I love the beginning of the season. And I love this week in particular more than almost any other. After two weeks of play we’ve seen enough of every team that we need to actually value and respect the results. Even though those results are only a handful of games, and often against competition so inferior that we can’t make an accurate judgement of the teams in question.
I love it because these factors allow me to reasonably rank a powerhouse program lower than I have ever had them ranked before.
Soon enough, these early season aberrations will average out. But for now, they’re reality. The WCC is 30-10 to start the season and looks really freaking deep. Who knows how long some of these teams will stay afloat. What I do know, is that right now, deservedly, a couple relatively small schools sit above the biggest university in the league. And that’s one of the things that makes college basketball so much fun.
So, let’s get to it. Here’s everything you need to know about all ten teams from the West Coast Conference.
Team of the Week
G - Frankie Ferrari: Senior, San Francisco
Posted a 17 to 2 assist to turnover ratio last week. Unbelievably efficient to start his senior season.
G - JoJo Walker: Sophomore, Portland
Scored 23 points (6-8 from three) and had seven assists (zero turnovers) in the Pilots’ lone game last week.
G - James Batemon: Senior, LMU
Averaged 21.3 points and 6 assists over three games last week. Scored 27 points in an upset win against Georgetown, with 22 coming in the second half to seal it.
F - Yoeli Childs: Junior, BYU
Three games last week, three double-doubles. Five games this season, five double-doubles. Consistency down low for the Cougars.
F - Anthony Townes: Senior, Pacific
Averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds on 63% shooting in two wins last week.
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (3-0)
Last week: W 94-71 vs. Texas A&M
This week: Nov. 19 vs. Illinois (Maui), Nov. 20 vs. Arizona/Iowa State (Maui), Nov. 21 vs. TBD (Maui)
It took about 20 minutes for the Zags to get settled into Thursday’s tilt against Texas A&M, but once they did they ran an SEC team out of the gym. No problem. This team is scary good.
Which should make Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday a whole lot of fun. Gonzaga is taking part in an absolutely loaded Maui Invitational field. The opening game against Illinois on Monday will serve simply as an appetizer. A date with Arizona or Iowa State awaits on Tuesday before a potential match-up with Auburn or Duke in the finale. Yum.
2. Saint Mary’s Gaels (3-0)
Last week: W 73-58 at New Mexico State
This week: Nov. 19 vs. Utah State (Las Vegas), Nov. 20 vs. Arizona State/Mississippi State (Las Vegas), Nov. 24 vs. Harvard
Jordan Ford’s usage has gone way up this season, and so has his efficiency. The junior paced the Gaels with 28 points in an impressive win on the road at New Mexico State. We’re going to learn a lot about Saint Mary’s this week, as they will face three teams that are as good or better than the New Mexico State squad they just handled in Las Cruces. It’s a welcome change of non-conference scheduling philosophy from Randy Bennett. The Gaels won’t face the gauntlet that Gonzaga will this week, but if Saint Mary’s remains unbeaten at the end of this stretch it will be almost equally as impressive. This might be a reload, rather than a rebuild.
3. Loyola Marymount Lions (5-0)
Last week: W 79-64 vs. Cal State Northridge, W 65-52 vs. Georgetown (Montego Bay, Jamaica), W 65-56 vs. Ohio (Montego Bay)
This week: Nov. 21 vs. Central Connecticut, Nov. 24 vs. Florida A&M
Through two weeks, it’s LMU that owns the most impressive résumé in the West Coast Conference and it’s not even close. If the season were to end right now you’d have to put the Lions in the NCAA Tournament. They’re off to their first 5-0 start since 2003, and that unblemished record includes a true road win over UNLV and a neutral court victory against Georgetown. And, they’re doing it without stud sophomore Eli Scott. The Lions have earned their place in these power rankings.
The real question, though, is can they keep their spot at the table? The Lions are simply average, at best, on the offensive side of the ball. They’ve used strong defense to survive poor shooting performances thus far this season, and it’s worked. But, they’re also a turnover prone team that coughs the ball up, on average, one out of every four trips down the floor. That needs to change, and fast. Because LMU visits UCLA in two weeks time and that one could get ugly.
4. San Francisco Dons (4-0)
Last week: W 88-54 vs. Sonoma State, W 84-52 vs. LIU-Brooklyn (Seaside, CA)
This week: Nov. 21 vs. Harvard, Nov. 24 vs. Dartmouth
Wildfires in Northern California forced the cancellation of last week’s game against Arizona State on the Hilltop, and then forced the Dons to move Sunday’s game from San Francisco to the campus of CSU-Monterey Bay. The disasters didn’t seem to matter, on the court at least. San Francisco looks really good. The Dons own the nation’s third best effective field goal percentage defense (35.2%) and the nation’s 16th best effective field goal percentage offense (61.0%). Those numbers are staggering. And overall, the numbers associated with USF are unbelievable to the point of absurdity. Example: they’re a top-20 team in Jeff Sagarin’s rankings. All that said, the Dons have yet to play a team that is expected to be remotely respectable. That changes this week though as two packs of Ivy League nerds come to town.
5. BYU Cougars (4-1)
Last week: W 82-57 vs. Northwestern State, W 85-65 vs. Oral Roberts, W 91-60 vs. Alabama A&M
This week: Nov. 21 vs. Rice, Nov. 24 vs. Houston
Fifth? Seriously? The Cougars’ one loss of the season came against Nevada. A top-ten team. On the road. And the Cougars were in it until the end. Since then they’ve won four straight. So, again... fifth?
Well, the teams they’ve defeated are a combined 3-14 on the year and winless against Division I competition. Plus, BYU hasn’t actually looked good. The Cougars have posted an effective field goal percentage of 48.9% so far this season. That’s not awful, but it’s certainly the lowest in the Dave Rose era. And it’s certainly too low for a team that wants to, and should, make the NCAA Tournament. There’s no sugar coating this: the Cougars have played four really bad teams, at home, and have shown the same glaring weakness against all four. That’s a problem.
Will things change? Probably. Nick Emery comes back to the team in a few games, and that should help. But if the shots don’t start falling the Cougars will be in serious trouble. Plus, the easiest part of their schedule is already in the rear-view. Going forward, 27% from three over a five game stretch will absolutely not result in anything close to a 4-1 record.
6. San Diego Toreros (3-1)
Last week: L 66-63 at Washington, W 95-47 vs. San Diego Christian
This week: Nov. 20 vs. Colorado, Nov. 24 vs. Jackson State
San Diego went up to Seattle to play a team ranked in the preseason AP Poll and fell an inch short of forcing overtime. Then they went out and absolutely demolished a non-D1 crosstown rival. And here they are, two spots lower than last week. That says a lot more about the strength of the league than it does of the Toreros. As of press time, San Diego ranks No. 99 in KenPom. Only once (2003) have the Toreros finished the season as a top-100 team in KenPom’s rankings, and again, I have them as the sixth best team in this league. It’s early, and the sample size has been small for everybody, but one thing that is clear is that there are a lot of above average teams in the WCC this season.
7. Pacific Tigers (3-1)
Last week: W 91-66 vs. Cal State Stanislaus, W 83-76 at Idaho State
This week: Nov. 20 at UNLV, Nov. 22 vs. UC Riverside, Nov. 23 vs. Abilene Christian, Nov. 24 vs. Elon
The Tigers will be busy this feast week, with a roadtrip to UNLV — Pacific already has two true road wins to their name — before a back-to-back-to-back at home over the weekend. Freshman shooting guard Ajare Sanni seemed to find his role last week, scoring 25 points in 29 minutes played over two games. He played more minutes against Idaho State than he did against SIU-Edwardsville and Nevada combined.
8. Pepperdine Waves (3-2)
Last week: L 88-80 at Northern Colorado, W 74-65 vs. Towson (Nassau, Bahamas), L 88-78 vs. Georgia Southern (Nassau), W 86-80 vs. Miami (OH) (Nassau)
This week: No games
The Waves’ record makes perfect sense. Two losses away from home to quality teams. Three wins, no upsets. Lorenzo Romar’s rebuild is rolling along. The sample size is small, sure, but right now this is the best shooting team Malibu has seen in over two decades. The Waves are scoring 83.6 points per game, which ranks fourth in the WCC this season. Pepperdine could easily shoot itself up the standings.
9. Portland Pilots (2-2)
Last week: W 80-77 at Cal State Northridge
This week: Nov. 19 vs. Lewis and Clark, Nov. 21 vs. USC Upstate, Nov. 23 vs. Cal Poly, Nov. 24 vs. Texas State
The Pilots fought back to get a road win over a not good Cal State Northridge team. Now they’ll spend the week at home and take on four beatable teams. Not sure how much we’ll learn about the Pilots this week, honestly.
10. Santa Clara Broncos (0-3)
Last week: L 61-49 vs. UC Irvine, L 82-68 vs. Washington (Vancouver, BC)
This week: Nov. 20 vs. Minnesota (Vancouver, BC), Nov. 24 at San Jose State
Senior guard KJ Feagin is out indefinitely with a broken bone in his hand. Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse.