Lots of action in the WCC this past week, and we had some real milestone wins. We’re starting to figure out who just had a hot or cold start to conference play versus who is actually a contender or a pretender. On to the rankings!
Nov 15, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Loyola Marymount Lions guard Evan Payne (1) attempts a shot defended by Boise State Broncos guard Robert Heyer (22) during the second half at Albert Gersten Pavilion. The Boise State Broncos defeated the Loyola Marymount Lions 77-69. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
#10 – LOYOLA MARYMOUNT: It’s hard to say the Lions made significant progress last week considering they tacked on two more losses, but they actually had one of the more impressive performances of the week. Playing without star Evan Payne who was held out on a Coach’s Decision, the Lions went into Provo on Saturday and played a pretty good game against the Cougars. Even with Payne in the lineup it would have been an impressive effort. It proves the Lions are not a terrible team despite their weak record.
It’s been amazing to see the progress of the Lions over the course of the season, and you can tell they continue to grow and improve. Four players hit double figures against the Cougars, and we are seeing a decent core of players developing who can support Payne. Marin Mornar is coming on fast and could be a good frontcourt complement to Payne in the backcourt. Teams shouldn’t sleep on the Lions or it may come back to haunt them.
Jan 10, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Santa Clara Broncos guard Jared Brownridge (23) drives the lane against Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Gary Bell, Jr. (5) during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 79-57. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#9 – SANTA CLARA: The Broncos were another team that held their own last week even though the record doesn’t reflect that. They suffered two double-digit losses, but they are finding more and more offense beyond Jared Brownridge and Brandon Clark. Both Nate Kratch and Matt Hubbard are improving, and along with Denzel Johnson they are really starting to put up some decent offense to create a full starting five.
Unfortunately, the Broncos just cannot rebound the ball. They were crushed in that category by both Portland and Gonzaga last week, and that disadvantage should continue to haunt them in every game. They won’t be able to find many wins in a conference where many of the teams boast quality frontcourts. But the Broncos continue to get better with an eye on the future.
#8 – PACIFIC TIGERS: Sure they are just 1-4 in conference play, but the Tigers continue to look better and better as they learn to play team ball. The injury to T.J. Wallace may have been the best thing that could happen to them as it has forced others to step up. They won’t be making a run to the WCC Championship, but they are doing a lot of growing and improving.
It was an impressive effort against Saint Mary’s on Saturday, and it’s very likely the Tigers could sneak up on some teams. At the very least, they are much better than the team that was decimated by graduations and transfers in the offseason that everyone expected to finish a distant last in the standings. We tend to forget this was a seasoned and successful team playing in the Big West before they moved up to the WCC. They continue to show it despite being expected to suffer through major growing pains after the move.
Dec 5, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; University of San Diego Jito Kok (33) shoots over San Diego State Aztecs forward Skylar Spencer (0)during the first half at Jenny Craig Pavillion. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
#7 – SAN DIEGO TOREROS: It was bad enough when Johnny Dee, Chris Anderson, and Thomas Jacobs weren’t getting any help. It was worse when Anderson started to struggle and Jacobs started to disappear. And now it’s about near rock bottom as even Dee is finding points hard to get at times. Combine the struggles of that key trio with the fact that they have gotten little to no support all season, and it’s been a nightmare for the Toreros so far this season. They have just two conference wins, and they should really only have one if the San Francisco Dons had shot better down the stretch against the Toreros on New Year’s Day.
This is a very talented team, but they continue to under-perform. Their big men continue continue to have little impact with the lone bright spot being the continued superior defense of Jito Kok. He had a ridiculous career-high 8 blocks in a win Thursday over Loyola Marymount. The freshmen who were expected to play a big role continue to contribute very little, although they had a good showing in the loss to Pepperdine Saturday. This team can beat anyone, but they aren’t looking like it right now. If they want to have a shot at catching teams like Portland and Pepperdine who have gotten off to much better starts, they need to turn this thing around soon.
Jan 8, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; San Francisco Dons forward Kruize Pinkins (15) puts up a shot against Gonzaga Bulldogs center Przemek Karnowski (24) during the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#6 – SAN FRANCISCO DONS: Just when it looked like the Dons were dead in the water after four straight conference losses, they go and get a signature win on the road at Portland. The Dons were their normal selves led by their strong frontcourt, and they shot the lights out leading to a nice win. It was a good example of how good this team can be considering they have mostly the same roster that broke out last year finishing 3rd in the standings and reaching the NIT Tournament.
They won’t get a performance like they did against the Pilots every night, so it’s still likely they aren’t going to contend. But with so much potential depth and talent, you just can’t write them off yet. Not when they show off like they did against Portland. Lots of people are losing belief in them especially when you look at their record, but we’re not giving up on the Dons just yet. The WCC can get crazy, you never know what they might do in the regular season or when we get to Las Vegas for the WCC Tournament.
Feb 5, 2014; Spokane, WA, USA; Portland Pilots center Thomas van der Mars (12) puts up a shot against Gonzaga Bulldogs center Przemek Karnowski (24) during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs beat Pilots 71-66. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#5 – PORTLAND PILOTS: Getting Kevin Bailey back should have been a recipe for a very solid Pilots team to take it to the next level. But despite a great game from Bailey, the Pilots suffered a bad loss to the Dons on Saturday. It was made even worse considering the Pepperdine Waves had a great week including upsetting BYU in Provo after the Pilots were unable to challenge that same Cougars team. They have been neck and neck with the Waves battling to be this year’s breakout team, but their efforts took a blow this week.
Losing Riley Barker for the season is a blow to their strong frontcourt, and being without him against a very good Dons frontcourt was a big factor in that loss. Hopefully it’s a minor hiccup because this is a great team. But in the same way this game may have turned around the season for the Dons, if the Pilots aren’t careful this loss could trend them in the opposite direction. This coming week will be critical for them to adjust to the lineup changes with Barker and Bailey and right the ship. They must recover quickly if they hope to keep pace with Pepperdine and Saint Mary’s.
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
#4 – PEPPERDINE WAVES: The Waves are officially on the map. They got one of the biggest upsets of the year shutting down the high-powered offense of BYU for a road win. They then beat San Diego to get their first WCC road trip sweep since the 2002 season. Pepperdine is putting up some amazing defensive performances highlighted by being the best team in the nation in three point defense. Marty Wilson is doing an excellent job coaching this team, and they’re executing in a big way right now. There’s tons of young talent on the roster, but their effective game plan is allowing that young talent to play above their level and exceed expectations.
The depth of the Waves have been excellent, and it’s gotten even better as freshman A.J. John is finding his stride. He’s been a big help on the glass recently along with Stacy Davis. There is a good 6-7 man deep rotation of players who are all consistently contributing, a huge advantage most teams outside of the top contenders normally enjoy in this conference. The Waves are the real deal, and they acquired some believers this week for sure.
#3 – SAINT MARY’S GAELS: In many ways, it feels like the Gaels have been a complete afterthought all season. Gonzaga has drawn attention for their national prominence, and BYU is getting headlines for their amazing offense. But the Gaels just keep chugging along. They have shown impressive closing ability as they aren’t blowing out many teams, but they do turn on the throttle in close games and manage to cruise to victories as one of only two WCC teams that still has an undefeated conference record.
If Kyle Collinwsorth of BYU wasn’t putting up near triple-double numbers every night, Brad Waldow would have all the attention as he might be quietly cruising towards WCC Player of the Year honors. He is averaging a double-double on the year as he is 2nd in the WCC in scoring and 1st in rebounds. He is a complete game-changer and a huge reason why the Gaels are so good. When he got in foul trouble against Pacific on Saturday and had to sit down, the Tigers managed to come back and take a lead. When Waldow returned, he helped the Gaels pull away and end the threat. That talent will keep the Gaels in every game, and it will be really interesting to see how they fare against BYU and Gonzaga.
Jan 10, 2015; Provo, UT, USA; Brigham Young Cougars guard Chase Fischer (1) celebrates after scoring a three point basket against the Loyola Marymount Lions during the first half at Marriott Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
#2 – BYU COUGARS: It’s very dangerous to live by the long range shot, and the Cougars learned this the hard way against Pepperdine. The Waves locked them down on defense, and the Cougars responded by struggling mightily in a loss. On the other hand, their amazing shooting prowess is why they have the best offense in the nation, and most nights it’s firing on all cylinders like it was against Loyola Marymount on Saturday.
The Cougars really need Nate Austin back, as a better effort from their frontcourt would really help take some pressure of the shooters. If they could get just a little more help down low, there’s plenty of offense on the outside. Kyle Collinsworth continues to play out of his mind threatening a triple-double every night, and the trio of Tyler Haws, Chase Fischer, and Anson Winder provides enough offense by themselves to beat most teams. The Cougars will just keep shooting and hope the shots fall. And so far, they are falling much more often than they don’t.
Jan 10, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) goes up for a shot against Santa Clara forward Dominic Romeo (42) during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 79-57. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#1 – GONZAGA BULLDOGS: If you’re the Bulldogs, you’re loving the way the teams behind you are cannibalizing each other. One of the biggest dark horses in Portland took a bad loss at home to San Francisco. Your primary competition in BYU took a very bad loss at home to Pepperdine. With the Bulldogs continuing to cruise after two blowout wins at home this past week, Gonzaga is loving life right now.
Not that they weren’t already probably going to run away with the WCC Championship, they can certainly relax now as it looks like nobody will put on enough pressure to challenge them unless they really stumble, which won’t happen. The Bulldogs can just keep rolling along really not worrying at all if they drop a game here or there. Time to start tuning up for the postseason and trying to claw their way to a #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament.