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WCC Power Rankings: Gaels tighten grip on the top spot

Saint Mary’s sits alone atop Gonzaga’s league. Which, you may forget, was the preseason projection.

NCAA Basketball: St. Mary's at Gonzaga
Emmett Naar and the Gaels drove past Gonzaga.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

After the biggest game of the WCC season resulted in a Saint Mary’s win in Spokane, the Gaels asserted themselves as the top team in our rankings.

1. Saint Mary’s Gaels (19-2, 8-0 WCC)
Last week: W 74-71 at Gonzaga, W 72-69 at Pacific
This week: 1/25 vs. BYU, 1/27 vs. Portland
Previous: First

They’d been atop our power rankings since the start of conference play, but last week we found out for sure. Saint Mary’s is the best team in the WCC. Though that should come as no surprise. The Gaels were No. 1 in the league’s preseason poll as well as our preseason WCC power rankings, and sat at No. 22 in the preseason AP Poll.

But then they dropped back-to-back games in the Wooden Legacy and fell out of the national conversation.

Well, after 14 straight victories and a win in Spokane last Thursday over then No. 13 Gonzaga, they’re back. Deservedly so. They went from outside the AP poll a week ago to No. 16 in this week’s.

2. Gonzaga Bulldogs (17-4, 7-1)
Last week: L 74-71 vs. Saint Mary’s, W 75-60 at Santa Clara
This week: 1/25 at Portland, 1/27 vs. San Francisco
Previous: Second

Gonzaga led Saint Mary’s by as many as 9 points last Thursday in Spokane but just couldn’t contain Jock Landale. And now the No. 15 ranked Zags, who fell just two spots in the AP Poll despite the loss, are off the pace in the WCC race with the toughest stretch yet to come.

Thursday’s game against Saint Mary’s was the Zags first of four against the league’s big three. They’ve still got both games against BYU and the trip to Moraga left on the docket. Only twice this millennium, 1999-00 and 2011-12, has Gonzaga not won at least a share of the WCC regular season title. Could we be heading for a third?

3. BYU Cougars (17-4, 6-2)
Last week: W 82-67 vs. Loyola Marymount, W 74-58 vs. San Diego
This week: 1/25 at Saint Mary’s, 1/27 vs. Pacific
Previous: Third

The Cougars have won four straight games since sophomore shooting guard Zac Seljaas returned to the starting lineup. Over those four games fellow sophomore shooting guard TJ Haws has averaged 14.8 points on 55% shooting from the field. Both Seljaas and Haws had stellar freshman seasons but have slumped as sophomores. At least until now.

Those two will need to keep up their recent form as the Cougars are looking ahead to a week that features the two WCC teams to beat them this season.

4. Pacific Tigers (10-11, 5-3)
Last week: W 92-78 vs. Pepperdine, L 72-69 vs. Saint Mary’s
This week: 1/25 at San Francisco, 1/27 at BYU
Previous: Fourth

Yep, the Tigers nearly took down Saint Mary’s in Stockton two days after the Gaels knocked off Gonzaga in Spokane. The Tigers are for real.

Don’t be fooled by their sub-.500 record. Pacific went 1-6 between December 6 and January 4. All six losses came to top-125 KenPom teams (at UC Davis, at Wyoming, vs. UNLV, at Arizona State, at Gonzaga and at Saint Mary’s). Since then they’ve gone 4-1 with a win over BYU and no bad losses (vs. Saint Mary’s). Yep, the Tigers are for real. At least relative to the WCC.

5. Santa Clara Broncos (7-13, 4-4)
Last week: W 65-62 at San Francisco, L 75-60 vs. Gonzaga
This week: 1/25 at San Diego, 1/27 at Pepperdine
Previous: Eighth

Believe me, I didn’t see this one coming either. The Broncos have been bottom-dwellers all season long. After the opening weekend, Santa Clara sat at No. 4 in our power rankings. Since then they’ve come in dead last on four occasions and have climbed no higher than No. 7, until now.

They’ve risen for three reasons. One, the bottom half of the WCC sucks. Two, the decent teams in the middle of the pack, namely San Francisco and San Diego, have struggled of late. And, three, Santa Clara’s actually performed about as well as you could expect. The Broncos have only lost to Gonzaga (twice), BYU and Saint Mary’s.

6. San Francisco Dons (11-10, 3-5)
Last week: L 65-62 vs. Santa Clara, W 80-73 vs. Pepperdine
This week: 1/25 vs. Pacific, 1/27 at Gonzaga
Previous: Sixth

San Francisco’s strongest on the defensive side of the ball. They nearly beat Santa Clara on Thursday, but gave up 23 points to KJ Feagin. Then on Saturday, they let Pepperdine score 73 points. The Waves went eight straight games without hitting 70 points before last week. So, while San Francisco might be better on defense than on offense, it’s safe to say they’re not very good on either end of the floor.

7. San Diego Toreros (13-7, 4-4)
Last week: L 55-49 vs. Portland, L 74-58 at BYU
This week: 1/25 vs. Santa Clara, 1/27 at Loyola Marymount
Previous: Fifth

The slide continues.

Entering conference play the Toreros, off to the best start in the program’s Division I history, looked entrenched as the best team outside of the league’s big three. Well, they’ve gone 1-4 over the past two-and-a-half weeks and looked especially rattled last week. Portland held the Toreros to a season low 49 points last Thursday. And Portland gave up 81 points to San Diego up in the Rose City back on January 4. Which, in retrospect, might have been a bit of a sign of things to come for the Toreros. San Diego needed overtime to get past the Pilots in that one. It’s been all downhill since.

8. Portland Pilots (8-13, 2-6)
Last week: W 55-49 at San Diego, W 72-65 at Loyola Marymount
This week: 1/25 vs. Gonzaga, 1/27 at Saint Mary’s
Previous: Ninth

Here’s where the line between power rankings and resume rankings gets blurred. Portland picked up a pair of road wins, including an impressive one at San Diego, last week. Yet they’re still behind the Toreros. Portland had a good week, but their performance over the course of the season hasn’t yet been enough to justify jumping a team with five more wins and one less loss than them. If they get a win this week, which would mean taking down either Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s, we’ll revisit this topic. Until then, Portland looks like a team with a lot of potential in the seasons to come.

9. Loyola Marymount Lions (6-13, 1-7)
Last week: L 82-67 at BYU, L 72-65 vs. Portland
This week: 1/25 at Pepperdine, 1/27 vs. San Diego
Previous: Seventh

Fourth year head coach Mike Dunlap has the worst roster in the WCC. He’s a former NBA head coach, in his fourth season at his alma mater, and the only reason he’s not dead last in these rankings is that Pepperdine’s been more of an emergency room than a basketball team this season. On the bright side, there’s nowhere to go but up for this program. But, Dunlap had been improving each year until now. Not sure they’re going anywhere.

10. Pepperdine Waves (3-17, 0-8)
Last week: L 92-78 at Pacific, L 80-73 at San Francisco
This week: 1/25 vs. Loyola Marymount, 1/27 vs. Santa Clara
Previous: 10th

The Waves have lost 11 straight and are winless in WCC play. Injuries just aren’t fair. Pepperdine has totaled 50 player-games missed this season due to injury or illness. No team in the country could overcome that.