What a final week! We had a couple of the biggest upsets of the year on the final day of the regular season, and it could shake up things in the WCC Tournament and beyond. Is Gonzaga no longer a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament? Is BYU in the field and off the bubble? Can a team make a surprise run in Vegas? It’s all up in the air now. On to our final WCC Power Rankings of the regular season!
Nov 15, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Loyola Marymount Lions forward Marin Mornar (42) attempts a shot defended by Boise State Broncos forward David Wacker (33) 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: The Lions are the coldest team in the WCC right now, so don’t expect a Cinderella run like they pulled off in Las Vegas last year. They did double their conference win total from last season, but they finish on a six game losing streak that dropped them to last place. And that included some ugly blowout losses including one at home to a severely under-performing San Francisco squad.
There’s good news and bad news here. The bad news is that they lose some key seniors and will arguably be losing the most talent of any of the bottom-tier teams who will be looking to improve next year. Teams like Pacific and Santa Clara are still very young and will be losing few to no key players. The good news is that a few potential stars will still be around, led by Evan Payne. He is one of the best guards in the conference, and he started to get more help as the season progressed. Marin Mornar and David Humphries made great strides, and there is a good potential core group to support Payne. If Mike Dunlap can recruit as well as they hope and finds some pieces to fit around the current foundation, the Lions can be on their way to competing before Payne graduates. Target his senior season in two years as one where LMU could be back in the mix again.
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
#9 – PACIFIC: The record is still pretty bad, but the Tigers actually had a nice finish to the regular season. After spending most of the season in last place, they were able to climb into 9th at the finish line. And they won two of their final three games beating Portland and Santa Clara, two quality teams from the middle of the pack. Continuing their theme of improved team play, they had four players reach double-digit points in both of those wins. And the won the rebounding battle as their young frontcourt continues to make great strides.
They won’t do much in Vegas, but this is a good young team. They lose just one senior this year, and many of their key players are just freshmen or sophomores. T.J. Wallace will be among the elite scoring guards next year, and he will have a quality supporting cast that grew a lot during this season. They could be a very complete team that returns to relevance quickly, and you can credit the major growth they underwent this year adjusting to a ton of lineup changes as where it started.
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: It was about as bad a final week as it could have been for the Dons. They were destroyed by Saint Mary’s on Thursday in one of the biggest blowouts of the entire WCC schedule. Then with a chance to improve their seeding on Saturday, none of the games went their way as they settled into a disappointing 8th place. And to top it all off, they struggled against Pacific and needed a second half run just to get a win. It’s been a downright awful season after the breakout one of last year, and this past week was a summary of it in a nutshell.
On the other hand, the Dons have looked as good as they did last year in some games. It’s amazing that with how well Kruize Pinkins and Mark Tollefesen have played that they haven’t been able to take advantage of more opponents with weak frontcourts. The guard play has been an issue at times, but it has also shown flashes of brilliance. At their best, the Dons can still compete with most of the conference, so doing something in Vegas isn’t impossible. Although the season will still be looked at as a disappointment after last year went so well.
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 Broncos don’t have the best record, but they can cause teams fits with their ability to force turnovers and the relentless scoring ability of Jared Brownridge, Brandon Clark, and company. It was on full display on Saturday as the Broncos got their biggest win of the season upsetting Saint Mary’s in their final regular season game. They forced the Gaels into 15 turnovers, and Denzel Johnson had a big game as he continues to become a legitimate third option behind Brownridge and Clark.
There’s a lot of young talent on this team, and they have come together better than any of the other bottom-tier teams with their development. They have gone from being too reliant on Brownridge and Clark to start the season to learning how to play more fundamental team ball that allows the duo to put more of the burden on their supporting cast. They probably don’t have enough upsets in them to win the WCC Tournament, but they are team that is playing well and could surprise in Vegas. They are set up to sneak up on teams if they can play up to their potential, exactly like they did against the Gaels.
Jan 29, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Domantas Sabonis (11) shoots against Portland Pilots center Philipp Hartwich (15) during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 64-46. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#6 – PORTLAND: It’s hard to figure out the Pilots right now. Through most of the season they were one of the most complete teams in the WCC and looked like they would be the breakout team many predicted them to be in the preseason. When they settled their lineup issues after a rash of injuries, they looked nearly unstoppable during a four game win streak. But since then they have become overly reliant on their shooting while their inside game has disappeared, and now they go into Vegas on a four game losing streak. They will be the #6 seed, but they could have fallen even further if Santa Clara didn’t upset Saint Mary’s on Saturday.
They have been too reliant on shooters like Kevin Bailey and Alec Wintering. In the loss to San Diego on Saturday, those two took over half of the field goal attempts by the Pilots. They need to go back to feeding talented big men Thomas Van der Mars and Volodymyr Gerun versus shooting all the time. They don’t have the same talent level as BYU where they can win big games just by trying to shoot the lights out. When they play as a more balanced team, they are much more dangerous. If they can return to that form, they can still be effective and maybe get into a third-tier postseason tournament. If it’s a short trip to Vegas however, they may be heading home sooner than they had hoped after such a promising start to the season.
Feb 26, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; San Diego Toreros guard Duda Sanadze (10) shoots the ball over Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Byron Wesley (22) during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 59-39. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#5 – SAN DIEGO: There is no team that is peaking at the right time better than San Diego right now. Faced with a very tough game on Saturday to secure the #5 seed in the WCC Tournament, they went on the road and took care of Portland in convincing fashion. They got a huge game from their bench led by a trio of freshmen who will play a key role in the postseason. With this new depth, the Toreros suddenly have more offense to go with their stout defense. It makes them a complete and dangerous team that could easily make noise in Vegas.
The Toreros have a very similar makeup to Pepperdine. They use a good defense to force opponents into playing their pace of game, and they provide just enough of a balanced offense between shooting and inside presence to pull out wins. The only reason they aren’t more highly regarded is because they have come on late instead of doing it all season like the Waves. But you can make the argument that the Toreros are the most dangerous team right now outside the top three, and they will be a real test for the Waves. Remember, the Toreros blew away Pepperdine on the road in their last meeting. And the Toreros are rolling into Vegas looking for a deep run. They are a team to watch for sure.
Feb 14, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Pepperdine Waves forward Jett Raines (45) goes up for a shot against Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) and Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Gary Bell, Jr. (5) during the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#4 – PEPPERDINE: They stumbled to the finish, but the Waves benefited from lackluster play behind them as they have had 4th place locked up for a while. Still, it’s hard to know what to expect from them in the WCC Tournament. They could come out flat and lose their first round game, or they could pull off an upset or two and fine themselves on the verge of a shocking automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Recent results would suggest the former, but they’re another talented team that could surprise if they put it all together.
The real goal for the Waves is to get one or two more marquee wins to show off for a postseason bid. It’s a shame, but they may have played themselves out of the NIT field with their recent struggles. Could an upset save them? Probably not, but they can certainly try. They have had a really good season, and they have some great players to watch. It’s not impossible they could do some damage in the postseason, it will just be disappointing if after all this they have to do it in some third-tier tournament. Doesn’t feel right for the Waves, after everything they have done in a year where the WCC was really deep and talented, would have to settle for a CIT or CBI run. But that might be exactly what happens.
#3 – SAINT MARY’S: The chances of Saint Mary’s making the NCAA Tournament were already slim to none, and slim may probably just left the building. The loss on Saturday to Santa Clara is a killer, and it removes any chance of the Gaels getting an at-large bid. Now all that’s left is the hope they can rally and win the WCC Tournament to claim the conference’s automatic bid. Too many bad losses and too few quality wins has put the Gaels between a rock and hard place.
This is still a very strong team, they just have a lot more trouble in tight games compared to BYU and Gonzaga. Perhaps it’s the lack of big game experience, but too often they let inferior teams get the best of them. Most of time they recover before the final whistle, but sometimes like on Saturday they can’t come all the way back. They are very vulnerable right now, and it’s hard to believe they will get past Gonzaga to make the finals in Vegas. Even their fate in the NIT is very much a mystery right now.
Feb 28, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Brigham Young Cougars guard Kyle Collinsworth (5) drives the baseline against Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Byron Wesley (22) during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Cougars won 73-70. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#2 – BYU: Put the Cougars in the NCAA Tournament! The Cougars had a chance at a huge statement, and they came through in a big way. Coming into Saturday, the chances of them moving up to the #2 seed in Vegas seemed impossible. It would require Saint Mary’s getting shocked by Santa Clara and the Cougars upsetting Gonzaga in Spokane. But that’s exactly what happened. And it has huge implications for the WCC Tournament and March Madness.
The magnitude of this win should help jump BYU into serious bubble consideration with everything that went into it. Snapping the nation’s longest home win streak. Handing Gonzaga just their second loss and first in conference play. It’s a very impressive win at a key time. Now they can avoid a rematch until the finals of the WCC Tournament. If they can make it to that game, they will have a compelling tournament resume whether they win the automatic bid or not. With their dynamic offense and potential for upsets like the one in Spokane, they should pass the eye test that gets them in over other qualified teams. Either way, it’s been an amazing comeback for the Cougars after their mid-season lull.
Feb 28, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Kevin Pangos (4) runs the baseline against Brigham Young Cougars guard Kyle Collinsworth (5) during the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
#1 – GONZAGA: Well that changed quickly. One day Gonzaga was rolling along with the nation’s longest home win streak and heading towards their second #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in the past three years, and now that’s all gone. Sure they could still stay a top seed, and BYU is not a bad loss, but the WCC slate really drags down their RPI and strength of schedule. They were already considered the weakest top seed, and this loss probably is too much to survive. Even winning the WCC Tournament probably doesn’t save them. It will be a big disappointment if they fall to a #2 seed when they were so close to the finish line.
The Cougars had to give it their best effort, so nobody will argue that the Bulldogs aren’t still the best team in the WCC by a good margin. But they haven’t played great in the past month, so this loss is not as big of a surprise as it would have been earlier in the year. If they aren’t careful, the Zags are on a downswing that could extend well into March and lead to another great season that finishes in not living up to expectations in the Big Dance. It’s gut check time for the Bulldogs, they have to rally and bounce back. There’s no time to feel sorry for themselves with only big games left on the schedule.