WCC Week in Review: Cannibalism Continues

The Waves are happy, the Toreros are not. - Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

The WCC season is about one-third complete and we know almost nothing about how this league will shake out. This week's power rankings are about as similar to the preseason coaches poll as an asteroid is to a carrot.

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs, 14-3 (4-1)
Previously: 1st

The Zags went to Portland where they were made to look worse than they have in recent memory. As a result, Gonzaga is not ranked in the AP Poll for the first time since the 2011-2012 season.

Gary Bell Jr., who remains sidelined with a broken hand, was sorely missed by the team on Thursday. Bell had been spending games, since his injury against Kansas State on December 21st, wearing a bow tie on the bench. He didn't make the trip to Portland and the Zags not only played without their best defender on the floor, but without his magical aura radiating from the sideline. So, the Zags recent uptick in defensive efficiency all but vanished. They also played like a win was guaranteed, allowing the Pilots to come up with nearly every 50/50 ball.

None the less, Gonzaga is still the number on team in the West Coast Conference.

Last Week: L 82-73 at Portland.
This Week: 1/16 at Pepperdine, 1/18 at Loyola Marymount.

2. Pepperdine Waves, 11-7 (4-2)
Previously: 3rd

The Waves recorded a loss at BYU and a victory over the team sitting dead last in this power ranking, yet their week was good enough to see them jump in the rankings.

At BYU the Waves were without leading scorer Brendan Lane, fellow starter Malcolm Brooks and key reserve Nikolas Skouen. Despite that, Marty Wilson's young squad managed to hang around with the Cougars in the cavernous Marriott Center. The revenge fueled Cougars, out to avenge a December 30th loss to the Waves, were just a bit too much for a depleted Pepperdine group. In his first and only minutes of the season, true freshman Jonathan Allen was forced onto the floor due to the small roster.

All three injured players returned on Saturday against San Diego, though neither Lane nor Brooks were able to return to the starting line up.

Last Week: L 84-72 at BYU, W 69-65 at San Diego.
This Week: 1/16 vs. Gonzaga, 1/18 vs. Portland.

3. BYU Cougars, 11-7 (3-2)
Previously: 5th

The Cougars opened conference play with back to back losses at Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine. Last week they avenged both losses in Provo.

Like Pepperdine, BYU was playing without a key player on Thursday. Starting center Eric Mika was out with a hip injury. He also missed Saturday's game against LMU.

After a four game losing streak (all on the road: Utah, Oregon, LMU and Pepperdine), BYU is now on a three game winning streak. Their offense is once again humming along. During the losing streak the Cougars were averaging 77.5 points per game. During this winning streak they're averaging ten more points per game.

Last Week: W 84-72 vs. Pepperdine, W 91-68 vs. LMU.
This Week: 1/16 at San Francisco, 1/18 at Santa Clara.

4. Portland Pilots, 10-7 (2-3)
Previously: 7th

Portland played just one game this week, but it was their best game of the season. An absolute drubbing of Gonzaga was enough to convince me that, despite a sub .500 conference record, this is a top-half of the conference team right now. And, likely will be one all season long. It seems most people have forgotten that the Pilots traveled to East Lansing back in mid-November and hung around with the then #1 Michigan State Spartans for most of the game. This is a tough team. On Thursday night they showed it against Gonzaga on national television.

Last Week: W 82-73 vs. Gonzaga.
This Week: 1/16 at LMU, 1/18 at Pepperdine.

5. Saint Mary's Gaels, 13-5 (3-2)
Previously: 2nd

Randy Bennett is back on the sidelines after missing five of the Gaels last six games due to suspension. In his absence, the Gaels went 3-2. Upon his return they scored 1.47 points per possession in a beat down of cross-bay rival San Francisco.

With Bennett back, Saint Mary's will likely climb back into the top tier of the conference. However, it must be noted that the Gaels lost three straight games before Bennett was suspended. They're 4-5 (3-5 vs. D-I teams) since traveling to Hawai'i for the Diamond Head Classic. That's why they're behind teams like Portland and Pepperdine.

That and a complete meltdown in the final minutes of a home loss to Santa Clara on Thursday.

Last Week: L 57-55 vs. Santa Clara, W 88-73 vs. San Francisco.
This Week: 1/18 at Pacific.

6. San Francisco Dons, 10-6 (4-2)
Previously: 7th

I've said it before, I don't understand this team and that makes ranking them very difficult. The Dons split last week's road trip, which is pretty impressive in this year's WCC. The loss in that split was to Saint Mary's, typically the conference's second best team. San Francisco's only other loss was at Gonzaga. Those are "good losses" if you believe in such a thing (BYU fans do, hopefully).

Unfortunately, they've done nothing impressive this season. The lone possible exception being not tanking with the departure of their starting point guard, Cody Doolin, back in November. Against Division I competition the Dons are just 9-7. Two of their wins needed overtime, including last week's victory over a Tigers team that is in a tailspin.

The Dons have the offensive firepower to outscore their opponents, but they're too streaky to trust at this point. Seemingly the only constant has been guard Avry Holmes, who has yet to score less than double-figures this year. He's posted offensive ratings well above 100 in the past seven games.

Last Week: W 81-72 at Pacific (OT), L 88-73 at Saint Mary's.
This Week: 1/16 at BYU, 1/18 at San Diego.

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

Don't be fooled by the 7 next to the name, Santa Clara is playing shockingly good basketball this year. This team lost three 1,000-plus point scorers from last year, replaced them with a bunch of freshmen, and somehow sits above .500 over half way through the season. Thanks to last week's road win at Saint Mary's, they have a marquee win.

Freshman guard Jared Brownridge had a game high 23 points against the Gaels. His followup performance against pacific was possibly his worst game yet, posting seven points and five fouls. While he's been amazingly consistent (and consistently good) this season, his weekend is very representative of the team as a whole.

With so many new players, Kerry Keating's squad has yet to develop an identity. This young team has a hard time dictating the tempo. Their possessions per game so far this season range from 56 to 76.

Last Week: W 57-55 at Saint Mary's, L 80-68 at Pacific.
This Week: 1/16 at San Diego, 1/18 at BYU.

8. Pacific Tigers, 10-6 (1-4)
Previously: 8th

The Tigers aren't sinking in the rankings this week because their early season body of work is keeping them afloat.

Point Guard Sama Taku had started every game of his career at Pacific, until Saturday. Taku had a tough time adjusting to his new conference, dishing out just seven assists over those games. His benching motivated him, as he posted a team high 19 points and four assists in leading the Tigers to their first conference victory.

Picking up wins over bottom-half teams won't cut it if the Tigers want to rise in the standings, or more importantly in these rankings. Personally, I see them sinking rather than staying afloat. This is a team built for Big West, not West Coast, basketball. At media day back in October, head coach Ron Verlin told me, "I do, being realistic, think it will take a couple years to get to the top. We have to change our recruiting a little bit. We need to get bigger guards and bigger front line guys."

Last Week: L 81-72 vs. San Francisco, W 80-68 vs. Santa Clara.
This Week: 1/18 vs. Saint Mary's.

9. Loyola Marymount Lions, 10-8 (2-4)
Previously: 6th

Max Good's Lions looked like a legitimate threat to the WCC's big three when they knocked off BYU in their conference opener. That seems so long ago, as the Lions are tumbling to the tune of a four game losing streak.

What happened? Well, the Lions were a surprisingly balanced team during non-conference play. Anthony Ireland, who averaged 20.1 ppg last year, found himself surrounded by new teammates who were competent scorers. Freshmen Evan Payne and Gabe Levin, along with sophomore transfer Ben Dickinson, gave the Lions multiple options on offense. Lately though, they've disappeared. Payne did score 17 points in the loss to San Diego, but nobody else came to Ireland's aid.

Ireland is a great player -my preseason pick for player of the year- and an exceptionally talented scorer, but if he has to do it all, the Lions are in a lot of trouble.

Last Week: L 74-67 at San Diego, L 91-68 at BYU.
This Week: 1/16 vs. Portland, 1/18 vs. Gonzaga.

10. San Diego Toreros, 10-8 (1-4)
Previously: 10th

Combine one part bland resume, one part illness and one part .200 conference win percentage and you get the tenth place San Diego Toreros.

A second half comeback on Thursday gave the Toreros their first victory of the season. Duda Sanadze and Christopher Anderson led the way with 22 and 20 points respectively. In a losing effort Saturday, Gonzaga transfer Chris Sarbaugh came off the bench and hit five of six field goals for a career high 12 points.

When the Toreros high scorers are listed and Johnny Dee is nowhere to be found, that's a very bad sign. The junior shooting guard has been fighting thru a stomach illness and his play has taken a major hit. Last week he averaged 7 ppg (3 vs. LMU, 11 vs. BYU). Over the season he's averaging 17 ppg.

Last Week: W 74-67 vs. LMU, L 69-65 vs. Pepperdine.
This Week: 1/15 at Santa Clara, 1/18 at San Francisco.

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