Team of the Week
Guard: Joe Rahon — Saint Mary’s Gaels
Nine assists to just one turnover against Pacific. Then a 22 point, five assist, one turnover performance against Pepperdine.
Guard: Jared Brownridge (third appearance) — Santa Clara Broncos
24 points per game last week earns the high-scoring senior a second straight team of the week honor. His step-back three with less than three seconds to play gave the Broncos a win over LMU on Saturday.
Forward: Brett Bailey (second appearance) — San Diego Toreros
The senior wing went for 23 points and nine rebounds in a win over LMU, then got 18 and eight in a loss to San Francisco.
Forward: Lamond Murray Jr. (fourth appearance) — Pepperdine Waves
Against two of the WCC’s best teams, BYU and Saint Mary’s, the senior averaged 26 points per game. Big stages, big performances.
Forward: Eric Mika (fourth appearance) — BYU Cougars
Two more double-doubles last week (22 and 10, 17 and 12) give the sophomore seven straight and 13 this season.
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (19-0, 7-0)
Last week: W 88-57 at Santa Clara, W 73-52 vs. Portland
This week: 1/23 at Portland, 1/26 vs. San Diego, 1/28 at Pepperdine
Members of the media and fans alike ask the same thing seemingly every year: “Is this the best team Mark Few has ever had?” It’s a pretty dumb question, honestly. Not as dumb as, “will this be the team that finally makes a Final Four,” but it’s close.
There is something superlative about this squad though: it’s the best defense Mark Few has ever had.
Gonzaga is a program known for efficient teams and prolific scorers. In the KenPom era (since 2001-02) Mark Few’s teams have finished outside of the top-30 in adjusted offensive efficiency just four times. Before this season they had finished inside the top-30 defensively just four times. As of press time the 19-0 Zags’ defensive efficiency rating of 89.2 ranks fourth in the country. That’s the best mark ever for a Mark Few-coached team.
And they’ve gotten here by shoring up the program’s long-time Achilles heel. The same one that bit them as a one seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament when Wichita State, a team that didn’t take or make many threes, went 14-for-28 from behind the arc and pulled off an upset win.
The Zags are holding teams to a paltry 29.3 percent from three (eighth nationally). Last Saturday they held Portland to just three-of-12 from long range.
2. Saint Mary’s Gaels (17-2, 7-1)
Last week: W 62-50 vs. Pacific, W 85-65 vs. Pepperdine
This week: 1/26 vs. San Francisco, 1/28 at Santa Clara
That 85-point performance against Pepperdine was the second highest scoring game of the season for Saint Mary’s — a 110-72 throttling (in 70 possessions !!!) of Prairie View A&M back on November 16 is clearly an outlier for the Gaels. Randy Bennett’s team is an elite offensive unit that doesn’t end up in high-scoring games because of a slow, deliberate style of play.
Saint Mary’s has been responsible for the fewest possessions in a game this season for the following teams: Nevada (59), Dayton (62), UAB (59), Stanford (58), Western Kentucky (58), Texas A&M Corpus Christi (60), South Carolina State (60), San Diego (57), BYU (62), San Francisco (60), Gonzaga (59) and Pacific (51).
The Gaels held San Jose State and UC Irvine to just 62 points, the second fewest possessions in a game for both of those teams. Their season lows came against Santa Clara (60 and 61 possessions, respectively). Saint Mary’s travels to Santa Clara Saturday.
3. BYU Cougars (15-6, 6-2)
Last week: W 99-70 vs. Pepperdine, W 62-47 at Pacific
This week: 1/26 at Santa Clara, 1/28 vs. Loyola Marymount
The Cougars are the only team to rank among the top-15 in scoring each season since 2009. Their trademark uptempo style of play, currently the fourth fastest team in the country per KenPom, leads to a lot of points. But for as speedy as BYU can be with the ball they can be amazingly bad at forcing other teams to play with pace.
Lowly Pacific held the Cougars to just 66 possessions on Saturday, nearly ten shy of their average. As a result, BYU scored just 62 points, six points fewer than their previous season low of 68. If Pacific wasn’t among the worst shooting teams in the nation, Saturday’s game could have had a much different outcome.
It didn’t, and the Cougars won comfortably. But the blueprint for beating BYU is now in the hands of some very bad teams. And if Nick Emery (14.5 ppg) is out for any time with a knee injury he suffered Saturday, those teams might actually have a chance at an upset.
4. Santa Clara Broncos (11-10, 5-3)
Last week: L 88-57 vs. Gonzaga, W 64-63 vs. Loyola Marymount
This week: 1/26 vs. BYU, 1/28 vs. Saint Mary’s
I had the Broncos third last week, in part due to BYU’s slip-up in San Diego. But it was also because I think the Broncos, who have been trending up since KJ Feagin’s return from injury, are on the same level and similar trajectory as the Cougars right now.
Well, if the Broncos are going to prove me right now is the time. They host BYU Thursday and Saint Mary’s Saturday. Herb Sendek’s group could solidify its position near the top of the standings or plummet into the messy middle of the pack, all depending on how this week goes.
5. San Francisco Dons (14-7, 4-4)
Last week: W 75-50 vs. Portland, W 60-43 at San Diego
This week: 1/26 at Saint Mary’s, 1/28 at Pacific
Fifth place in the standings and fifth place in the rankings. Losses to teams sitting in first, second, third and fourth place. Wins over teams in sixth, seventh and ninth. We’re far enough into the season to peg the Dons as clearly better than the teams below them, but not on par with any team above them. Those wins over Utah and Illinois State on a neutral floor in Hawaii mean that come WCC Tournament time you won’t want to be looking past the Dons, regardless of seeding.
6. San Diego Toreros (10-10, 3-5)
Last week: W 69-62 at Loyola Marymount, L 60-43 vs. San Francisco
This week: 1/26 at Gonzaga, 1/28 at Portland
I have no idea what to make of this team.
San Diego lost to San Francisco, scoring just 43 points. On the very same floor exactly one week prior the Toreros beat BYU. Honestly, the most impressive thing from last week involving the Toreros may be that they managed to beat LMU by more than one possession.
7. Loyola Marymount Lions (9-10, 2-6)
Last week: L 69-62 vs. San Diego, L 64-63 at Santa Clara
This week: 1/26 vs. Pacific, 1/28 at BYU
November 17: 65-62 loss to Connecticut.
December 5: 80-79 loss to Boise State.
December 10: 69-68 win over Cal. State Northridge.
December 17: 91-90 win over Incarnate Word.
December 19: 69-66 win over Colorado State.
December 22: 80-77 loss to UT Arlington.
January 5: 71-70 loss to Pepperdine.
January 14: 79-78 win over Portland.
January 21: 64-63 loss to Santa Clara.
Nine games decided by one possession this season, six of which have been decided by one point. Look at the teams on that list, there are some good ones (UT Arlington, Santa Clara) and some bad ones (Incarnate Word, Pepperdine). The Lions can hang with anybody and lose to anybody. It’s weird.
8. Pacific Tigers (8-13, 2-6)
Last week: L 62-50 at Saint Mary’s, L 62-47 vs. BYU
This week: 1/26 at Loyola Marymount, 1/28 vs. San Francisco
The Tigers’ game plan against BYU on Saturday was pretty close to perfect. They slowed the game down, didn’t foul much and kept BYU below one point per possession. Unfortunately, the Tigers couldn’t really score either. They connected on just 31 percent of their shots from the field. So it goes for a team with the 12th worst effective field goal percentage in the country (44%).
9. Portland Pilots (9-10, 2-5)
Last week: L 75-50 at San Francisco, L 73-52 at Gonzaga
This week: 1/21 vs. Gonzaga, 1/26 at Pepperdine, 1/28 vs. San Diego
2017 has been nothing but cruel to the Pilots. When the year began, first year head coach Terry Porter had led Portland to a solid 9-5 (2-0) record.
Since then, though, they’ve reeled off five losses and are looking at their sixth-straight with Gonzaga visiting Monday night. The biggest loss of all happened late in Thursday’s game at San Francisco when Alec Wintering (19.5 ppg, 5.6 apg) went down with a knee injury. The Pilots announced Saturday that the senior point guard had torn his ACL, prematurely ending a stellar college career.
10. Pepperdine Waves (5-15, 1-7)
Last week: L 99-70 at BYU, L 85-65 at Saint Mary’s
This week: 1/26 vs. Portland, 1/28 vs. Gonzaga
Senior point guard Jeremy Major became the Waves’ all-time leader in assists on Thursday. Major spent most of his career with fellow senior Amadi Udenyi coming off the bench. Udenyi was averaging 5.3 assists per game before suffering a season ending injury just five games into the season. The Waves were 4-1 when they lost Udenyi.
@WillsWCCblog Or, would Amadi have broken the record first if not for his three separate injuries?— Roger Horne (@PepperdineRoger) January 20, 2017
Amazing how much an injury can change not just a season but a program’s record book as well. If Udenyi comes back next season the Waves could well end up with two members of the same recruiting class finishing first and second all-time in the same statistical category.