WCC Power Rankings – February 2nd


The roller coaster ride that has been the 2014-15 season in the West Coast Conference continued this past week. Even one of the teams pulling away from the pack was beaten by a team trying to save their season. Combined with improved play from some teams that were left for dead, and it’s still a packed race with so many teams close together in talent level and their records. On to our first WCC Power Rankings of February. Can you believe March Madness is just around the corner?

Jan 24, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Pacific Tigers guard Dulani Robinson (5) shoots the ball as Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Silas Melson (0) looks on during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 91-60. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

#10 – PACIFIC: The Tigers are coming off a really tough stretch of games, so their recent struggles could be forgiven. But not after an ugly loss to Loyola Marymount on Saturday where they allowed the Lions to mount a big comeback and force the game into overtime. The effort the Tigers have made to play better team ball has been valiant, and they are making good strides for the future. But it’s clear that even at their best, the talent level right now is just a level below most of the rest of the conference.

It won’t get much easier through their next stretch of games. This current four game losing streak could get a lot longer with road games at Saint Mary’s and red hot San Diego followed by home games against Gonzaga and Portland. By the time they come out of that stretch, the Tigers could be absolutely buried in the standings. That glimmer of hope that they could climb out of the WCC cellar may be extinguished very soon.

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

#9 – LOYOLA MARYMOUNT: Had the Tigers held off the Lions like they should have, we would probably be talking about the season for LMU is dead instead of for Pacific. But their resilience was impressive, and they have now shown great poise and clutch down the stretch in their last two wins. They are now 3-3 over their last six games, and that accounts for all of their wins so far in WCC play. Lots of young talent is emerging, and the future keeps looking bright for them.

Like the Tigers, the Lions have a brutal stretch coming up with home games against San Diego and BYU followed by a Northwest road trip to Gonzaga and Portland. Having already split the season series with Pacific, they will be battling the Tigers to try and do slightly better through this next stretch. The team that struggles the most between the two is likely going to finish last. Not the worst thing in the world, but it’s a black mark you don’t want as both programs have young talent they would really likely to build around. Finishing in the basement of the WCC won’t help that process.

Jan 8, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; San Francisco Dons guard Devin Watson (21) puts up a shot against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

#8 – SAN FRANCISCO: Just when the Dons got your hopes up, they crushed them. The upset win over Pepperdine was supposed to change the course of their season. But it’s been followed by three straight losses including very concerning ones to Loyola Marymount and San Diego. At this point we know it’s a down year for the Dons, but this is getting out of hand. They look like one of the worst teams in the conference, a stark contrast after the breakout season last year.

It’s very hard to understand how bad the struggles have been. Finding a floor general in the backcourt has been tough, but with the emergence of Devin Watson the situation has arguably been the best it has all season. And the frontcourt is still dominant even in losses, and that should be good enough on its own to pull out a few more wins here and there. Nothing is going right, and they are running out of time to turn it around. The last stretch of their schedule is somewhat manageable, so hopefully they can pick up some more wins against beatable teams. But right now, no win is coming easy for the Dons.

Jan 29, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Portland Pilots guard Kevin Bailey (00) shoots against Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Byron Wesley (22) during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 64-46. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

#7 – PORTLAND: The Pilots aren’t quite as much in crisis mode as the Dons, but they’re getting close. The losses to Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga can be forgiven, but not the stretch before that. Three straight losses during that span including ugly ones to San Francisco and Loyola Marymount. A season that was once full of promise has been completely destroyed, and the Pilots are just trying to keep their heads above water now.

Like the Dons, the Pilots should have more wins based on talent along. The inside play has been strong if not spectacular, and they are shooting relatively well. But they do get into shootouts a little too often. And unless you’re BYU, that normally doesn’t end well if you rely too much on your long range game. In theory you can still be blaming the lineup changes due to injuries, but those are far enough in the past that things should be sorted out by now. Like the Dons there is room for some late wins, and the Pilots really need them.

Jan 10, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Santa Clara Broncos guard Jalen Richard (5) puts up a three-pointer 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: The Broncos had their chance to make some noise, and they stumbled. They put an exclamation point on a four game win streak by upsetting Pepperdine, and it looked like they could actually jump into the upper portion of teams in the standings. But then red hot San Diego took them down a notch, and they stumbled into Provo where BYU blew them out. Combined with what should be an ugly loss to Gonzaga this week, and the Broncos could be reeling by then.

They have a tough final stretch with really good home opponents and many of their winnable games coming in tough road environments which could affect their chances. They fall into the habit of relying on Brandon Clark too much, and their frontcourt just can’t hang with most teams. That’s bad with a number of games coming up against teams with good inside players. If they’re not careful, they’re going to go from the cusp of the upper tier to fighting off Pacific and LMU to avoid finishing near the bottom. This is how it’s been this year in a deep conference where many teams are very evenly matched.

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

#5 – SAN DIEGO: The Toreros are one of the hottest teams in the WCC right now, and they are playing their best basketball of the season. It seems like very issue that plagued them all through the first half of conference play has somehow been instantly remedied during their recent three game winning streak. Their shooting has gone from the worst in the WCC to one of the best, and they’re getting a ton more support from unlikely sources highlighted by the breakout last couple games by freshman Vasa Pusica. He set a career-high with 16 points against Santa Clara, and then he tied that effort against San Francisco.

Unlike the Pilots and Dons, the Toreros are actually playing up to their potential finally. They get a winnable game at Loyola Marymount on Thursday, and if they win that one they will take a ton of momentum into the Pepperdine game Saturday. They are right where Santa Clara was last week in terms of the being on the cusp of breaking into the upper tier. But unlike the Broncos, the Toreros might have the talent and resilience to justify some of the preseason hype and make that leap. With a brutal final stretch coming, the Toreros are hot at the right time to get all the wins they can now before it’s too late.

Jan 8, 2015; Provo, UT, USA; Pepperdine Waves guard Amadi Udenyi (0) brings the ball up the court during the first half against the Brigham Young Cougars at Marriott Center. Pepperdine Waves won the game 67-61. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

#4 – PEPPERDINE: The Waves may have saved their season this week after avoiding a bad loss to Pacific before getting one of the upsets of the year at Saint Mary’s. With their recent struggles, they probably shouldn’t have beaten the Gaels. But they played and excellent game going head-to-head inside and not folding under pressure. It’s a big game-changer that leaves some room for the Waves or BYU to possibly catch Saint Mary’s for second place in the standings. But there is still a ways to go.

This next stretch will be big. They need to beat BYU to prove the win in Provo wasn’t a fluke, and they cannot afford to struggle against San Diego like they have against some of the other weaker teams. If they can keep up momentum, they will start to lock up third place and possibly push the Gaels for second. If they stumble, they could undo all their hard work and even tumble out of the top half of the standings. Like most of these teams, the next week or two will define the season for the Waves. They have immense talent, they just need to keep playing their game and doing it well. If they can accomplish that, they should be fine.

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 took advantage of their two game homestand to get back on track, and they’re loving the recent struggles of Pepperdine but also how they knocked off the Gaels to slow them down. They’re still wildly unpredictable as evident by their near upset loss to San Francisco, but they hot shooting is still doing enough to keep them alive. That being said, the San Diego loss was a huge dagger. Like last season, it feels like they are going to leave way too much doubt along the way to March. And this time, they may not squeak into the NCAA Tournament with all these question marks.

They will face Pepperdine and Saint Mary’s in two of their next three games, and that will decide everything at this point. Win those and they might end up finishing on a hot streak that pushes them into the NCAA Tournament. Lose them and the Cougars are looking at an embarrassing fourth place finish and the NIT Tournament at best. It’s a big deal because this is an elite program that isn’t supposed to struggle like this. If they have too poor of a season, it could have long-term effects. They better hope the shots keep falling at a rapid pace.

#2 – SAINT MARY’S: The Gaels tend to cruise along using second half surges to beat inferior teams. That finally came back to haunt them as they couldn’t pull away from Pepperdine and the Waves got a gutsy win. Much of that was due to Aaron Bright missing the second half with an ankle injury. It was evident the team was missing their leader, and it’s a big reason why they couldn’t pull away. If he’s out for an extended period of time, this could get bad very quickly.

That being said, there’s no reason to panic just yet. The Gaels still have a robust two game lead over the third place teams, and they proven that no team beyond the other top tier ones can really challenge them. However, they have run out of room for mistakes. The Pepperdine loss is not a good enough loss to not hurt them, and their slim NCAA Tournament hopes took a big hit. They cannot afford to lose again to anyone not named Gonzaga, and they may even need an upset of the Bulldogs to have a chance at the postseason. Right now the goal is get Bright healthy, and hope they can get hot in the WCC Tournament to try an push for an automatic bid.

Jan 31, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) puts up a shot against Memphis Tigers guard Kedren Johnson (15) and Memphis Tigers guard Markel Crawford (1) during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 82-64. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

#1 – GONZAGA: The Bulldogs took a break from destroying WCC teams this week to destroy Memphis, a nice change of pace and they begin their preparations for March. Not much stands in their way at this point, and they could be moving up in the rankings after the Virginia loss this week. They have three more tough WCC games, but they all come at home where they are very strong sitting on the nation’s longest home winning streak.

And stumble will likely cost them their #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but that probably won’t happen. The Memphis game was a nice way to break up the monotony of WCC play that often lulls them into a false sense of security right before March, so hopefully that game helps with that. There is so much potential this year that you’d hate to see the Bulldogs under-perform in the postseason again. So far, they’re doing everything right to make sure that doesn’t happen.