Through One Month, the State of the WCC

Eric Reveno's Pilots are going up. - Ethan Miller

The top four teams remain the same while Portland surges and San Francisco slides. As a whole, the WCC is 62-27 (.697) on the season. Gonzaga is ranked and Saint Mary's received votes in this weeks polls.

1. #20 / #16 Gonzaga Bulldogs (8-1)
Previously: 1st

The Zags welcomed Sim Bhullar and the Aggies of New Mexico State to the Kennel over the weekend. It was a strange game. The Aggies completely disrupted the Zags game in the first half but the Zags managed to hang around. They did so by successfully attacking the strength of the Aggies' defense, the interior. In the second half Kevin Pangos got going, knocked down some threes, and the Zags pulled out a 12 point victory.

In their only loss this season, to Dayton in Maui, the Zags' lack of depth in the post was exploited. With New Mexico State's big front line coming to town there was reason to believe that might happen again. It didn't. In fact, with the guards struggling to get going, it was the play in the paint that pushed Gonzaga to victory. Sam Dower had 22 points on 10-18 shooting. Slasher Gerard Coleman came off the bench (I don't know why he's still coming off the bench) and added 21 points.

A road test against the Big-12's Mountaineers comes up on Tuesday. While likely not one of Bob Huggins' best teams, the game should be close and competitive. Gonzaga and West Virginia met in the 2012 NCAA Tournament Round of 64, where Gonzaga dispatched West Virginia 77-54. West Virginia's next game came in Spokane against Gonzaga during the 2012 ESPN Tip-Off Marathon, and Gonzaga ran the Mountaineers out of the gym 84-50. The Mountaineers are familiar with the Zags now and they're out for revenge. Then, over the weekend, it's the most lame Battle in Seattle ever.

Last Week: W 80-68 vs. New Mexico State.
This Week: 12/10 at West Virginia (6-3), 12/14 vs. South Alabama (5-4) [in Seattle].

2. Saint Mary's Gaels (7-0)
Previously: 2nd

The Gaels have been taking it easy for about a month now, playing just one game per week. In last week's lone game, Sunday night in Moraga, the Gaels had no problem defeating one of the better teams in the Big Sky. As expected, Eastern Washington's Tyler Harvey got his (20 points), but only one other Eagle hit double figures. On the other hand, five Gaels hit double figures led by Brad Waldow's 24 points on 9-13 shooting from the field.

Junior guard Kerry Carter, a juco transfer from Citrus College, has been coming on strong lately and making a case for WCC Sixth Man of the Year (if there was such a thing). Take a look at his offensive ratings in the Gaels seven games so far: 76, 89, 236, 94, 169, 116 and 153. Carter has scored in double figures for the past three games and has made 15 of his 29 attempts from three point land this season.

The Gaels travel from McKeon Pavilion for the first time this season when they play Boise State on Saturday.

Last Week: W 93-65 vs. Eastern Washington.
This Week 12/14 at Boise State (8-0).

3. BYU Cougars (7-3)
Previously: 3rd

Well, the Cougars can't simply outscore every team they play. That's what we learned Saturday when a 96 point effort wasn't enough to defeat Chaz Williams and the Minutemen. UMass shot 65% from two and nearly 40% from three, raising serious questions about the Cougars defense. Much like last season, the Cougars have faltered each time they have a chance to pick up a quality win. They have a handful of good but not great wins, so the upcoming games at Utah and Oregon to end the non-conference slate are now must wins if BYU wants to avoid the NCAA Tournament bubble.

The backcourt duo of Matt Carlino and Tyler Haws combine for over 40 points per game. Coming into the season everyone knew Haws could and would score a lot of points. What nobody saw coming was that Carlino would be the one taking a higher percentage of the Cougars' shots. Thankfully he's been fairly consistent in making his shots this season.

Last Week: W 97-67 vs. North Texas, L 105-96 vs. Massachussetts (Springfield, MA).
This Week: 12/11 vs. Prairie View A&M (2-6), 12-14 at Utah (7-1).

4. Pacific Tigers (6-1)
Previously: 4th

The Tigers had been quietly impressive this season. Now that they've got a ten point win at Utah State on their resume, it's time to take notice. In a conference chock-full of strong offenses, the Tigers fit right in. Their balanced and efficient offensive attack is led by a quartet of seniors: Sama Taku (12.8 ppg), Andrew Bock (12.5 ppg), Tony Gill (12.5 ppg) and Ross Rivera (11.9 ppg). That's essentially four players averaging 12 points per game, that's balance.

The Tigers offensive efficiency is boosted by excellent performance at the free throw line. Their 71% showing against Utah State was the worst of the season. At 78.8%, the Tigers are the nation's eighth best free throw shooting team.

Up next for the Tigers is NAIA member Menlo College. Exams are coming up at Pacific so the basketball team has an easy week scheduled.

Last Week: W 78-68 at Utah State.
This Week:12/14 vs. Menlo (Non-Division I).

5. Portland Pilots (6-3)
Previously: 7th

The positive surprise among WCC teams so far has got to be the Pilots. While they have just one win over a team ranked in the top-200 of Ken Pom, it's been the Pilots performance in their three losses that inspire confidence. They lost by six at Oregon State of the Pac-12, hung around at then #1 Michigan State and fell after two overtimes to North Texas.

My greatest concern with this year's team was if anyone would step up and help Ryan Nicholas and Kevin Bailey. Nicholas had an off-night against Portland State, nine points on 4-13 shooting, but Thomas van der Mars and Alec Wintering came through with 19 and 12 points respectively.

Last Week: W 92-76 at Portland State.
This Week: 12/15 vs. Montana State (3-5).

6. San Diego Toreros (7-3)
Previously: 5th

It was hard to put the Toreros, who came within inches of knocking off a ranked San Diego State squad last week, behind the Pilots. But, this is a power rankings and San Diego has lost two straight while the Pilots are riding a three game winning streak.

Also, much like Portland, San Diego doesn't have a single good win on their resume. Also, like Portland, their performances in losses have been more inspiring than in their victories. Specifically, Thursday's game against San Diego State. The Toreros mounted a crunch time comeback that was capped by a jump-ball with four seconds remaining. The possession arrow favored San Diego but their final shot hit the rim, rather than the net.

Johnny Dee and Christopher Anderson are one of the best back-courts in the west, for the third straight season. But, aside from those two and wing Duda Sandze, there isn't anything dynamic about this team. Unfortunately their strength, the back-court, is the historic strength of WCC teams. This year, once again, the teams ahead of them have better back-courts.

Last Week: L 65-64 vs. #24 San Diego State
This Week: 12/10 vs. Pacifica (Non-Division I), 12/15 vs. UC Santa Barbara (4-3).

7. Loyola Marymount Lions (6-3)
Previously: 6th

Anthony Ireland's senior season has been stellar, as expected, but he's not the reason LMU is 6-3. Freshmen Evan Payne and Gabe Levin and sophomore transfer Ben Dickinson give the Lions a level of depth they've not had for years. In the second half against Pittsburgh, Payne single-handedly kept the Lions close enough to avoid embarrassment. Ireland led the way with 20 points, but it was Payne's flurry of mid-second half buckets helped him to his second 16 point performance of the season.

Last Week: W 73-69 at UC Riverside, L 85-68 at Pittsburgh.
This Week: 12/15 at Valparaiso (6-5).

8. Pepperdine Waves (6-4)
Previously: 8th

The Waves are shooting 50.4% from the field, the 17th best percentage in the nation and behind only Gonzaga in the WCC. However, they don't seem to care about playing defense. BYU has such a high-octane offense that the Cougars can typically outscore teams and pick up wins. Pepperdine isn't BYU. Only three teams in the country force less turnovers than the Waves.

UCLA transfer Jeremy Lane is the only bright spot on defense. When he's on the floor he blocks nearly 9% of opponent's shots, and he crashes the glass like a mad man.

Injuries have been a big problem for the Waves. Sophomore Jett Raines missed the first eight games of the season with a broken hand but he returned for the Cal State Fullerton game. Freshman Amadi Udeni started the first two games of the season but suffered a knee injury that has him sidelined for at least a month. This is a young team that has been playing without two of its best youngsters. Once their back, but especially in the seasons to come, Pepperdine should rise in the rankings.

Last Week: L 78-64 vs. Cal State Fullerton, W 75-69 at UC Irvine.
This Week: 12/15 at Washington State (4-4).

9. Santa Clara Broncos (3-5)
Previously: 10th

Santa Clara is doing about as well as anyone could have hoped. No team had to replace more points lost this off-season than the Broncos who lost three players each with over 1,000 career points. Evan Roquemore, the team's lone returning 1,000 point scorer, missed the first two weeks of the season with a back injury. Now that he's back, he and junior shooting guard Brandon Clark are leading the way for the team. With him back, the Broncos are a much better team. He's why they've vaulted San Francisco.

Head coach Kerry Keating has brought in a large and talented freshman class led by Jared Brownridge. Like Pepperdine, this is a team that is built for the future. Any success they have now is a bonus. An 18 point win on the road, even if just at CS Bakersfield, is a pretty good bonus.

Last Week: W 60-42 at Cal State Bakersfield, L 64-53 at Cal Poly.
This Week: 12/14 vs. La Sierra (Non-Division I).

10. San Francisco Dons (5-4)
Previously: 9th

Why is an above .500 San Francisco team ranked below a two games below .500 Santa Clara team? Because Rex Walters' Dons are falling apart. They have by far the worst defense in the WCC and one of the worst in the nation. They're without their star senior point guard, Cody Doolin, who decided to leave the team after being involved in a physical altercation at practice. Yes, the Dons are literally fighting amongst themselves. Without Doolin, their offensive numbers are steadily declining.

Two national championship banners hang from the rafters at War Memorial Gymnasium. But, over the past few seasons, players have been fleeing the prestigious program at an embarrassingly high rate. After a 20 win 2012 campaign capped with a berth in the CBI, the Dons lost six players to transfer.

This is a talented Dons team that I picked to finish third in the WCC this season. But now, I have lost almost all faith. Under Rex Walters, whenever things are looking up something happens that derails the Dons.

Last Week: No games.
This Week: 12/14 vs. Nicholls State (2-4)

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