WCC Power Rankings – January 5th


Happy New Year! When the calendar turns to a new year it means it’s time for basketball in the West Coast Conference and all around college basketball to really get going. We’re in the thick of conference play, so it’s time for teams to step up and compete or fade into the background. The WCC Tournament will be here before we know it, and after a few conference games we’re starting to get an idea of who is separating themselves from the pretenders.

Dec 22, 2014; Honolulu, HI, USA; Loyola Marymount guard Evan Payne (1) blocks a shot from Wichita State guard John Robert Simon (14) during the second half of the NCAA college basketball game at the Stan Sheriff Center. Mandatory Credit: Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

#10 – LOYOLA MARYMOUNT: It’s about time to write off the Lions even if it may seem unfair so early into conference play. But they have shown very little to suggest they can pull off a miracle and be relevant this season. They entered WCC play hosting their first three games and coming off a good win over DePaul. But they dropped all three games by double-digits and their worst loss came against the Pacific, the worst team of that trio. They continue to fade into last place with both their overall and conference records, and it won’t get any better with road games at San Diego and BYU. That game against the Cougars and their elite offense could be really ugly.

Take a quick scan of the statistical rankings in the WCC and you will see the Lions near or at the bottom of every major statistical category on both sides of the court. Evan Payne has been a bright spot with his elite play as he is 2nd in the WCC in scoring, but it’s been far from enough to do anything relevant. We’ve hinted at it in a few articles, but this is all about long-term development right now. The Lions have young pieces including Payne, so they should be trying to get all the experience they can in hopes that the name recognition of Mike Dunlap can bring in some solid recruits and spark a quick turnaround. It could come in the next couple seasons, but it won’t be this year.

#9 – PACIFIC: The Tigers are still the decent team they were developing into before conference play, but they have run into some back luck. The turf toe injury of star T.J. Wallace has flared up, and he’s gone from elite scorer to almost an afterthought in their recent games. This has coincided with their 1-3 start to WCC play with their only win coming to the struggling Lions. No team in the WCC relies more on one singular player than the Tigers do with Wallace, so it’s no surprise they have struggled with him being limited.

Unfortunately upcoming games against Saint Mary’s and BYU are going to make this worse. Even with those being losses they would be a .500 team, but at 1-5 in conference play they would be pretty far out of the hunt. There are talented pieces who can help if Wallace continues to be limited such as Eric Thompson and Dulani Robinson, but it’s not enough to be a contender. At best Wallace can recover and try to help push the Tigers to the middle of the pack. But right now Pacific is only above LMU in terms of their win potential this season.

Feb 6, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Toreros forward Thomas Jacobs (15) dunks the ball during the second half against the San Francisco Dons at Jenny Craig Pavillion. The Dons won 74-67. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

#8 – SAN DIEGO: The Toreros continue to struggle closing out games. Outside of their loss to Gonzaga where they never got close, they have managed to struggle at the end of every WCC game they have played and it’s cost them. Their weak finishes cost them games against Portland and Santa Clara, and only a very poor shooting effort by San Francisco kept them from losing that one. They can hang with anyone, but they are really struggling to do enough to win games. They are already playing catchup way too early in the conference schedule for a team that had aspirations to be a breakout contender.

Many WCC teams lack consistent depth, but it’s been a glaring issue for the Toreros despite their talent. Beyond their core three of Johnny Dee, Chris Anderson, and Thomas Jacobs, they have gotten no reliable support. And even those three have disappeared in some games. It’s got to be frustrating for them to be able to get very close to teams and be in position to win but come up short. They will certainly win some games and could disrupt the standings, but unless they can start getting it done late in games they have little chance of being a real contender.

March 8, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Santa Clara Broncos guard Jared Brownridge (23) dribbles against Gonzaga Bulldogs guard David Stockton (11) during the second half in the quarterfinals of the West Coast Conference tournament at Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

#7 – SANTA CLARA: The Broncos are flashing some good talent lately, and we talked about their potential for a very solid game plan after their recent win over San Diego. Jared Brownrdige did a great job of distributing the ball, and there was still plenty of offense from guys like Brandon Clark and Matt Hubbard. Outside of being destroyed by BYU, they have looked pretty good in all their WCC games including two wins and a good effort at Saint Mary’s.

Santa Clara might have a better team than their records indicates, and they are doing a good job of putting it all together. The resilient win over San Diego with Brownridge taking on a new role after being dominated by BYU could be a major turning point. The Cougars loss suggests they can’t be a breakout team that shocks anyone, but they may not finish among the bottom third of the WCC if they can become consistent.

Dec 3, 2014; Boulder, CO, USA; San Francisco Dons forward/center Kruize Pinkins (15) shoots over Colorado Buffaloes forward Wesley Gordon (1) in the second half at the Coors Events Center. The Buffaloes defeated the Dons 72-55. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

#6 – SAN FRANCISCO: The Dons just can’t catch a break. They had to spark a comeback to knock off a very average Pacific team in their WCC opener. Since then they have dropped three straight. The Saint Mary’s and BYU losses can be forgiven for most teams, but this is a Dons squad that was supposed to be a contender after their breakout season. Even worse was their loss when they hosted San Diego. As mentioned the Toreros have had trouble closing out games, and the Dons had every chance to win including having the ball down one at the end but giving up a steal to lose it.  Under .500 and near the bottom of the WCC standings is not where this team is supposed to be right now.

The Dons aren’t doing anything terribly bad besides free throws, although that can often be a big factor in close games. But what you notice looking at the statistics is how average they have been. They are in the middle of the pack in every major category, and it’s the reason why they haven’t been able to do much. They aren’t bad, they just haven’t been good especially when compared to last year. It’s looking less and less like they will even match last season, much less exceed it. There’s a long way to go, but the future of the Dons this season is really up in the air.

Dec 13, 2014; Tempe, AZ, USA; Pepperdine Waves forward Stacy Davis (5) drives to the basket against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the second half at Wells-Fargo Arena. Sun Devils defeated the Waves 81-74 Mandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

#5 – PEPPERDINE: Conference play hasn’t done much to stop the Waves as they keep chugging along. They did what they were supposed to do cruising past Loyola Marymount and Pacific, and they played well against Saint Mary’s in a loss. They continue to get very solid production from a number of players, which has really been their calling card. Outside of the top teams in the conference, no team has gotten such consistent production out of their core as the Waves have.

This teams feels a lot like the Dons last year. A solid team that just beats every team they should. They could be very much be in contention to finish in the top four or even top three by beating everyone in the lower ranks handily and hoping for an upset or two. They have a real shot to make some kind of postseason tournament, and it could be a huge jumping off point for a program on the rise that has no seniors. They should have lots of motivation as this season could be a big one in terms of taking the program to another level.

Nov 18, 2013; East Lansing, MI, USA; Portland Pilots guard Alec Wintering (2) shoots the ball against the Michigan State Spartans during the first half at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

#4 – PORTLAND: The biggest hurdle for the Waves to take that next step is Portland, another talented team trying to the exact same thing. The Pilots didn’t threaten BYU or Gonzaga in those losses, but they looked competitive. They showed great resilience in a comeback win over San Diego, although they probably shouldn’t have been in the situation they were in where a late comeback was needed. Still, they’re the only WCC team outside of the big three with double-digit wins right now, and two of their toughest games are out of the way.

The Pilots do almost everything well. They can defend. They can shoot well from both inside and from long range. They have a very complete roster with quality pieces all across the lineup. Like the Waves, they feel like the Dons from last year in the way they should be able to beat everyone who isn’t a top contender. The battle for fourth and possibly third between the Pilots and Waves should be really fun to watch, and the two teams match up really well. If both teams do what they should against the lower-tier teams, those two games will be big ones to watch as the one that ends up the superior team between the two could be on the path to being a contender in the near future.

#3 – SAINT MARY’S: So far, so good for the Gaels. They, not Gonzaga, are in first in the WCC with a perfect 4-0 record. Of course the Bulldogs are 3-0 themselves, and the Gaels have benefited from a weak early schedule. Outside of a good win over Pepperdine, they haven’t hit any of the big teams yet. They don’t dominate teams, but they do look very comfortable and can pull away when needed. Having elite players like Brad Waldow, Kerry Carter, and Aaron Bright tends to help with that. They are a tough matchup for any team with that kind of core.

Unfortunately for the Gaels, the strong start will only go so far. Both Gonzaga and BYU will be right there with them all the way, so those games will still decide the ultimate standings. But with their talent and some strong wins already, they could build an NCAA Tournament resume if they keep winning all the games they should. If they avoid any letdowns and only let BYU and Gonzaga beat them, they may get some attention. And unlike last year when they slipped to fourth, that’s a real possibility this season.

Dec 23, 2014; Provo, UT, USA; Brigham Young Cougars guard Kyle Collinsworth (5) dribbles the ball during the game against the Massachusetts Minutemen in the second half at Marriott Center. Brigham Young Cougars won the game in overtime 77-71. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

#2 – BYU: That offense just won’t quit! This might be the best offensive team in the nation with how many scoring options they have. And it’s amazing to think that their best player right now might not be Tyler Haws. After picking up yet another triple-double, Kyle Collinsworth might be making a case to be WCC Player of the Year. They have destroyed their past couple opponents, and they might get through the entire conference schedule only losing to Gonzaga.

This team is good enough that they may just be in the hunt for the WCC Championship despite the play of Gonzaga. Winning in Spokane would be tough, but it’s not impossible that somebody shocks the Bulldogs and slightly opens the door for the Cougars. Either way they are doing a great job of making a case for the postseason. With the weak RPI that comes with being in the WCC and Gonzaga getting all the attention, they need to dominate the competition to make the NCAA Tournament. That’s a tough task to accomplish every night, but so far they are stepping up to the task. Combined with their strong effort against Gonzaga where everyone saw them shoot their way back into that game, and pundits should be respecting the Cougars by March if they don’t already.

Dec 29, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Kevin Pangos (4) brings the ball up the court during the second half against the San Diego Toreros at Jenny Craig Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

#1 – GONZAGA: Why can the Cougars catch the Bulldogs? Because going undefeated in conference play is very tough no matter how well you are playing. Gonzaga has not dominated anyone in their three WCC victories, although no team has seriously threatened them either. But they are in a minefield right now of teams that know them well and will be very motivated for an upset. They will be very challenged especially when they start facing teams for a second time.

That being said, we all know they passed their toughest test already at BYU. To ask them to drop enough  games to let anyone catch them, even the Cougars, is a tall order. This team is just too talented and complete with too much big game experience. At worst they stumble once if they hit a team on a bad night, but that’s only if they’re unlucky. More likely is that they will cruise through the conference schedule as they prepare for the postseason. No matter what the record says at the end of the year, the Bulldogs are an elite team and the class of the conference.