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West Coast Conference wrapup: Saint Mary’s got its signature win, San Diego continues to slide, and Pacific is the biggest surprise

Seven games in and the standings are nothing like what we would’ve expected.

NCAA Basketball: St. Mary's at Gonzaga
The Gaels sit alone on top.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Saint Mary’s Gaels 74, No. 13 Gonzaga Bulldogs 71
Pacific Tigers 92, Pepperdine Waves 78
Portland Pilots 55, San Diego Toreros 49
Santa Clara Broncos 65, San Francisco Dons 62
BYU Cougars 82, Loyola Marymount Lions 67

Saint Mary’s flips the script in Spokane

It’s become almost too easy to dump on the Gaels for never leaving California during non-conference play and putting together a really weak resume. Especially when you can look at Gonzaga’s penchant for playing big games in big places.

But over the first seven games of the West Coast Conference season, Saint Mary’s has put together the better body of work.

The Gaels have played four of the league’s five best teams already — we can’t fault them for not being able to play themselves — and sit a perfect 7-0. They’ve faced their two toughest tests of the season, games at BYU and at Gonzaga, and they’re still unblemished in conference play.

Sure, their non-conference schedule was terrible and their two losses (Washington State and Georgia) are bad. But what they’ve done since has erased any doubt. This team is good. It can win on the road in hostile environments. An at-large berth, despite everything that happened during the non-conference, seems more likely than not.

New low for the once high Toreros

Just two weeks ago, San Diego sat at 12-3 and was off to its best start in the program’s Division I history.

The Toreros have won just one of their four games since. It didn’t seem like a stumble when they lost at Saint Mary’s in a hard-fought game. You could’ve even kept the rose-colored glasses on after then they fell to Pacific on the road. Road games in conference, whatever.

But their rebound, a four-point home win over an LMU team that is perhaps the WCC’s worst, was far from inspiring.

Thursday night, they lost to a Portland that owned just three wins over D-I competition at tip time. Even worse, they scored a season-low 49 points. At home. And Portland’s the second-worst defensive team in the WCC according to KenPom (316th nationally).

Surprising Tigers keep on winning

Pacific sits at 5-2 in WCC play. The Tigers were picked to finish eighth in the preseason and they are third right now. Their 10-10 record doesn’t match up to fellow 5-2 team BYU’s 16-4 mark overall, but the Tigers own the tiebreaker by virtue of their win over the Cougars.

Pacific beat Pepperdine by 14 points Thursday night. It has defeated the three worst teams in the league and won those games by an average of 10.7 points. The Tigers’ two losses came at Gonzaga and at Saint Mary’s, places I wouldn’t pick any team other than those two to win at. And they’ve taken down BYU and San Diego at home. Not bad.

Historically, though, it’s a lot more than not bad.

Since rejoining the WCC in 2013 — Pacific was a founding member of the conference, but left for the Big West in 1971 — the Tigers have won a total of 20 league games, with no more than six coming in any single season. They’ve got five with 11 games left to play. And, again, they were picked to finish eighth.