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WCC Power Rankings: Looking back at non-conference play

Gonzaga’s issues finally cost the Bulldogs

NCAA Basketball: Howard at Gonzaga
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Conference play gets underway Thursday, so let’s take a look back at what every team has shown us through the non-conference portion of the schedule. Gonzaga, with the best resume and most talent, limps into league play, while the Cougars and Gaels ride long winning streaks.

Power Rankings

1. BYU Cougars (11-2)
Last week: W 85-71 vs. Idaho State, W 73-52 vs. Texas Southern
This week: 12/28 vs. Portland, 12/30 vs. Saint Mary’s
Previous: Second

The best record in the WCC at the start of conference play is owned by the Cougars, the team picked a distant third in the preseason. They’ve got two losses, neither awful, and 11 wins, none great. But the Cougars have won eight straight games and haven’t faltered at all since Thanksgiving weekend. Dave Rose’s bunch is off to its best start since joining the WCC and, in a year when Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s looked poised to run away with the league, is a legit contender in the conference.

2. Saint Mary’s Gaels (10-2)
Last week: W 69-54 vs. Dayton, W 95-69 vs. UNC Asheville
This week: 12/28 vs. Loyola Marymount, 12/30 at BYU
Previous: Third

Like the Cougars, the Gaels haven’t lost since Thanksgiving weekend. But unlike BYU, and Gonzaga for that matter, the Gaels’ losses are awful and their schedule, again, abysmal. Saint Mary’s has just one top-100 KenPom win this season, against New Mexico State, and it came way back on Nov. 13. So, why did the Gaels jump the Zags? Because they’ve been consistently good, though underwhelming, for the past month. Consistency is key.

3. Gonzaga Bulldogs (10-3)
Last week: L 72-70 at San Diego State
This week: 12/28 vs. Pacific, 12/30 vs. Santa Clara
Previous: First

The Zags have, by far, the best resume in the West Coast Conference. They’re still the favorite to win the league. They’ve got the best shot at advancing in the NCAA Tournament, as wins over No. 25 Creighton, Texas and Ohio State illustrate. And they’ve got the most talent. But over the past two weeks, they’ve been an uninspired mess. Turnovers and fouls cost them in San Diego, and very nearly let North Dakota steal a win at the Kennel. Gonzaga’s got more positives than any team in the WCC. Right now, the Zags also have as many issues as any team in the WCC.

4. San Diego Toreros (9-3)
Last week: W 94-51 vs. Life Pacific
This week: 12/28 vs. San Francisco, 12/30 vs. Pepperdine
Previous: Fourth

Lamont Smith’s team has picked up three quality road wins this year, including one over a New Mexico State team that just handed Miami its first loss of the year. The Toreros have proven to be an elite defensive team that won’t wither on the road. A three-point overtime loss at home to North Texas a couple weeks ago is the only blemish on an otherwise fine mid-major resume. There are still some question marks on the offensive end. Or, rather, they’re just not that good offensively, but that hasn’t really hurt them so far.

5. San Francisco Dons (8-5)
Last week: W 52-41 vs. Radford, L 67-65 vs. Duquesne, W 66-64 vs. Nevada
This week: 12/28 at San Diego, 12/30 at Portland
Previous: Fifth

Last week was this season in a nutshell for San Francisco. Its upset win over Nevada, in Las Vegas, wasn’t supposed to have seemed like such an upset. Not because the Wolfpack have been really, really good, but because San Francisco was supposed to be good too. Instead, they’ve dropped head-scratchers like at home to Long Beach State to start the season and last week to a Duquesne team that is far worse than its 9-4 record would lead you to believe. Plus, the Dons have been without star sophomore guard Charles Minlend all season. No update on his shoulder injury since the preseason.

6. Pacific Tigers (5-8)
Last week: L 104-65 at No. 3 Arizona State
This week: 12/28 at No. 20 Gonzaga, 12/30 vs. Loyola Marymount
Previous: Seventh

Damon Stoudamire put his team through quite a non-conference slate. Five of the Tigers’ 13 games came against top-150 KenPom teams, and three of those were road games. They lost all five, but only got blown out in the most recent. Arizona State, which sits at No. 3 in the AP Poll, has topped 90 points in all but three games this season, so it’s hard to fault the Tigers for giving up 104 points in Tempe.

7. Portland Pilots (6-7)
Last week: W 78-67 vs. Hartford, W 80-75 vs. Sacramento State (in Sacramento)
This week: 12/28 at BYU, 12/30 vs. San Francisco
Previous: Ninth

The Pilots finally have as many wins against D-I opponents as they do against non-D-I opponents. Unfortunately, those three D-I teams that have lost to Portland have a combined six D-I wins. Not exactly the cream of the crop. But, five of their seven losses have come to top-150 KenPom teams. They’ve played good teams, but have only looked good against really bad teams. Fortunately for the Pilots, the bottom half of the WCC is down this year, so they’ll have plenty more chances to look good.

8. Loyola Marymount Lions (5-6)
Last week: L 88-80 vs. Cal State Fullerton
This week: 12/28 at Saint Mary’s, 12/30 at Pacific
Previous: Sixth

Two weeks ago, the Lions lost by three at Washington. The Huskies aren’t good, but they’re a Pac-12 team in a Pac-12 gym. Last week, the Lions hosted Cal State Fullerton and lost by eight. The Titans are No. 201 in KenPom. It’s confusing.

9. Pepperdine Waves (3-9)
Last week: L 72-67 at Weber State
This week: 12/28 at Santa Clara, 12/30 at San Diego
Previous: Eighth

All three of the Waves’ wins this season have come inside Firestone Fieldhouse, where they are sub-.500 this season. Not great. But when you can’t shoot (49.4% effective field goal percentage) and can’t defend (57.1% effective field goal percentage defense), what do you expect?

10. Santa Clara Broncos (3-9)
Last week: L 75-63 vs. San Jose State
This week: 12/28 vs. Pepperdine, 12/30 at Gonzaga
Previous: 10th

Santa Clara’s got two wins over D-I teams. Northern Arizona, which ranks 328th in KenPom, and Arkansas Pine Bluff, which ranks 348th. They haven’t lost to a sub-300 team, but they have lost to three sub-250 teams, including to No. 295 San Jose State at home just last week. That’s a terrible resume.