It took just two weeks for the WCC’s perennial powers to separate from the pack. BYU fell off the pace and this year’s surprise, San Diego, came up short in a hard fought contest against Saint Mary’s.
1. Saint Mary’s Gaels (15-2, 4-0 WCC)
Last week: W 74-56 vs. Pacific, W 70-63 vs. San Diego
This week: Jan. 11 at Santa Clara, Jan. 13 at Pepperdine
The Gaels are now 2-0 against teams in the top half of the WCC standings. They’ve got a road win over BYU and picked up a comeback victory against San Diego on Saturday. The Toreros frustrated Saint Mary’s offensively, holding the pass-happy Gaels to just five assists. Saint Mary’s hadn’t been held below 10 assists in a game since the 2016 WCC Tournament Championship against Gonzaga. Five assists isn’t just a season low, it’s the worst since March 7, 2015 against Portland.
Despite that, the Gaels got the job done. Oh yeah, and they only made one-of-11 three-point shots in the game. And, again, they won. Randy Bennett’s got a lot of experienced seniors on this team who have played a ton of games together. They’ll find a way to win against any defense, except for their own but that’s a topic for a different time.
2. Gonzaga Bulldogs (14-3, 4-0)
Last week: W 89-59 at Pepperdine, W 85-66 at Loyola Marymount
This week: Jan. 11 vs. Portland, Jan. 13 at San Francisco
Remember that stretch in mid-December when Gonzaga looked unmotivated and sloppy? Well, it’s over. Gonzaga’s opened conference play with four blowout wins. The Zags have scored at least 81 points in all four games and are winning by an average of 32.8 points. Not one of those games has come against a team in the top half of the standings, but still.
Even the Zags’ reserves are dominating the competition. Rui Hachimura is averaging 13.3 points in 17.8 minutes per game. He owns the best offensive rating in conference play (152.2). Fellow reserve Corey Kispert’s offensive rating of 128.9 ranks eighth in conference play.
3. San Diego Toreros (12-4, 3-1)
Last week: W 81-74 (OT) at Portland, L 70-63 at Saint Mary’s
This week: Jan. 11 at Pacific, Jan. 13 vs. Loyola Marymount
Saint Mary’s and Portland went a combined two-of-20 from three-point range against San Diego last week. And the Gaels and Pilots rank as the two best three-point shooting teams in the WCC. San Diego came up short in Moraga, but the Toreros proved themselves nonetheless. Their defense dictated the style of play against a Saint Mary’s squad that has basically spent the past three seasons as one of the most elite offensive teams in all of basketball at any level. San Diego even led for 25 minutes and well into the second half.
Grab your calendar and circle the following dates: Jan. 20, Feb. 1, Feb. 3, Feb. 17 and Feb. 22. San Diego’s going to pick off at least one of the WCC’s big three this season.
4. BYU Cougars (13-4, 2-2)
Last week: W 69-59 at San Francisco, L 67-66 at Pacific
This week: Jan. 11 vs. Pepperdine, Jan. 13 at Santa Clara
Since joining the league in 2011 the Cougars have lost an average of 2.8 games each season to WCC teams not named Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s. We’re a quarter of the way through the WCC season and they’ve already lost at Pacific. It was a one point game, but the Tigers ran with the Cougars for the whole 40 minutes. The outcome wasn’t a fluke. BYU did not play well and Pacific did.
5. Pacific Tigers (7-10, 2-2)
Last week: L 74-56 at Saint Mary’s, W 67-66 vs. BYU
This week: Jan. 11 vs. San Diego, Jan. 13 at Portland
You have to imagine that Damon Stoudamire is pretty happy with his team’s 2-2 start to West Coast Conference play. Especially considering the Tigers had to play at Gonzaga, at Saint Mary’s and against BYU in a 10-day stretch. But it doesn’t get much easier for Pacific with the Toreros coming to town on Thursday.
6. San Francisco Dons (10-7, 2-2)
Last week: L 69-59 vs. BYU, W 80-67 at Pepperdine
This week: Jan. 11 at Loyola Marymount, Jan. 13 vs. Gonzaga
This is the resume of a middle-of-the-pack WCC team. Two wins, both against teams below them in the standings and the power rankings, and two losses, both against teams above them in the standings and the power rankings. The Dons haven’t strung together back-to-back wins, or losses, in nearly a month. They’ve got a chance to do just that this week with a trip to lowly LMU on Thursday. But if they lose that one, expect their first streak of 2018 to be of the losing variety, as a date with Gonzaga looms on Saturday.
7. Santa Clara Broncos (6-10, 3-1)
Last week: W 65-49 at Loyola Marymount, W 70-68 vs. Portland
This week: Jan. 11 vs. Saint Mary’s, Jan. 13 vs. BYU
Santa Clara, believe it or not, sits in fourth place in the WCC standings through four games. The very same team that nearly got doubled-up, 101-52, by Gonzaga and ranks 261st in KenPom, has a one game lead on BYU.
The bottom of the WCC is really bad this year.
8. Portland Pilots (6-11, 0-4)
Last week: L 81-74 (OT) vs. San Diego, L 70-68 at Santa Clara
This week: Jan. 11 at Gonzaga, Jan. 13 vs. Pacific
I know I just wrote that the bottom of the WCC is really bad this season, and Portland sits right at the bottom of the WCC standings, but allow me to present you with a hot take. Every game the Pilots play against the league’s best teams will be close and perhaps none closer than the next one.
Against BYU earlier this year the Pilots used the three ball, which they’re good at shooting, to hang with the Cougars in Provo. Then, last Thursday against the nation’s best three-point defense, they completely abandoned their trigger happy ways and went at the softer spots in the Toreros’ defense. It almost worked.
This Thursday in Spokane the Pilots won’t have to abandon the three ball, because Gonzaga’s soft spot lies beyond the arc. Portland ranks 35th in the nation in three point percentage (39.4 percent) while Gonzaga’s defense ranks 232nd.
9. Loyola Marymount Lions (5-10, 0-4)
Last week: L 65-49 vs. Santa Clara, L 85-66 vs. Gonzaga
This week: Jan. 11 vs. San Francisco, Jan. 13 at San Diego
Freshman guard Eli Scott (12.7 points per game) has been a bright spot for the Lions this season. But, against Gonzaga, he scored just six points. The future might be bright, but the present is ugly. Six straight Ls for LMU.
10. Pepperdine Waves (3-13, 0-4)
Last week: L 89-59 vs. Gonzaga, L 80-67 vs. San Francisco
This week: Jan. 11 at BYU, Jan. 13 vs. Saint Mary’s
Seven straight losses for Pepperdine. Injuries continue to plague Marty Wilson’s program. The Waves have used nine different starting lineups this season.