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WCC Week In Review: Messy in the Middle

After an awful weekend, West Coast Conference teams have some explaining to do. Well, except for the Zags and Gaels. Those two teams just keep on rolling along. Oh yeah and maybe it's time to pay attention to Pacific.

Even BYU's mascot is falling in these rankings.
Even BYU's mascot is falling in these rankings.
Jonathan Daniel

1. #21 / #15 Gonzaga Bulldogs (10-1)
Previously: 1st

Gonzaga's week began on Tuesday when they defeated West Virginia for the third time in as many seasons. The trip to Morgantown was the first true road game for the team. Under Mark Few, the Zags have never played their first true road game of the season later than December 7th. Gonzaga fans are not accustomed to seeing a non-conference schedule as soft as this season's.

On Saturday, in what is typically a game featuring a ranked opponent, Gonzaga faced South Alabama for the Battle in Seattle. The Zags played excellent defense early, holding the Jaguars to just three points over the first ten minutes of play. After that fantastic start, the Zags let the Jaguars back in the game. The game showed just how important guard play is to this year's team. Kevin Pangos scored just one point in the first half (he finished with ten) but Gary Bell Jr. was there to make up for Pangos' absence. Bell, from nearby Kent, WA, led the team with 20 points.

Last Week: W 80-76 at West Virginia, W 68-59 vs. South Alabama (in Seattle).
This Week:12/21 vs. Kansas State (7-3) in Wichita.

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

Like the Zags, the Gaels played their first true road game of the season this week. Unlike the Zags, the Gaels have a collection of quality wins, which made keeping them below Gonzaga in these rankings a bit difficult. Saturday's 82-74 victory at Boise State is by far their best of the season. People around the nation have taken notice of this Gaels squad, which now ranks third in the "others receiving votes" category of both the AP and Coaches' polls.

The Gaels had no problem with the Broncos, never trailing by more than two and leading my as many as 16. Five Gaels scored in double-figures, led by Stephen Holt's 24. The surprise of this season continues to be Kerry Carter. He came off the bench, again, at Boise State and contributed 12 points on 3-6 shooting with an offensive rating of 129.

One final non-conference home game remains for the Gaels before traveling to Honolulu for the Diamond Head Classic. The program was prohibited from participating in early-season tournaments as part of the punishment for recruiting violations. However, because this tournament was scheduled before the punishment was handed down, the Gaels are allowed to participate.

Last Week: W 82-74 at Boise State.
This Week 12/19 vs. American (3-5), 12/22 vs. South Carolina (2-3) (Diamond Head Classic).

3. Pacific Tigers (8-1)
Previously: 4th

Pacific fans may disagree, but the Tigers have been by far the most surprising team in the WCC this year. Not just because they're the new kids on the block, but because this team lost its head coach and all five starters from last season. Despite all that, they're 8-1 with no bad losses plus a good win on the road at Utah State. The Tigers are doing exactly what the NCAA Tournament selection committee likes to see, playing good teams on the road. They'll travel to Las Vegas this weekend where they'll have a shot at another good win, this time against Princeton.

Because of final exams the Tigers took it easy last week. A visit from the NAIA's Menlo College was the only game on their docket.

Last Week: W 84-73 vs. Menlo College.
This Week: 12/20 vs. Princeton (8-1), 12/21 vs. Bradley (5-5). Both games in Las Vegas.

4. BYU Cougars (8-4)
Previously: 3rd

This season is beginning to feel a lot like last season for the Cougars. They do have some quality wins (Stanford, Texas and Utah State) but they've also been unable to pick up any marquee wins (Iowa State, Wichita State and UMass). Last year's Cougars ended up in the NIT because of their lack of big wins. This year, with the new American Athletic Conference stealing a bid from the at-large pool, the Cougars could be on the same path.

Don't get me wrong, this is a good team. I still feel like they're better than Pacific and should be better than Saint Mary's, but they haven't managed to prove that yet. Take this week for example. Their excellent offense was on display in an absurd victory in which the Cougars scored 100 points and nearly doubled-up Prairie View A&M. Then, against Utah, their offense disappeared. Their defense didn't disappear, because it was never there to begin with.

Their trio of Matt Carlino, Kyle Collinsworth and Tyler Haws constitute one of the best back-courts in the country. Up front, freshman Eric Mika is playing like a veteran but widely unheralded because he's not a one-and-done player. With all that talent, things should turn around, right? We'll see which Cougars show up this weekend at Oregon.

Last Week: W 100-52 vs. Prairie View A&M, L 81-64 at Utah.
This Week: 12/21 at Oregon (9-0).

5. San Diego Toreros (8-4)
Previously: 6th

San Diego lost on Sunday, but they're the best of the three WCC teams that lost on Sunday (and they lost to the best team of the three) so they jump back up into the top half of the rankings. Aside from a four point loss to Illinois-Chicago, the Toreros have lost to the teams they should have lost to and defeated the teams they should have defeated.

On Tuesday the Toreros took down their second non-Division I team of the year. Those two wins are part of a collection that includes a grand total of zero good teams.

Johnny Dee had another great week. Though, neither his 16 points against Pacifica or 18 against UC Santa Barbara were team highs. Duda Sanadze and Dennis Kramer continue to provide balance to this Toreros team that had been guard-dominated for the past two seasons.

Last Week: W 84-47 vs. Pacifica, L 72-61 vs. UC Santa Barbara.
This Week: 12/21 vs. Southern Utah (1-6).

6. Portland Pilots (6-4)
Previously: 5th

The Pilots fell in a close one to a Montana State team that, turns out, can do more than just rebound. Considering the game was in Portland, the Pilots really should have won. Instead, they saw their three game winning streak come to an end.

Kevin Bailey and Ryan Nicholas continue to carry the load for the team. But, unlike in seasons past, their supporting cast has been able to step up and support those two. Unfortunately, it was pretty much just Bailey (26 points) and Nicholas (15 points, 15 rebounds) in last week's loss.

Coming up this week, the Pilots travel to Vegas to take part in the same event as Pacific.

Last Week: L 72-69 vs. Montana State.
This Week: 12/20 vs. Bradley (5-5), 12/21 vs. Princeton (8-1).

7. Loyola Marymount Lions (6-4)
Previously: 6th

The Lions' brutal 15,000 mile road trip wrapped up on Saturday in Valparaiso for the Mid-Major Game of the Week. After going 2-4 on the trip, with losses to Northern Iowa, Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh and Valpo (all respectable), it must feel pretty good to be back in Los Angeles.

Senior point guard Anthony Ireland is the undisputed leader of this team, but the underclassmen have been the most impressive. Freshmen Gabe Levin and Evan Payne have been exceptional from day one. Levin has been starting all season while Payne won a spot over junior Chase Flint after five games. Along with those two, sophomore transfer from Binghamton, Ben Dickinson, has helped turn around a team that won just 11 games last season.

Max Good's recruiting ability is starting to show as the Lions are loaded for the future. Don't overlook them this season either, because with Ireland leading this talented group of youngsters they are poised to make some noise once WCC play rolls around.

Last Week: L 80-73 at Valparaiso.
This Week: 12/17 vs. Cal Poly (4-5), 12/21 vs. La Sierra (NAIA).

8. Pepperdine Waves (6-5)
Previously: 8th

The Waves missed out on a golden opportunity at a red line upset on Sunday. Pepperdine played the return game of a home-and-home series with Washington State (a team they defeated in Malibu last season) but couldn't overcome the Cougars.

Stacy Davis scored 12 points but was held to just two field goals. The other forward, Brendan Lane, also had an off night with just eight points and eight rebounds. Freshman point guard Jeremy Major continued his fantastic season with a team high 17 points. He's scored in double figures in over half of the Waves' games including the last four straight.

Last Week: L 78-61 at Washington State.
This Week: 12/21 vs. Houston Baptist (3-7).

9. San Francisco Dons (6-4)
Previously: 10th

The Dons had no problem handling Nicholls State, one of the most hapless teams in the nation, in their only game last week. Four of the five Dons' starters scored in double figures, led by Cole Dickerson's game high 20.

San Francisco may be rising in the rankings, but there is still reason for concern. Kruize Pinkins, who was dominant coming off the bench early in the season, has been in a bit of an offensive slump lately. He had scored in double figures over five straight games. In the past two, however, he's totaled just 13 points. He's not slacking because his rebounding numbers continue to rise.

Last Week: W 77-48 vs. Nicholls State.
This Week:12/18 at St. John's (6-3), 12/22 vs. American (3-5).

10. Santa Clara Broncos (4-5)
Previously: 9th

Kerry Keating's rebuilding Broncos had no problem taking care of the NAIA's La Sierra Golden Eagles last week. Now they look to finish the non-conference slate with a winning record as they play three games this week.

Senior point guard Evan Roquemore seems to be back at 100% after missing the first three games of the season with a back injury. He and junior Brandon Clark have been leading the team, as expected, very respectably. The key player however, is a freshman. Jared Brownridge began his career with a bang, scoring 15 or more points in each of his first five games. Once Roquemore returned to the team his numbers dwindled, but he scored the game high, 24 points, against La Sierra. If Keating can find a way to get productivity out of both Brownridge and Roquemore (who had just six points last week), this team will fare well in a major rebuilding year.

If balance can not be achieved between those two, this year may not go well. That's not to say the future isn't bright. Brownridge set the Santa Clara freshman record by making seven threes against La Sierra. Along with him, Keating brought in a large and talented freshman class this year.

Last Week: W 97-61 vs. La Sierra.
This Week:12/16 vs. Radford (6-2), 12/18 vs. Sacred Heart (2-8), 12/22 at UNLV (4-4).