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West Coast Conference Perennial Powers Gonzaga, Saint Mary's Welcome BYU

We break down the addition of Brigham Young University to the West Coast Conference and what the conference is looking at heading into the 2011-2012 college basketball season.

The West Coast Conference enters one of the most intriguing years in its history as it welcomes the Brigham Young University Cougars to the fold. BYU is the first new member to the conference since Gonzaga and San Diego joined in 1979. The Cougars are coming off a high profile season in which they were led to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 by Jimmer Fredette.

BYU decided this past season to leave the Mountain West Conference and join the WCC for basketball, while going independent in football. In joining the WCC, BYU joins a conference that is on the rise as a basketball power. The Gonzaga Bulldogs have been the favorite in the WCC for much of the last 15 years, but the Saint Mary's Gaels have come on strong in recent seasons and snapped Gonzaga's recent regular season conference championship streak this past season.

While Gonzaga and Saint Mary's get most of the press, the conference has gained greater depth. The 2010-2011 season saw the San Francisco Dons, Santa Clara Broncos and Portland Pilots all join Gonzaga and Saint Mary's in postseason play. Gonzaga went to the NCAA tournament, Saint Mary's took part in the NIT, and USF, SCU and Portland all took part in the Postseason Tournament. Santa Clara won the tournament.

As the season prepares to get going, Gonzaga opens the season ranked No. 23 in the AP and USA Today/Coaches Polls. BYU and Saint Mary's are not ranked but are both receiving votes.

The WCC returns a lot of its top talent in 2011-2012, including the top scorer (Kevin Foster, Santa Clara) and the top three point shooter (Nemanja Mitrovic, Portland). The conference returns five of the top ten scorers, five of the top six rebounders and five of the top ten assists leaders. It also returns seven players who earned all-conference first team or honorable mention honors.

The league saw some of its top players get crucial international experience during the past offseason. Those players include:

Julian Clarke, Santa Clara - U-19 Canadian Team
Matt Dellavedova, Saint Mary's - Australia "Boomers" Senior Men's Team
Ashley Hamilton, Loyola Marymount - Standard Life Great Britain Sr. Team
Nemanja Mitrovic, Portland Pilots - Canada's Senior Men's National Team
Mathis Monninghoff, Gonzaga - U-20 German Team
Clint Steindl, Saint Mary's - Australia's World University Games Team