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Mid-Season WCC Power Rankings

Nine games gone, nine games to go. Where do the ten WCC teams stand half-way through the conference season?

Gonzaga is happy atop the West Coast Conference.
Gonzaga is happy atop the West Coast Conference.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs

20-1 (9-0), RPI: 7*, KenPom: 3, AP: 3

Spots two through ten can be debated but the top spot without question belongs to the Zags. In conference play Gonzaga has outscored its opponents 710-555, which averages out to roughly 16 point victories each night. That large point differential comes thanks to playing, far and away, the most efficient offense and defense in the conference. The Zags on average score 1.2 points per possession and give up just 0.9 in conference play, both marks rank first among WCC teams.

Gonzaga hasn't lost yet, but more impressively they haven't even struggled. Pepperdine came within two points of an upset, but it wasn't because the Waves shut down the Zags. Gonzaga scored 1.2 points per possession (their season average) against the Waves. No team this season has scored more points/possession against Pepperdine than Gonzaga did on that night.

You might, on a good night, be able to keep up with the Zags but you can't shut them down.

2. Saint Mary's Gaels

16-4 (8-1), RPI: 49, KenPom: 53

The Gaels lone conference loss came at Gonzaga. It was an embarrassing display. Aside from that one game, the Gaels have been able to take care of business with relative ease. They rank third in the conference in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They're a well built, balanced and veteran team that has everything necessary to beat every team below them in the standings.

With the hostile northwest road trip out of their way, and their final game against Pepperdine happening in Moraga, the Gaels have just one remaining tough road game coming at BYU. Considering how well they played the Cougars — no team has posted a better offensive efficiency rating against BYU this season — that might not even be too difficult.

Saint Mary's has proven itself to be the second best team in the conference this season. However, the Gaels don't inspire much confidence against good teams from other leagues.

3. BYU Cougars

15-7 (5-4), RPI: 62, KenPom: 39

Unlike Saint Mary's, BYU is a team that can play with the big-boys from around the country. Inside WCC play, though, they just aren't quite as good for some reason. I debated BYU and Saint Mary's for a long time before settling on the Cougars at number three. If this was a ranking of how well I think these teams would fare, should they make the NCAA Tournament, BYU would easily be at number two.

The Cougars' hyperspeed tempo led them to a 10-3 record entering conference play. Only twice in the non-conference were they held below 70 possessions. Both were by teams that know the Cougars well, in-state rivals Weber State and Utah. In conference play, however, WCC teams have had three years to familiarize themselves with BYU's run-and-gun style. In five of their nine conference games the Cougars have been held below 70 possessions.

In conference play they face team that know how to stop the Cougars from scoring. If you don't let the Cougars play at break-neck speed, then you have a chance to keep up with them. Just ask San Diego, a team with the worst offense in WCC play, who put up 77 points on the Cougars this past Saturday.

4. Pepperdine Waves

12-8 (5-4), RPI: 161, KenPom: 95

The Waves began conference play on a tear, winning four of their first five and leading for the entire 40 minutes against BYU. Their stifling defense, particularly behind the arc where they hold teams to the nation's second lowest three point percentage, made up for a less-than-stellar offense.

Recently, things have changed. Their offense seems to have disappeared, and their defensive prowess has faded. Currently on a streak of three straight games held below one point per possession, with those games coming against the teams ranked 6th, 7th and 8th in the WCC in defensive efficiency.

Pepperdine seems to be sputtering through the heart of conference play. For now, that win over BYU and near-upset of Gonzaga keep the Waves in the top-four, but the rest of the league is nipping on their heels.

5. Santa Clara Broncos

11-10 (5-4), RPI: 154, KenPom: 196

The Broncos are on a three game conference winning streak. Granted, those three wins have come at home, but the Broncos are doing exactly what they need to do to finish in the top-six of the conference standings — which assures them of a first round bye in the WCC tournament and keeps the top-two seeds away until the semifinals.

They're two games ahead of the three-way tie for sixth place, and have only dropped one game to a team below them in the standings (at Portland on January 8th).

Their efficiency on both sides of the ball is slowly rising. This is a young team, and it looks to be coming into its own at a pretty opportune time.

6. Portland Pilots

12-9 (3-6), RPI: 156, KenPom: 152

What the heck happened to the Pilots?

This was a team that entered WCC play with a solid record of 9-3. They've gone 3-6 since and have just one win over a team above them in the standings.

Last year's leading scorer, Kevin Bailey, missed eight games from early December thru early January. His return has not sparked the Pilots offense as many expected it would. Maybe the most important roster shake-up this team has faced this year was the loss of back-up big Riley Barker. Barker went down for the season the same game Bailey made his return. Barker was an integral part of the Pilots' rotation and gave them the WCC's second (after Gonzaga) most imposing front line.

While their offense has been stagnant, the defense has fallen apart. The Pilots gave up more than 1.1 points per possession on just two occasions in the non-conference. In conference play, they've given up less than 1.1 points per possession just twice. Complete reversal of fortune on defense.

If the defense isn't fixed, this team is primed for a nose-dive.

7. San Francisco Dons

9-12 (3-6), RPI: 190, KenPom: 141

The Dons' season hasn't lived up to expectations. A return trip to the NIT isn't in the cards this season, despite Rex Walters having the requisite talent.

San Francisco's most obvious deficiency is at the charity stripe. This season, though they've improved slightly since the start of conference play, the Dons are shooting just 60.7% from the free throw line. That wouldn't be too much of a problem if the Dons weren't so good at drawing fouls. They rank 65th in the nation in free throw rate (pretty good) but just 240th in percentage of scoring coming from the free throw line. That's a lot of empty trips.

Contributing to the Dons' low spot in the standings was a brutal four game losing streak that saw trips to Spokane, Moraga and a visit from BYU. They've rebounded somewhat since then, going 2-2, but there is nothing about this team to suggest any sort of consistency can be expected.

They've improved as Devin Watson has increased his minutes at the point. It's hard to ask a freshman to step up and save a season, though.

8. San Diego Toreros

10-11 (3-6), RPI: 174, KenPom: 123

San Diego is one of the best defensive teams out West. It would seem, then, that in the conference with the highest shooting percentage in the nation, that defense would serve them well. It would, if the Toreros offense didn't look like an NAIA team playing an exhibition against Kentucky.

Whenever one highly touted squad faces off against a much lesser foe the play-by-play guy picks out one or two guys on the team expected to lose and points out just how dangerous they could be. You might hear something like, "he's got the talent to play at this level!"

San Diego has two of those guys, whose talents lie mostly on the offensive end interestingly enough. Johnny Dee form one of the nation's best backcourt tandems, just as they have for the past four seasons. Unfortunately there is almost nobody else in San Diego who can score. Not just on the Toreros, but San Diego State sucks at scoring as well. Too much sunshine? We may never know.

San Diego's lock-down defense is good enough that this team will occasionally seem much, much better than it is.. They held Gonzaga to a season low 60 points back in late December. They, as was the case all year long, just couldn't score the ball totaling a far-from-adequate 48 points. Those rare moments when the offense is able to shoot, however, combine with that smothering defense for a weird upset. Like on Saturday when they hung 77 on BYU to pick up a win.

9. Loyola Marymount Lions

6-15 (2-7), RPI: 221, KenPom: 231

First year head coach takes over a program, a program that hasn't been much since the early '90s, that just lost it's once-in-a-generation point guard to graduation. A six and 15 record in the last week of January isn't actually all that bad, considering the circumstances.

Mike Dunlap seems to have figured out his new team, and has the Lions on what could be the start of a steady climb out of the conference cellar. The first step in that direction was not playing leading scorer Evan Payne in the Lions' game at BYU. Payne, a sophomore shooting guard who takes a higher percentage of his team's shots than any player in the conference (17th nationally), has been coming off the bench ever since.

The Lions are a significantly better team as a result. In the games with Payne coming off the bench LMU is 2-2, with one of those losses coming against Gonzaga.

Junior forward Marin Mornar has stepped up and filled the void left by Payne. He moved into the starting line-up against BYU, where he has stayed since, and is averaging 14.4 points per game over the past five. His career high prior to that stretch was 13.

10. Pacific Tigers

10-11 (2-7), RPI: 195, KenPom: 218

This is exactly where everybody outside of Stockton, Calif., expected the Tigers to be.

Just like last season Pacific entered the conference season well above .500 but spent the month of January careening towards a losing record. This year's group is not the same team as last season's, and they're already two games below .500 as a result.

The Tigers just might not be ready for the rigors of WCC play compared to their former home in the Big West.

If offensive rebounds weren't a thing, this team would be below average in pretty much every possible way. They're slow, not great at scoring and really bad on defense. KenPom projects just two more wins this year, at home against LMU and Portland.

This is a young team, that lost seven seniors last off season, and this is where everyone expected they would be.

*All RPI and KenPom rankings accurate as of late January 25th/early January 26, they will obviously change over time.