What a wild week! We had lots of dramatic games that have created lots of confusion in the standings. Gonzaga is a league above everyone, and Saint Mary’s is a clear second place. But beyond that, things are very murky. Even what looked like a solid next group of Pepperdine and BYU has seriously damaged their reputations with their losses this week.
As of right now, any of the bottom 8 teams could beat each other, and in many cases they have done just that. Lots left to be decided as we move into the second half 0f conference play. Things are still pretty wide open, so it’s very tough to rank the team right now. But we do our best! On to the latest edition of the WCC Power Rankings.
Jan 17, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Loyola Marymount Lions guard Chase Flint (23) reacts during the first half against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at Albert Gersten Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
#10 – LOYOLA MARYMOUNT: The wins aren’t showing up because the Lions just don’t have the talent this year to compete, but they’re playing really decent basketball right now. They’re 2-3 over their last five games, a stretch that includes their first two conference wins and competitive road losses to BYU when they were without star Evan Payne and #3 Gonzaga.
Their comeback victory over San Francisco on Saturday was extremely impressive, especially considering the Dons are heating up and are still a very talented team despite their record. The Lions are a team opponents cannot overlook over the coming weeks, because they clearly can hang with teams if you let them.
Jan 24, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Pacific Tigers forward Gabriel Aguirre (11) battles for position against Gonzaga Bulldogs center Przemek Karnowski (24) during the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#9 – PACIFIC: The Tigers are another team that’s coming agonizingly close to getting wins but is having their talent level fall just short of allowing it to happen. They pushed Portland to the limit on the road on Thursday, but the talent gap was on full display in a blowout loss at Gonzaga. Their recent win at San Diego is looking better however as the Toreros got a big win this week.
Dulani Robinson continues to develop into a legitimate star to complement T.J. Wallace, and this team feels a lot like the Lions in the way they are coming together. It’s just a testament to the depth of the WCC this year that our bottom two teams are improving and look like real threats to pull off some wins that could disrupt the standings.
Jan 8, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; San Francisco Dons guard Devin Watson (21) drives the lane against Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Kevin Pangos (4) during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Bulldogs won 88-57. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#8 – SAN FRANCISCO: The struggles continue for the Dons as it feels like they may never catch a break. It looked like they had a season-changing win after beating a very good Pepperdine squad on Thursday, but their best win of WCC play was immediately followed by their worst as they fell in agonizing fashion to Loyola Marymount on Saturday. The Dons collapsed and allowed the Lions to steal a win that could demoralize them, especially since they were coming off the high of beating the Waves.
This team can shoot the lights out when they’re hot, and they can still beat anyone they play. But at this point, you just can’t expect it to all come together. They’re dangerous because their talent will allow for more upsets like the Pepperdine game, but that doesn’t help the Dons much as it’s too late to save their season. Hopefully this doesn’t derail the foundation Rex Walters is building after last season.
November 28, 2014; Fullerton, CA, USA; San Diego Toreros guard Duda Sanadze (10) moves to the basket against Princeton Tigers during the first half at Titan Gym. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
#7 – SAN DIEGO: We will have to wait until next week to see if the Toreros will have the same fate as San Francisco following up a breakout game as they are coming off a huge win over BYU on Saturday. Not only did their defense shine against the best offense in the nation, the final minutes were the best stretch of clutch basketball San Diego has played all season. They have had major issues closing out games, but they withstood a barrage against the Cougars to hold on for a victory.
Like the Dons, it might be too late for everything to come together to save their season. But it is worth noting for both teams that they’re mathematically just two games back of the three teams tied for third place. The Toreros get home games against Santa Clara and San Francisco next, so if they can pull off those wins they will actually go from buried in the standings to the thick of the race. Both they and the Dons are on life support, but they’re not dead yet.
Jan 10, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Santa Clara Broncos guard Brandon Clark (3) brings the ball down court against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 79-57. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#6 – SANTA CLARA: Currently BYU and Pepperdine are tied with one other team for third place. Would you ever have guessed it’s Santa Clara? The Broncos have quietly been building momentum, and they are riding a four game winning streak that was punctuated by them holding off Pepperdine for a win on Saturday. With wins over the Waves, Dons, and Toreros, this is no fluke. Santa Clara is officially in the thick of the race.
With guys like Nate Kratch and Matt Hubbard quickly improving in the frontcourt, the Broncos have finally started to compete inside. This has been especially noticeable in the rebounding game where they are finally being competitive after getting dominated on the glass most of the year. If they can keep this up, they could continue to quietly surprise. The WCC is wide open, so they have a great opportunity.
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: Without a doubt the Pilots would have liked to have completed the job and beaten Saint Mary’s on Saturday, but this was still a really good week for them. They held off Pacific in a game they couldn’t afford to lose, and they built some confidence against the Gaels considering they probably could have beaten them had they not gone cold in the second half.
This was one of the most talented teams in the non-conference schedule, and injuries and the ensuing lineup changes might have been the only cause of their slow start to WCC play. As things are settling into a groove, the Pilots are starting to look better. This might be one of the best teams of the second half of conference play, so don’t be surprised if this is the start of them making a move.
Jan 8, 2015; Provo, UT, USA; Pepperdine Waves guard Shawn Olden (21) looks to pass the ball against the Brigham Young Cougars during the first half at Marriott Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
#4 – PEPPERDINE: It was a nightmare of a week for the Waves, and you have to feel bad for them. They were doing everything right, and just like that it’s unraveling. It hasn’t completely, but this week really hurt. If they had aspirations of competing with the big three, they can’t be losing to teams like San Francisco and Santa Clara in the same week. You can’t slip that much and expect to keep pace.
The Waves have built their name this season on strong inside play and good defense. The defense in particular has been lacking lately, and it’s cost them dearly. The Dons shot the lights out on them, and the Broncos weren’t great but fared much better than a team like them should against the Waves. We’ll chalk this week up to some hiccups as Pepperdine is normally much more sound that this, and Marty Wilson has been coaching excellent this year. They can fix this, but they need to do it quick with games against Saint Mary’s and BYU on the horizon.
Jan 10, 2015; Provo, UT, USA; Loyola Marymount Lions forward Godwin Okonji (22) tries to block the shot of Brigham Young Cougars guard Tyler Haws (3) during the second half at Marriott Center. Brigham Young Cougars won 85-72. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
#3 – BYU: The Cougars managed to move back up into our top three despite suffering one of their worst losses of the season on Saturday to San Diego. Once again a good defensive team clamped down on them and stole a win despite lackluster offense. The foundation of this team is built on sand, and that continues to be exposed. They’re just too weak inside and too reliant on low percentage shots to avoid bad losses like this one.
Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, it’s turning into a repeat of last season where the Cougars are allowing lots of questions to be raised about them. Losses like this past one will haunt them, and they may play themselves right out of the NCAA Tournament. No barely squeaking at this rate like they did last year. There’s still a ton of talent, and they are the best offense in the nation, but it’s hard to predict what the Cougars will do next. It could go great, or get even worse.
#2 – SAINT MARY’S: The Gaels continue to plug along. The missed chance to impress against Gonzaga was disappointing, but they did a good job holding off a quality Portland team to bounce back. This still looks like a rock solid team that, barring any missteps, should run the table in WCC play outside of their final two matchups against BYU and Gonzaga. That would give them only 5-6 losses on the year and make a strong case for the NCAA Tournament.
The strength of schedule is a concern, and no matter what they do outside of upsetting Gonzaga, they may go into March on the bubble. But they’re passing every test so far, and all they can do is keep it going. There’s no reason why they can’t, so they just need to stay focused. They can be too reliant on second half surges to pull away from teams like they needed against Portland, but it hasn’t caused them to stumble yet. Their talent level should keep them competitive, so it’s all right there for the taking.
Jan 24, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Domantas Sabonis (11) shoots the ball as Pacific Tigers forward Eric Thompson (12) defends during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 91-60. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#1 – GONZAGA: The Bulldogs passed their most recent test with flying colors. With how well the Gaels have been playing, it brought doubt into how much of a stranglehold the Bulldogs had on the conference. But they made sure to take advantage of being at home, and they extended the nation’s longest home win streak as they made it look fairly easy beating the Gaels on Thursday. They followed that up with a cupcake win over Pacific, which was actually no small thing considering Pacific is fast improving and the fact that there haven’t been many huge blowouts with how deep the WCC is this year.
It’s doubtful BYU is built to go into Spokane and get a win, so really a trip to Moraga for a second round with the Gaels is the last real hurdle before they can set their sights on running the table in conference play. They still need to do that if they want a #1 seed, even a loss to Saint Mary’s is probably enough to knock them down. They’re just so talented that all they really need to do is stay focused. Even when not playing at 100% they’re a class above everyone else. Mark Few just needs to keep them rolling all the way into March and let the chips fall where they may.