The West Coast Conference Player of the Year award had been dominated by Gonzaga but has failed to take it home two of the past three years, including last season when Saint Mary’s guard Mickey McConnell took home the crown.
Heading into the 2011-12 season with the addition of BYU, the race is wide open.
Here are the top five candidates for the award.
Kevin Foster, G, Santa Clara
Foster is, without question, the single greatest offensive threat in the WCC.
The CollegeInsider.com Tournament MVP is a bigger, more physical version of former Saint Mary’s guard Patty Mills, where he can take over a game on a moment’s notice.
The now-junior led the league in scoring last season with just north of 20 per game and broke the Santa Clara record for three-pointers made in a single season, previously held by Steve Nash.
Any time you are mentioned in the same category with two NBA players, you have done something right.
But Foster does only shoot 38 percent from the field. If he can become a more efficient shooter, there could be no stopping Foster.
Elias Harris, F, Gonzaga
After a stellar freshman campaign, much was expected of Harris last season and his numbers did not reflect that expectation.
The 2010 WCC Newcomer of the Year saw dips in points (12.1), minutes (26.0), rebounds (6.0) and shooting percentage (.517) but came on when it matters most for the Bulldogs.
Harris is the only WCC player to be named to be the 50-player preseason Wooden Award watch list.
He was a force to be reckoned with when he dropped 17 and 18 points in the two regular season matchups with Saint Mary’s, helping the Zags win their game in Moraga.
Harris is, quite possibly, the best athlete in the WCC and that alone puts him in this conversation.
Matthew Dellavedova, G, Saint Mary’s
Dellavedova struggled early on during his sophomore campaign but came on strong as the season wore on.
Two of Dellavedova’s best games came against rival Gonzaga as he scored 24 and 21 points respectively while shooting 14-for-29 from the field and 11-for-11 from the line in the team’s final two matchups, including the WCC Tournament championship game.
The junior guard saw improvements in points per game, shooting percentage, free throw percentage and assists per game. Dellavedova was named to the All-WCC First Team after averaging 13.4 points and 5.3 assists while sharing a backcourt with graduated WCC Player of the Year Mickey McConnell.
With McConnell gone, look for Dellavedova to have a big year for the Gaels.
Rob Jones, F, Saint Mary’s
Who? Rob Jones, of course.
Jones, who transferred from San Diego after his sophomore season to be closer to his family, came to the Gaels and immediately showed an offensive versatility not seen with the Toreros.
The All-WCC First Teamer became a threat on the perimeter, which he was not in San Diego, and saw jumps in most of the major offensive categories.
Jones averaged 13.8 points and 7.7 rebounds and improved his three-point percentage from .250 to .331.
A scoring vacancy has been left by Mickey McConnell and, if Jones can stay out of foul trouble, he could take that role for the Gaels.
Brandon Davies, F, BYU
Davies was reinstated by the university on Friday and could be the difference for the Cougars in their inaugural season in the WCC.
He was suspended for having premarital sex, a violation of the school’s Honor Code, costing him the postseason run to the Sweet 16.
Davies’ 11 points per game are the most returning for BYU from a 32-win season.
Davies made the Mountain West Conference’s All-league third team, while shooting 52 percent from the field and grabbing six rebounds.
His 25 minutes per game were fifth on the team.
Robert Sacre, C, Gonzaga
Marquise Carter, G, Gonzaga
Michael Williams, G, San Francisco
Nemanja Mitrovic, G, Portland
Brock Zylstra, G, BYU
Charles Abouo, G-F, BYU
Coming this month:
Oct. 5 – Player of the Year candidates
Oct. 10 – Gonzaga
Oct. 12 – Loyola Marymount
Oct. 14 – San Francisco
Oct. 17 – Santa Clara
Oct. 19 – San Diego
Oct. 21 – BYU
Oct. 24 – Portland
Oct. 26 – Saint Mary’s
Oct. 28 – Pepperdine
Oct. 31 – Season Predictions
Follow me on Twitter: @ZackFarmerWOTF