West Coast Wednesday: Impressive Veteran Bigs in 2017-18 College Basketball

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It’s a new season, and West Coast Wednesday has a new home. For those seeking news, notes and features from the Western conferences in the 2017-18 college basketball season, look no further than #WCW.

With re-introductions out of the way, this first edition of The Open Man’s West Coast Wednesday bangs in the paint with the impressive stable of veteran post players calling the West home in 2017-18 college basketball.

Names include breakout stars, a few who have already performed at an All-American level but aren’t yet household names, and some hidden gems. Let’s start with the best of the bunch:

Reid Travis, Stanford

Those who have followed Pac-12 basketball in some depth the last few years know Reid Travis well. Travis is a throwback in the paint; a physical hoss who would look as much at home lining up at tight end for David Shaw’s football Cardinal as he does patrolling the lane for Jerod Haase’s squad.

Travis returned from injury in 2016-17 to average 17.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, numbers that should put him in conversation among the nation’s best bigs. However, not many pundits are paying attention to a mid-to-low-level Pac-12 team. And that’s why Reid Travis is primed for breakout in the 2017-18 college basketball season.

Stanford returns a veteran lineup that should contend for an NCAA Tournament bid, with Reid Travis at the forefront. He’s a candidate to win Pac-12 Player of the Year if the Cardinal finish in the top-quarter of the final standings.

Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s

Elsewhere in the Bay Area, Jock Landale progressed from solid, if unremarkable role player into one of the top mid-major players in the nation over the course of one season. Landale averaged 16.9 points and 9.5 rebounds for a Saint Mary’s bunch that took Arizona to the brink in their Round of 32 matchup.

Along with fellow Australian import Emmett Naar, Landale gives Saint Mary’s the inside-outside foundation necessary for the Gaels to potentially replicate WCC rival Gonzaga’s run to the Final Four. Landale’s unlikely to put up numbers comparable to Alec Peters at Valpo the previous two seasons, given Saint Mary’s slower pace of play, but Landale should have a similar presence as a mid-major All-America candidate.

Johnathan Williams, Gonzaga

On a roster with All-American Nigel Williams-Goss, explosive Cal transfer Jordan Mathews, NBA draft prospect Zach Collins and fan favorite Przemek Karnowski, standing out could be difficult. In the 2017-18 college basketball season, however, Johnathan Williams is poised to break out as a star both for the Zags, and on the national landscape.

The seeds for such an emergence were planted on Gonzaga’s run to the 2017 national championship game. Williams had big games in the Sweet 16 win over West Virginia, putting up 13 points and six rebounds, then put together his best game of the campaign in the Elite Eight, recording 19 points, eight rebounds and three blocks against Xavier.

Jordan Caroline, Nevada

Southern Illinois transfer Jordan Caroline isn’t the biggest big cited in this edition of WCW — at 6-foot-7, he’s actually the shortest. But in the vein of past collegiate stars like Glenn Robinson and Michael Beasley, Caroline plays much bigger than his height.

Caroline played an integral role in Nevada’s Mountain West Conference and NCAA Tournament bid, averaging 15 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. If he can get his field-goal percentage over 50 in the 2017-18 college basketball season, look for Caroline to push his average near 20 per game.

Chimezie Metu, USC

A Sunday night contest at Colorado last January was the moment I was all-in on Chimezie Metu as a potential superstar in the 2017-18 college basketball season — assuming he didn’t enter the NBA draft.

At 6-foot-11 with agility and an explosive leap, Metu’s game is tailored to the modern NBA. He’s a devastating finisher around the rim and rebounds well; there’s a hint of Shawn Kemp in Metu’s play. His decision to forego the NBA draft for at least one more year is one big reason the Trojans are ranked No. 10 in the initial AP Top 25, and that Colorado game best exhibited Metu’s sky-high ceiling.

He scored 24 points on 79 percent shooting (!!!) with six rebounds in what can fairly be deemed a must-win game, given the Trojans dropped 3-of-4 to open Pac-12 play. Expect more performances akin to that one from Metu in the coming campaign. He finished 2017 on the right trajectory, scoring 28 against Baylor in the Round of 32.

Thomas Welsh, UCLA

Going north up the 405, UCLA’s Thomas Welsh gained notoriety in the 2016-17 season for his uncanny ability to sink the mid-range jumper. An increasingly rare skill in today’s game, Welsh’s spot-up jumper from 12-to-20-feet feet filled a very specific niche. In the 2017-18 college basketball season, Welsh should have a more rounded role as a cornerstone for the new-look Bruins.

That’s not to downplay Welsh’s importance before the coming season; he averaged 8.7 rebounds per game as a junior. He’ll again be critical on the glass, but as more of a focal point in the offense, Welsh is a candidate for a 15/10 kind of season.

Dusan Ristic, Arizona

Preseason hype swirling around the Arizona Wildcats stems from the mix of freshman talent joining proven veterans. Despite the ongoing FBI investigation that targeted former Wildcats assistant Book Richardson, among others, that combination is still in Tucson, and still gives Arizona its best shot at a national championship since 2001.

Dusan Ristic will be vital to Arizona’s Final Four pursuits, one of the returning veterans giving this team its foundation. It might be easy to overlook Ristic’s contributions; he’s an old-school style of post player through and through, thriving offensively with his back to the basket.

As a juxtaposition to Lauri Markkanen a season ago, Ristic averaged just shy of 11 points per game. He’ll complement De’Andre Ayton in a slightly different way this coming season, but should be even more central to the Wildcats’ offensive approach.