It’s State of the Union day! So, since we’re just past the halfway point of the WCC season why not take a look at the state of all ten programs in the conference heading into the home stretch of February and March?
1. No. 13 Saint Mary’s Gaels (21-2, 10-0 WCC)
Last week: W 75-62 vs. BYU, W 72-55 vs. Portland
This week: Feb. 1 vs. San Francisco, Feb. 3 at San Diego
The good: Jock Landale (22.1 PPG, 10.4 RPG) is the clear favorite for WCC Player of the Year, but the Gaels are so much more than the Aussie center. He scored a season-low six points Saturday, and Saint Mary’s still won comfortably. This is the fourth-most efficient offensive team in the country and is steadily improving on the defensive end. In conference play only Gonzaga and Pacific have averaged over one point per possession against Saint Mary’s.
The bad: While they’ve won a program record 16 consecutive games, which ranks as the second longest active streak in the country behind only Purdue’s 17 straight, we can’t forget about those Thanksgiving weekend losses in the Wooden Legacy to Washington State and Georgia. Randy Bennett has since made adjustments, and the Gaels are not the same team they were then, but those losses are forever on this squad’s resume. That Washington State loss in particular is going to really hurt on Selection Sunday.
Outlook: It’s not unreasonable to expect this team to become the first to navigate an 18-game WCC schedule without a loss. They’ve made it this far, and the home stretch is, on paper at least, far easier than what they’ve already been through.
2. No. 14 Gonzaga Bulldogs (19-4, 9-1)
Last week: W 95-79 at Portland, W 82-73 vs. San Francisco
This week: Feb. 1 vs. San Diego, Feb. 3 vs. BYU
The good: Gonzaga’s offense is amazing. The Zags rank third nationally in points per possession (122.5) and points per game (88.2). Johnathan Williams (13.7 points per game), Killian Tillie (12.7 ppg) and Rui Hachimura (11.2 ppg) are each elite big men whose differing skill sets complement each other offensively. As a result, the Zags have made 61.1 percent of their two pointers this season, which leads the nation.
The bad: The Zags have a ton of guys who can get the job done, but nobody who seems able to put the team on his back and lead. That is especially evident on the defensive end, where a constant lack of communication, and sometimes effort, have cost the Zags many times this season. Gonzaga’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating at KenPom is the lowest it’s been since the 2007 season.
Outlook: Gonzaga’s final eight games of the season are going to be far tougher than the previous ten. The Zags have both games against BYU and a trip to Saint Mary’s left on the schedule. That said, there would need to be a complete collapse for Gonzaga to miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.
3. BYU Cougars (18-5, 7-3)
Last week: L 75-62 at Saint Mary’s, W 80-65 vs. Pacific
This week: Feb. 1 at Loyola Marymount, Feb. 3 at Gonzaga
The good: Elijah Bryant (18.2 PPG) and Yoeli Childs (17.8 PPG) have emerged as two of the five best players in the WCC this season. Beyond those two, though, the Cougars look far more solid all-around than they have in recent seasons. Abandoning the run-and-gun offense has resulted in a much more in-control approach on both ends of the floor. This may well be the best defensive team BYU has had since joining the WCC.
The bad: Getting swept by Saint Mary’s and losing to Pacific has really put the Cougars off the pace in the WCC. But, perhaps more importantly, it’s knocked them out of the at-large picture. I’m not sure that picking up a pair of wins over Gonzaga down the stretch would be enough to push BYU back on to the bubble.
Outlook: The Cougars have yet to win a regular season or tournament title since joining the WCC. The former is as good as out of reach at this point, but that latter isn’t. This team is good, but not great. Next year, though. Next year should be special.
4. San Diego Toreros (15-7, 6-4)
Last week: W 66-58 vs. Santa Clara, W 89-82 at Loyola Marymount
This week: Feb. 1 at Gonzaga, Feb. 3 vs. Saint Mary’s
The good: Transfers Isaiah Pineiro (15.9 PPG) and Isaiah Wright (14.6 PPG) have been the Toreros two best players this season. San Diego has two consistently good offensive players for the first time since the days of Johnny Dee and Christopher Anderson.
The bad: Before the calendar turned to January the Toreros built an 11-3 record, and recorded some impressive road wins, due to their defense. The Toreros held all but one of their non-conference opponents below one point per possession. In conference play, though, that defense has softened up. They’ve held WCC teams below one point per possession in just five of their ten league games to date.
Outlook: San Diego looked like an NIT team entering league play. And, honestly, the fourth best team in the WCC should always be an NIT team. But they’ve already dropped four league games, with four more against the league’s big three still to be played. Fourth best team in the WCC? Probably. NIT? Probably not.
5. Pacific Tigers (10-13, 5-5)
Last week: L 69-67 at San Francisco, L 80-65 at BYU
This week: Feb. 1 at Santa Clara, Feb. 3 at Pepperdine
The good: Pacific’s been in the WCC since 2013 and has never won more than six league games in a season. Just over half way through league play this season the Tigers have already racked up five wins. In Stockton, they’ve knocked off BYU and taken Saint Mary’s to the wire.
The bad: Despite being on track for their best conference performance, by far, since rejoining the WCC, the Tigers are three games below .500 on the season.
Outlook: This is a team that is finding its stride at the right time, but may be in too much of a hole to make anything of it in the postseason.
6. San Francisco Dons (12-11, 4-6)
Last week: W 69-67 vs. Pacific, L 82-73 at Gonzaga
This week: Feb. 1 at Saint Mary’s, Feb. 3 at Santa Clara
The good: The Dons have talent. Enough of it to field 11 different starting lineups this season, in part due to injuries, and take a winning record into February. Souley Boum (13.4 PPG) has been one of the best freshmen in the WCC.
The bad: The most talented player on their roster, preseason all-WCC sophomore Charles Minlend Jr., has been injured and is redshirting. Without him the Dons just don’t have enough to live up to their preseason expectations.
Outlook: The Dons have played pretty well against good teams this year. They’ve even taken down Nevada at Orleans Arena, site of the WCC Tournament. But now they sit in seventh place, which means no bye in the tournament. San Francisco’s season could go a few different ways.
7. Santa Clara Broncos (8-14, 5-5)
Last week: L 66-58 at San Diego, W 73-59 at Pepperdine
This week: Feb. 1 vs. Pacific, Feb. 3 vs. San Francisco
The good: KJ Feagin (17.4 PPG) ranks fourth in the WCC in scoring. He’s helped the Broncos recover from the graduation of Jared Brownridge and post a respectable .500 record in conference play.
The bad: Bad defense, bad offense and a loss to a Division II team. At least it’s only Herb Sendek’s second season.
Outlook: Santa Clara sits in sixth in the standings because the Broncos have managed to beat up on the teams below them in the standings. Unfortunately, only three of their final eight games are against such competition.
8. Portland Pilots (8-15, 2-8)
Last week: L 95-79 vs. Gonzaga, L 72-55 at Saint Mary’s
This week: Feb. 1 vs. Pepperdine, Feb. 3 vs. Loyola Marymount
The good: The Pilots are a young team with a second year head coach in Terry Porter. They played some great teams in the PK80 and have looked like a cohesive, motivated squad since. Plus, they’re loaded with shooters.
The bad: This is still a rebuilding process in its second year. Of their eight wins, three have come against non-D1 teams.
Outlook: They’re not the worst team in the WCC, and the future looks rather bright, but this season they’re stuck near the bottom. Should be a good start to the home stretch with both teams below them in our rankings, and the standings, visiting the Rose City this weekend.
9. Pepperdine Waves (4-18, 1-9)
Last week: W 71-70 vs. Loyola Marymount, L 73-59 vs. Santa Clara
This week: Feb. 1 at Portland, Feb. 3 vs. Pacific
The good: Point guard Colbey Ross (14.6 PPG) has had a stellar freshman season and Kameron Edwards (15.5 PPG) is healthy again.
The bad: Marty Wilson had the program heading in the right direction, but he’s been forced to use 11 different starting lineups this season due to injuries.
Outlook: The Waves have one win, by one point, in WCC play. It’s not looking good.
10. Loyola Marymount Lions (6-15, 1-9)
Last week: L 71-70 at Pepperdine, L 89-82 vs. San Diego
This week: Feb. 1 vs. BYU, Feb. 3 at Portland
The good: James Batemon (17.2 points per game) is the WCC’s fifth leading scorer.
The bad: LMU is a terrible defensive team having by far its worst season under fourth-year head coach Mike Dunlap.
Outlook: Dunlap has been using junior college transfers to fill out his roster since he took the job. It’s not working. The outlook for the rest of the season is bleak, and looking forward doesn’t offer much hope for Lions fans.