The Toreros are built around senior guard Brandon Johnson, a dynamic scorer who can blow past defenders and shoot from the outside. Johnson scored 20 or more points in 10 games last season. A terrific defender, Johnson also ranked second in the West Coast Conference with 2.2 steals a game. The Toreros will rely on him to carry the offense again and be an overall playmaker on offense and defense.
Guard De'Jon Jackson started all 36 games for San Diego last season.
Sophomore point guard Trumaine Johnson became a full-time starter near the beginning of league play, and that's when the Toreros really began to excel. Able to run the offense and create for others, the younger Johnson allowed the elder Johnson to focus more on scoring. Trumaine is also a scoring threat. His decision-making was shaky at times - as you'd expect from a freshman - but with a year of experience he should be better in all areas. That will be pivotal in a league loaded with good point-guard play (Gonzaga's Jeremy Pargo and Saint Mary's Patrick Mills rank among the nation's best).
The return of junior wing De'Jon Jackson, who started all 36 games last season, provides an experienced and savvy player – he led the team with a 1.6-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. However, Jackson needs to develop into a reliable scorer. He scored 24 points in a win over Pepperdine, but failed to score a point in four other games - three of which were losses.
Sophomore wing Devin Ginty has the potential to provide an offensive lift off the bench. Ginty scored 18 points in the Toreros' win at Kentucky last season, but didn't contribute much afterward. If Ginty can develop some consistency, the Toreros would be able to give both Johnsons a little more rest.
The Toreros had solid post play last season, and it should be better this season. That's largely due to the return of Gyno Pomare, who plays bigger than his 6-8, 240-pound frame. A fifth-year senior and one of the top big men in the WCC, Pomare is a steady scorer and rebounder who produces double-doubles when at his best. Pomare scored 22 points in the Toreros' first-round NCAA tournament win over Connecticut. He is also a solid shot blocker, and his interior defense is a critical element of the Toreros defense.
Sophomore power forward Rob Jones gave Pomare a dangerous sidekick last season. The 6-6 Jones put together some big games in league play, racking up 27 points and 13 rebounds versus Loyola Marymount, 24 points against Santa Clara and 16 points and 15 boards against Pepperdine. All those games turned out to be wins for the Toreros. He's capable of averaging 12-14 ppg and 6-8 rpg.
The addition of junior college center Roberto Mafra gives the Toreros some more size to utilize. A 6-9 Brazilian, Mafra runs the court well and is a good shot blocker.
Junior small forward Chris Lewis adds some versatility off the bench and gives the coaching staff some options. The 6-7 Lewis can play multiple positions and shoot from the outside. He was a steady contributor last season.
The Toreros try to stay away from set plays and stick to a motion offense with four players on the perimeter and one – usually Pomare – operating in the post. It makes it difficult to scout and focus too much attention on Brandon Johnson.
The Toreros needed to win the West Coast tournament to make the NCAA tournament last season. Locking up an at-large bid by the time the league tourney starts will be the goal this year. Every starter and key reserve returns. This will also be Year Two under coach Bill Grier, and everyone has grown more comfortable with his system. The Toreros have set up a brutal schedule that includes road trips to UNLV, Mississippi State and Oregon (in Portland). They scheduled home games with Nevada and New Mexico and will play in the Paradise Jam - whose field features Connecticut, Miami and Wisconsin. Look for the Toreros to earn a strong RPI by winning a slew of those non-conference games and advance into the second round of the NCAA tournament again.
Great man-to-man defense is what carried the Toreros to the WCC tournament title last season. Even in a double-overtime semifinal, Saint Mary's managed only 69 points. The Toreros will also mix in some matchup zone at times.
SHOES TO FILL
Nobody. Every significant contributor returns.
MUST STEP UP
Jackson. The Toreros would be more potent on offense with some more consistency from Jackson, who disappears too often. The veteran guard is capable of averaging 10-12 ppg.
Mafra. The coaching staff believes Mafra has the size and athleticism to bolster the interior defense and be a force on the glass.
Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.