I think that's where we're at. Time will tell."

There was no mention of the NCAA's pending investigation of Saint Mary's during the session, moderated by Barry Tompkins and streamed live online. The school has made no comment on the issue, including the nature of the potential violation or a timetable for resolution.

  • Besides the 6-foot-9 Trasolini, Santa Clara benefits from the return of sharpshooting senior guard Kevin Foster, who missed the second half of last season after being suspended when he was cited for suspicion of driving under the influence.

    But Broncos coach Kerry Keating isn't relying strictly on a healthier roster. He enlisted the help last summer of the school's 1952 Final Four team, including star Ken Sears, who visited with the current players.

    He also arranged for former 49ers star Ronnie Lott, a South Bay resident, to speak several times with the Broncos.

    "That's a proven winner, total tough guy," Trasolini said. "We had some awesome meetings with him."

  • Seven months after six would-be returning players defected from USF's program, the Dons are back with eight newcomers, including five freshmen.

    "It's a different look. We're bigger, we're more athletic. I like our group," Dons coach Rex Walters said. "The only thing I don't know is what's going to happen when the lights go on."

    The only returning starter is junior point guard Cody Doolin. Walters likes the fact that the Dons won 23 games in the two seasons before Doolin arrived, then 39 in his first two seasons.

  • Gonzaga coach Mark Few suggested that the WCC landing three teams -- Saint Mary's, BYU and his Bulldogs -- into the NCAA tournament last year shouldn't be regarded as an anomaly.

    "It was something that was very well-deserved but also what we expect to do year in and year out in the league," Few said. "It's as good as any (league) out west."

    WCC coaches poll

    Here's how the West Coast Conference men's basketball coaches picked the league finish (with first-place votes in parentheses and total points):

    1. Gonzaga (7) 63
    2. BYU (1) 55
    3. Saint Mary's (1) 52
    4. Loyola Marymount 37
    5. San Diego 36
    6. Santa Clara 35
    7. USF 19
    8. Portland 18
    9. Pepperdine 12