Jan 17, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Loyola Marymount Lions guard Ayodeji Egbeyemi (24) goes up for a shot against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the second half at Albert Gersten Pavilion. The Gonzaga Bulldogs won 72-55. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
#10 – LOYOLA MARYMOUNT: There’s still a long way to go, but the Lions did a great job this past week getting their first conference win. They took the momentum of their strong showing against BYU in Provo and used it combined with the return of Evan Payne to beat a very good Portland team. Unfortunately they couldn’t keep the momentum going thanks to an ensuing trip to Gonzaga, but even in Spokane they weren’t dominated like you’d expect a 5-14 team to be dominated.
Payne has started coming off the bench, and it looks like it’s forcing the rest of the team to pick up slack. It could be a brilliant move to prevent Payne from having to take over games and do all the work. A very nice front line is emerging highlighted by the recent strong play of Marin Mornar. There’s seem to be enough firepower here to have a good second half of conference play.
With so many teams struggling right now, the Lions can absolutely start sneaking up on teams and get some more wins. Unfortunately they embark on a tough four game road trip next. But besides a trip to Saint Mary’s, every game on the trip is winnable. If they can pick up one or two victories, they could really build some momentum to climb out of the basement.
November 28, 2014; Fullerton, CA, USA; San Diego Toreros guard Johnny Dee (1) moves the ball up court against Princeton Tigers during the first half at Titan Gym. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
#9 – SAN DIEGO: The nightmare just won’t end for the Toreros. Against a very beatable Pacific team, San Diego continued their awful recent shooting causing them to suffer another setback. Once a favorite to be a breakout team this year, they are buried at 9th place in the standings. Without much explanation, they’ve become the worst shooting team in the WCC which hasn’t helped their already shallow depth.
With very little support behind Johnny Dee, Chris Anderson, and Thomas Jacobs, things already weren’t great. But since they’ve gone ice cold in their shooting, it’s been even worse. Even Dee, one of the most accurate shooters in the nation, can’t seem to find a shot these days. The Toreros can’t beat anyone the way they’re playing right now, and it was on full display in their loss to the Tigers.
Even if they can shake this cold streak, they just don’t have the support needed to do well enough. The talent is there, but nobody is stepping up. Beyond the above trio and a couple decent role players, they are getting no contribution from anyone. The upcoming three game home-stand is probably their last stand. They must beat San Francisco and Santa Clara to remain respectable. If they drop one or both of those as well as fall to BYU, this is gonna keep getting uglier.
#8 – PACIFIC: The Tigers have a bit of a deceiving record right now. They’re just 2-5 in conference play, but three were to legitimate contenders that they played tough. The tight win in an ugly game over San Diego on Saturday is a positive sign that they’re heading in the right direction, and they’re still 10-9 overall.
They continue to improve by getting more support for T.J. Wallace, and it’s all lining up when you combine that support with Wallace slowly returning to health after his turf toe was bothering him. The issue is that the supporting cast has been wildly inconsistent. They get 1-3 good performances per night, but besides Wallace it’s always someone different. If they could just put it all together at one time, this is a decent team.
The season for Pacific will probably be defined by the next stretch of games. They visit Portland and Gonzaga before hosting Pepperdine. They could easily go 0-3 through that stretch, but if they win even one of those games they should be considered much better than the team that was picked to finish last in the WCC. They’re playing well enough right now, so it will be fun to see what they’re made off in the next couple weeks.
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
#7 – SAN FRANCISCO: The Dons remain very hard to figure out. When they are good, they look fantastic. But when they struggle, it’s very bad. They were red hot in a win at Portland that looked like it would turn their season around, but then they went out and lost to Santa Clara. They are running out of time to save their season with the hole they are digging.
Even the Portland wins feel like a bit of a mirage with how hot they were shooting. It’s not a performance a team can hope to replicate every night. There’s so much talent here, but it just hasn’t come together. They’re excited about the emergence of Devin Watson, so hopefully if he continues to improve the Dons will finally have a solid starting five. But they’re supposed to be much deeper than that, and it’s a concern that so many guys have underperformed.
It’s a good time for them to be facing a very good Pepperdine team that is having a breakout season similar to the one the Dons had last year. They need to prove they can hang with a good team like the Waves, and if they build some momentum in that game and by beating Loyola Marymount after that, perhaps they can slowly recover. Unfortunately, the chances of them duplicating the success of last season are probably gone. They can only hope to improve and restore the long-term potential they were building last season.
Jan 10, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Santa Clara Broncos guard Brandon Clark (3) warms up before a game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#6 – SANTA CLARA: The Broncos are just 3-4 in conference play, but right now that’s good enough for 5th place in the standings. It’s actually a pretty impressive record as three of their four losses have come against Gonzaga, BYU, and Saint Mary’s. This team is very quietly having a decent start to WCC play including solid wins over San Diego and San Francisco, two teams that were supposed to be a tier above Santa Clara this year.
While their ceiling is very limited because of their inability to rebound consistently, the Broncos are finding ways to win with solid team play. Both Jared Brownridge and Brandon Clark have moved into smaller roles which has allowed others to get a bigger piece of the action. Whether this is on purpose or a result of others picking up the slack when that duo struggles is unknown, but it’s had good results.
The trio of Denzel Johnson, Matt Hubbard, and Nate Kratch continue to look better and better as the Broncos find a solid core starting five to work with. If they can beat Loyola Marymount and compete with Pepperdine this week, they might be on their way to a nice little season finishing higher than expected. And with a lot of young talent, they are trending in the right direction in both the short and long term.
Feb 5, 2014; Spokane, WA, USA; Portland Pilots guard Bryce Pressley (1) goes up for a shot against Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Kevin Pangos (4) during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs beat Pilots 71-66. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#5 – PORTLAND: It’s very tough right now to pick a 5th team in the WCC. There’s a big drop-off between the top four and the rest of that pack, especially as potential breakout teams have really faltered including the Pilots. They had a strong non-conference schedule, and with Kevin Bailey returning recently they looked primed to compete. But despite their 11-8 overall record, they’re just 2-5 in conference play and have dropped three in a row.
Recent losses to San Francisco and Loyola Marymount are really what has started to derail them, and lineup adjustments are probably to blame after getting back Bailey and Bryce Pressley but losing big man Riley Barker for the season. If they can regroup they can recover, but they’re not looking like the complete team they were in non-conference play.
They played well against Pepperdine on Saturday, so it may be a sign of good things to come. Unfortunately it may be too little, too late for the Pilots. With games against Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga coming up, they are going to be way out of the running pretty soon. It could be a disappointing end for a team that had higher expectations coming into the season.
Dec 20, 2014; Provo, UT, USA; Brigham Young Cougars guard Tyler Haws (3) goes to the basket against the Stanford Cardinal during the second half at Marriott Center. Brigham Young Cougars won the game 79-70. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
#4 – BYU: It’s hard to say how this will all end for the Cougars. Their reliance on outside shooting has produced the best offense in the nation, but it’s also highly unreliable and leads to a lot of struggles. This is especially obvious because of their weak inside presence after being decimated by injuries to key big men. They just can’t rely on the shots to fall every night, and when they don’t this team really struggles.
Saint Mary’s exposed all their worst qualities in the game on Saturday, although the injuries piling up isn’t helping either. Anson Winder is a great scorer, and they missed his firepower this past week. Between him and Nate Austin still being out, it’s hard to see this team doing enough to make the NCAA Tournament. Just like last year, questions keep being raised about them and they aren’t able to do enough to silence them.
Assuming they can’t win against Gonzaga in Spokane, they have one more chance for a quality win when they host the Gaels in Provo. But even with a win there, it might not be enough. The committee could like the idea of having one of the best scorers in the country in Tyler Haws in the postseason, but the Cougars may have not have done enough to justify putting them in over other deserving teams. All the Cougars can do is keep shooting and hope it brings enough wins.
Jan 15, 2015; Malibu, CA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) attempts a shot defended by Pepperdine Waves forward Jett Raines (45) during the second half at Firestone Fieldhouse. The Gonzaga Bulldogs won 78-76. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
#3 – PEPPERDINE: The Waves just keep proving themselves. They are having a great run through WCC play as even their losses are impressive. They matched up very well against Gonzaga and pushed them to the limit last week. That was a quality loss, and their defeat against Saint Mary’s is looking more and more legitimate as the Gaels remain undefeated in conference play. The Waves are in the midst of a breakout season that has them legitimately among the top teams in the WCC, a group that is really hard to break into normally.
The depth of the Waves has been ridiculous. We knew they had a great core built around stars Stacy Davis and Jeremy Major, but the way supporting players have stepped up is huge. Jett Raines has been such a quality asset. And the group behind the trio has been very reliable. Even without the talented Amadi Udenyi in recent games, the Waves just keep rolling thanks to guys like Shawn Olden, Lamond Murray Jr., A.J. John, and Atif Russell.
This season could end up similar to the one San Francisco had last year where they knocked off every lower tier team and were only challenged by the top dogs. Last year the Dons jumped Saint Mary’s to finish 3rd and reach the NIT Tournament, and that feels like a good path for the Waves this year. With their win over BYU on the road, they could vault the Cougars in the standings to give them a good case for a postseason berth. They probably won’t have the RPI or national respect to make the NCAA Tournament, the same problem that plagued the Dons, but a NIT Tournament berth is a real possibility. And with no seniors, that’s a great first step to bigger things.
#2 – SAINT MARY’S: We have held the Gaels in the #3 spot in our rankings all season because of the stronger schedule played by BYU and that fact that there wasn’t much competition standing in between the Gaels and this perfect start to WCC play. Hosting the Cougars was their first true test, and they passed it with flying colors. They benefited greatly from having Brad Waldow dominate the weak BYU frontcourt, but a win over the Cougars is still a quality win.
Next up it the true test as they visit Gonzaga in Spokane. If the Gaels want to have a real chance at winning the WCC and making the NCAA Tournament, they need an upset either in this one or the second matchup in Moraga. The general feeling out there is that the Gaels need a Gonzaga upset to make the NCAA Tournament with their weak schedule. Even though they are getting a decent number of top 25 votes now, they need to at the very least prove they can hang with Gonzaga after weaker teams like Pepperdine proved it’s possible.
The Gaels do match up quite well with the Bulldogs. Pepperdine used good perimeter defense and strong inside play to hang with the Bulldogs, and the Gaels can do the same. Waldow and guys like Garrett Jackson can bang inside with the Bulldogs, and guys like Aaron Bright and Kerry Carter should be able to hang with Kevin Pangos and the other guards. The Bulldogs are in for a battle, and the Gaels should be fired up knowing they are playing themselves into the NCAA Tournament conversation with their strong play.
Jan 17, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Kevin Pangos (4) runs the ball down the court against the Loyola Marymount Lions during the first half at Albert Gersten Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
#1 – GONZAGA: It doesn’t seem like that long ago that everyone, including us here at West Coast Convo, were crowning Gonzaga the WCC Champions as it looked like they would cruise through conference play without a blemish as they pushed for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their toughest test at BYU was out of the way, and they were looking like they had one of the best squads in program history.
While their talent is still elite, their hold on the WCC is not as secure as we once thought. Pepperdine pushed them to the limit last week, and now they get Saint Mary’s who is still undefeated in conference play and looking like a real threat to the Bulldogs. While the chances of the Gaels stealing a win in Spokane this week are slim, the Gaels are a team the Bulldogs should be concerned about.
The Gaels cannot completely disrupt Gonzaga as the Bulldogs are still going to roll through almost every opponent on their way to the NCAA Tournament, but they certainly could slow them down. The Gaels likely won’t be highly ranked enough to be a quality loss, so if the Bulldogs stumble it could cost them a #1 seed and even the WCC Championship if the Gaels avoid any losses to other WCC teams. They would be small setbacks for Gonzaga as their goal is a national championship, but they are speed bumps the Bulldogs really want to avoid knowing that March Madness does not normally treat them well.
They need all the momentum they can get. Fortunately the close games this past week should wake the Bulldogs up, and they won’t be overlooking Saint Mary’s. Gonzaga is still by far the most talented team in the conference, so only they can really beat themselves. Playing at home against their chief competition is not the kind of game where they will beat themselves.