There’s become a clear top tier in the West Coast Conference this season. BYU, Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, and San Diego find themselves, roughly a third of the way through the season, tied for first place with 8-2 records. Beyond that, though, the conference looks weak and quite muddy, as you’ll see in our rankings.
Team of the Week
G: James Batemon, Loyola Marymount Lions
Averaged 25.5 points and 5.5 assists over two games last week.
G: TJ Haws, BYU Cougars
The sophomore slump was short lived. Haws averaged 22 points over two games last week.
G: Elijah Bryant, BYU Cougars (third appearance)
17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists against Illinois State. So close to a triple-double.
F: Isaiah Pineiro, San Diego Toreros
Averaged 19.5 points and 6.5 rebounds last week. Led USD to a win at New Mexico State with a 23-point performance.
C: Jock Landale - Saint Mary’s Gaels (third appearance)
The big man had another big game last week, with 20 points and 10 rebounds against Seattle.
Both of Gonzaga’s losses this season have come to teams ranked, at the time, in the top-10. Villanova is really, really good. That said, Gonzaga was only slightly competitive against the Wildcats in Madison Square Garden. The Zags struggled to take care of the ball and committed 19 turnovers. It’s becoming an issue for Gonzaga, as 19 isn’t even the season high (20 vs. Texas).
But when the Bulldogs don’t turn it over, they look damn good, as was the case Sunday at Washington. Six Zags scored in double figures and the team assisted on over 60 percent of its made field goals. Depth and talent.
2. BYU Cougars (8-2)
Last week: W 80-68 vs. Illinois State, W 74-68 vs. Weber State
This week: 12/16 vs. Utah
The once blistering Cougars offense, which ranked among the top-10 nationally in possessions per game in each of the past six seasons, has taken on a more slow and steady style. BYU played 70 possessions against Illinois State and 68 against Weber State. In only four games last season, three of which came against Saint Mary’s, did the Cougars play 70 or fewer possessions.
It seems to be working. The Cougars are 8-2 with no bad losses against a decent non-conference slate. It’s BYU’s best start since 2012, which was the last year the Cougars won a game in the NCAA Tournament.
3. Saint Mary’s Gaels (8-2)
Last week: W 70-54 vs. Sacramento State, W 97-73 vs. Seattle
This week: 12/16 vs. UC Irvine
Last week, the Gaels did two things they had yet to do this season. On Saturday, they held Seattle to just 38.2 percent shooting from inside the arc. The Redhawks average 50 percent from two-point range this season. And in both games last week, they held their opponent to below 50 percent shooting from two point range. Over the first eight games of the season teams shot over 50 percent inside the arc against Saint Mary’s, and over the first nine teams shot better than their average.
This was back-to-back games with defensive improvement, but it’s not yet a trend. The Redhawks couldn’t get shots to fall, but they repeatedly blew past Gaels defenders while attacking the paint. Saint Mary’s’ offense is elite, and its scoring ability can make games like these look like blowouts, even when its defense struggles to stop athletes from teams picked to finish in the bottom half of mid-major conferences.
4. San Diego Toreros (8-2)
Last week: W 65-60 at New Mexico State, W 79-51 vs. Northern Arizona, W 69-59 at Colorado
This week: 12/16 vs. North Texas
Last month, the Toreros went to Grand Canyon and left with a victory. Last week they went to New Mexico State and did the same. On Tuesday they went into a Pac-12 gym and took down the Colorado Buffaloes. Lamont Smith’s club has shown it can take its show on the road and shut down good teams. The Toreros are a stifling defense, ranked first nationally in three-point percentage (21.8) and second in effective field goal percentage (39.6).
Concerns that their defensive numbers were inflated because of a schedule of mostly mid- and low-major opponents are not valid. The Toreros held Colorado to just 25.9 percent shooting. This defense, and this team, is for real.
5. San Francisco Dons (5-3)
Last week: W 78-76 vs. Central Arkansas, W 81-71 vs. Eastern Washington
This week: 12/15 vs. UC Davis
A two-point win over Central Arkansas is... not very convincing. But a win’s a win and every team below them picked up a loss. There’s still no word on Charles Minlend. The all-conference sophomore has been out with an injury all season, and the Dons have been silent. The most recent article on San Francisco’s official website about Minlend was a season preview, published Nov. 6.
6. Loyola Marymount Lions (5-4)
Last week: L 94-85 vs. Portland State, W 74-57 at Cal State Northridge
This week: 12/17 at Washington
I’ve given up on trying to figure out the Lions. Two weeks ago they fell by just four points at Oregon State. Last week they hosted Portland State, and lost by nine.
7. Pacific Tigers (5-6)
Last week: L 71-67 at UC Davis, L 86-72 at Wyoming
This week: 12/16 vs. UNLV
Back-to-back road losses against decent teams. Pacific’s played UC Davis twice this season, and lost both games.
8. Portland Pilots (4-6)
Last week: L 76-66 vs. Cal State Fullerton, W 64-55 vs. San Jose State
This week: 12/16 at Seattle
The Pilots won a game against a Division I team! It took them a month, but they finally did it!
9. Pepperdine Waves (3-7)
Last week: W 70-59 vs. UC Riverside, L 78-71 vs. Long Beach State
This week: 12/16 at Belmont
In the 2014-15 season, the Waves had a really strong defense. They were third nationally in three point percentage and 47th overall in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. This year they’re 333rd, which is bottom-25.
10. Santa Clara Broncos (3-6)
Last week: W L 87-84 vs. Portland State
This week: 12/14 at USC
Two wins over Division I teams, which have a combined one win over Division I teams between them. Teams are shooting 45.7 percent from three against Santa Clara this season, which is the second-worst mark in the country.