The past week wanted to be another wild one, but it just missed out. Both first place Gonzaga and second place Saint Mary’s were pushed, but they survived turning a potentially explosive week into a more normal one. That being said, there were still some big games as the conference remains as unpredictable as it has been all season. On to our latest WCC Power Rankings!
Jan 24, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Pacific Tigers forward Gabriel Aguirre (11) tries to back down Gonzaga Bulldogs center Przemek Karnowski (24) during the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#10 – PACIFIC: The Tigers gave it one heck of a run considering their situation. Absolutely decimated during the offseason considering the number of players they lost, Pacific managed to hang for most of the season and looked much better than their record. They may have only two conference wins, but they are both solid as they dominated Loyola Marymount and got a close win over what has turned into a very good San Diego team. For how young and raw they are, it’s been a good season of growth.
Unfortunately, they have hit a really tough stretch of games that should continue to bury them in the standings. They have been blown out in three straight road games, and their return home this week offers no relief with games against Gonzaga and fast heating up Portland. Road games at Santa Clara and San Francisco will be tough places to get a win as well. So as unfortunate as it might be, the Tigers may have won their last game of the season already. But the future is very bright, and they did a good job developing chemistry and finding an identity this season.
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: The WCC schedule can be a challenge to navigate. Just as you build momentum, you start to hit the good teams for a second time which can disrupt your flow. The Lions are one of the teams falling victim to that right now. They won two in a row a couple weeks ago including a very good win over a red hot San Diego team, and they were fast improving. But BYU, Gonzaga, and Portland have slowed their progress handing them three straight losses.
Their final two home games are this week against Santa Clara and San Francisco, and they will be huge. The Lions beat the Dons and played the Broncos close in the first meetings of these teams, and wins could vault the Lions over both teams with the WCC Tournament on the horizon. Loyola Marymount can sneak up on teams based on their surprise run in Las Vegas last year, so they would love to start heating up right now. A big week is ahead for the Lions.
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: Unlike a lot of WCC teams that have a tough finish to the regular season, the Dons have a very manageable one. They took care of business this week against Santa Clara to stay within striking distance of catching them for 7th place, and Saint Mary’s is the only really tough game left on their schedule. Pepperdine is vulnerable right now, and the Dons should outmatch LMU and Pacific.
Of course, nothing is certain with the Dons this year. They have never found the momentum needed to duplicate last season. The lack of a true point guard who can run the offense continues to hold them back, and it’s a big reason why their talented frontcourt can’t do enough to get them wins. But the talent of last season is still mostly intact, so they would love to build some momentum with this favorable finish to the regular season as they head into Las Vegas. They could become one of those sleeper teams opponents don’t want to see in March.
Jan 10, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Santa Clara Broncos guard Jared Brownridge (23) attempts a free throw against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 79-57. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#7 – SANTA CLARA: The plummet continues for the Broncos. A tough OT loss to San Francisco last week makes it five straight losses after a four game winning streak had them in the conversation for a top five finish. Now, their #7 spot in our rankings is based mostly on their previous hot streak. If our rankings were focused on just the past few weeks, the Broncos would be a spot or two lower.
Some of this isn’t their fault as they are another team that hit a tough stretch. Their losses in this streak before last week were against San Diego and Portland teams that have gotten red hot as well as two expected losses to BYU and Gonzaga. But the San Francisco loss exposed all their issues from the weak frontcourt to their reliance on Jared Brownridge and Brandon Clark. They fall into being that type of team quite a bit, but they can also be much more complete with their offense and aggressive enough to at least survive in the paint. They need the latter to show up a lot more during this final stretch.
Nov 18, 2013; East Lansing, MI, USA; Portland Pilots guard Bryce Pressley (1) brings the ball up court against the Michigan State Spartans during the 1st half of a game at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
#6 – PORTLAND: The Pilots are showing why they had such a good run through their non-conference schedule right now. They are finally healthy (mostly) and have been able to figure out their lineup to gain some consistency. It has led to better shooting, a big deal for such a team that is very good from long range. And it’s led to a solid four game winning streak including road wins at Santa Clara and San Francisco as well as a big win over Pepperdine. The Pilots are really getting hot at the right time.
A visit to Saint Mary’s will be tough, but the rest of the schedule is favorable. Visiting Pacific should cause little trouble, and the Pilots play very well at home which will force BYU and San Diego to bring solid performances to the Chiles Center. The Pilots could absolutely steal those wins. If San Diego struggles, Portland could easily lock up the #5 seed in the WCC Tournament. That’s not good for their opponents in Vegas because right now, they are every bit the complete and dangerous team we thought they were through the first half of the season.
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
#5 – SAN DIEGO: The Toreros are going to be left wondering after a heartbreaking double OT loss to Saint Mary’s on Saturday. They have been clawing their way up the standings with their recent hot streak that seemingly without explanation fixed all their previous issues, but it hasn’t been enough to erase the early struggles. They might have erased a lot of it with an upset of the Gaels, but they let SMC steal a victory. It’s made even worse considering the Toreros have no home games left to make up more ground.
They’re still playing really well, but their final three games don’t offer much help. They must visit BYU, Gonzaga, and Portland which could easily mean three straight losses. It would drop them under .500, drop their seed in the WCC Tournament by as much as 2-3 spots depending on other results, and really kill the momentum they were building. It’s not about wins right now, but rather about keeping up the momentum of the impressive turnaround that has made them very dangerous. They can be really good in Vegas if they keep playing this well, so their goal is to not let the wheels fall off and end up back in the awful spot they were in a few weeks ago.
Nov 19, 2014; San Jose, CA, USA; Pepperdine Waves forward Jett Raines (45) grabs a rebound against the San Jose State Spartans during the second half at San Jose State Event Center. The Waves won 63-44. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
#4 – PEPPERDINE: Fresh off back-to-back upsets of Saint Mary’s and BYU earlier this month, the Waves were continuing to earn the title of this year’s breakout team. Now just a couple weeks later, they are in danger of completely undoing all the work they have done this year. They have dropped three in a row including disturbing losses to San Diego and Portland where they were blown away in large double-digit defeats. Once a candidate for a top three finish, they need a strong final stretch just to stay in the top five.
Fortunately, they have one of the best final stretches of any of the top teams. All three of their final games are at home, and they come against San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Loyola Marymount. They should all be easy wins for the Waves if they play up to their potential. While a lot needs to happen for them to catch BYU for third place, they should have no trouble locking up the #4 spot. They need a strong showing down the stretch to sneak into the NIT Tournament, and it would be a bit of a disappointment to settle for a third-tier tournament after such a strong effort this season. It’s do or die time for the Waves.
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: Don’t look now, but it looks like the Cougars are set on making it another hard choice for the NCAA Tournament Committee when it comes to putting them in the tournament or leaving them just outside the field. Just as they were stumbling and looking like they would fall out of contention for the Big Dance, they have rattled off three straight wins. The biggest was a blowout of Saint Mary’s in Provo that gives them a chance to catch the Gaels for second place. If the Cougars can shock Gonzaga in their regular season finale in Spokane, the Cougars will be back in the postseason conversation in a big way.
With a solid looking 20-8 record, they are now just two spots below Saint Mary’s in the RPI rankings. If they take care of business against San Diego and Portland, they could finish the regular season with single-digit losses even if they lose to the Bulldogs. If they reach the finals of the WCC Tournament, they are going to be very close to sneaking into the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row. Very impressive considering they should be out of it by now with some of their struggles this year. They have to be motivated knowing that despite everything, a strong finish would still leave them with a chance to play for a national title.
#2 – SAINT MARY’S: While the Cougars have renewed energy, the Gaels have to be frustrated that all their efforts may go to waste. They survived a real test at San Diego last week, and their 11-3 conference record is still sparkling outside of an RPI damaging loss to Pepperdine. But with the BYU loss, they are in danger of falling out of contention. With both the Cougars and Gaels currently borderline NCAA Tournament teams, at best one is going to make it in. If BYU catches them for second place and goes further in the WCC Tournament, there will be no way the committee could justify putting in the Gaels over the Cougars. The battle for 2nd place is huge in order to avoid facing Gonzaga until the finals. And both the Cougars and Gaels really need a finals appearance to pad their resume.
The Gaels could really use a perfect finish over their final four games, and that includes an upset of Gonzaga in Moraga. That’s a tall order, but the Gaels do have the potential to pull it off. Hopefully the lesson has been learned that they need to play a tougher schedule to avoid these situations. Had they played some tougher opponents, their status for the postseason would be more secure. Gonzaga learned this a long time ago: you need better non-conference opponents to avoid the weaker WCC schedule killing your RPI.
Feb 14, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Kevin Pangos (4) is fouled by Pepperdine Waves guard Jeremy Major (3) during the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#1 – GONZAGA: You have to nitpick a little bit at this point to find something wrong with Gonzaga. They came out a little flat against Pepperdine if you want to find something to complain about. Probably shouldn’t be letting a team like the Waves be tied with them at halftime in Spokane, so it’s a little concerning especially with big games in March getting close. That being said, they still got the win. And having some challenges during this time is good as you can argue an easy WCC schedule costs them some of their edge around tournament time.
They get a pretty challenging finish to keep them sharp with a visit to Saint Mary’s and home games against San Diego and BYU. The games against the Gaels and Cougars are particularly dangerous as both teams desperately could use the RPI boost of a Gonzaga upset to improve their slim tournament hopes. So they will be gunning for the Bulldogs. And with a less than stellar #8 RPI thanks to a weak conference schedule, the Bulldogs cannot afford even one loss the rest of the way if they want a top seed for the postseason.