This is Gonzaga’s league. It has been for a while now. But normally, Saint Mary’s and BYU try to make it interesting.
Not this year.
The West Coast Conference’s perennial challengers have each plummeted to all time lows in our power rankings. Meanwhile, a trio of other teams have been more than ready to step up and take the place vacated by the Gaels and Cougars.
Team of the Week
G - Josh Perkins: Senior, Gonzaga
The redshirt senior leader dished out 19 assists to just two turnovers last week.
G - Frankie Ferrari: Senior, San Francisco
A five to one assist to turnover ratio last week as the Dons impressed in Northern Ireland.
G - Zach Norvell: Soph., Gonzaga
Tied his career high with 28 points as the Zags came back to beat Creighton on the road over the weekend.
F: Rui Hachimura: Junior, Gonzaga
Averaged 20 points over two games last week for the best team in the country.
F - Brandon Clarke: Junior, Gonzaga
Sneakily putting up WCC MVP numbers so far, Clarke averaged 22.5 points and nine rebounds last week.
The Zags survived a challenge from a sharpshooting Creighton squad on Saturday in the team’s first true road game of the year. Gonzaga struggled for the first 25 minutes before turning it on down the stretch. It was the Zags’ second straight game scoring over 100 points, and fourth of the season. There is no offense in college basketball as efficient (1.283 points per possession) or as potent (98.4 points per game) as the Zags have been against Division I competition this season.
They’ve done this against some real tough competition, too. And it’s not going to let up anytime soon. The Zags host a preseason top-25 team on Wednesday before traveling to Phoenix to face off against a preseason top-10 team on Sunday. A week after that it’s off to Chapel Hill for a date with North Carolina. Once that game goes final the Zags will have faced eight teams in the top-100 of KenPom — six of which are in the top-50, three in the top-25 and two in the top-10 and one, Duke, which sits atop the rankings — over the first 11 games of the season. Brutal.
2. San Francisco Dons (7-1)
Last week: W 76-58 vs. Stephen F. Austin, L 85-81 vs. No. 21 Buffalo
This week: Dec. 5 at California
Personally, I’m normally wary of mid-major teams that build impressive records by playing strong defense. To me, it’s easier to appear strong defensively when you’re feasting on the poor shot making teams that populate the mid-major ranks.
There are exceptions to every rule, though, and San Francisco is one here. The Dons are legit and so is their defense. Yeah, they gave up 85 points to Buffalo in Belfast over the weekend, but look deeper. They held the Bulls to 1.1 points per possession. West Virginia, with its vaunted and scary defense, was ranked No. 13 in the nation when the Bulls beat the Mountaineers earlier this year in Morgantown. West Virginia allowed 1.14 points per possession in that one.
It helps when you have bigs like San Francisco’s to anchor your defense. It’s also helpful when they’re more than just defensive-minded. The Dons shot 75% from two-point range against SFA, then shot 65.1% against Buffalo. On the season, San Francisco has connected on 60.4% of their twos. Which ranks fifth in the nation (Gonzaga is first at 63.7%).
3. San Diego Toreros (6-2)
Last week: L 93-86 at Mississippi, W 74-70 vs. Long Beach State
This week: Dec. 5 at San Diego State, Dec. 9 vs. Cal State Northridge
On the surface, San Diego lost a winnable game at Mississippi before narrowly avoiding what would be a horrible loss at home to LBSU. But, they got only three minutes out of Yauhen Massalski. The 6-foot-10 sophomore center went down with a right ankle sprain early in the game against Ole Miss, and the Toreros kept it close. Even without his inside presence and solid season averages (7.6 points and 7.3 rebounds). Don Norcross reported that Massalski’s status is day-to-day, which bodes well for the Toreros. Still lacking a signature win for the season, the Toreros get another shot against crosstown rival San Diego State on Wednesday.
4. Loyola Marymount Lions (8-1)
Last week: W 106-50 vs. Bethesda, L 82-58 at UCLA
This week: Dec. 5 at Cal State Fullerton
LMU blew out a non-D1 team but then got absolutely worked by UCLA. It wasn’t good. The Lions looked awful.
I can't tell you how many times the Lions got an open look in the corner but drove the baseline rather than shooting the three. It never worked. It never would. This is equal parts bad coaching and bad decision making by the shooters. Awful night.— Will Maupin (@willswccblog) December 3, 2018
They’re 8-1, and there are good wins on the resume, but Sunday’s showing was telling. The Lions are a grind-it-out kind of team; they’re what I worried San Francisco was. And they’ve got very little going for them on the offensive end.
5. Pepperdine Waves (5-2)
Last week: W 97-82 vs. Idaho State, W 77-62 vs. Abilene Christian
This week: Dec. 3 vs. Cal State Northridge, Dec. 6 at UC Riverside, Dec. 8 vs. Jackson State
The Waves have won three straight games and they’ve done so without star junior forward Kameron Edwards (17.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg), who is out with injury. Sophomore point guard Colbey Ross (19.3 ppg) has been the spark plug all season, but he’s been playing more as a scorer than a distributor. Over the past few games he’s been able to do a bit of both. He dished out 11 assists with zero turnovers against Idaho State.
Pepperdine has a busy week ahead, but all three games are against teams ranked below 300 in KenPom with a combined record of 3-19 vs. D1 competition. The Waves won six games last year. They could, nay, they should, be sitting with eight wins by this time next week.
6. Saint Mary’s Gaels (4-4)
Last week: L 80-75 vs. UC Irvine, W 84-71 vs. California
This week: Dec. 4 vs. Bethune Cookman, Dec 7 vs. New Mexico (Los Angeles)
There are two takeaways from the Gaels’ 4-4 start to the season. First, they haven’t stumbled out of the gate like this in a really long time. Last season Saint Mary’s didn’t pick up its fourth loss until Feb. 2 against San Francisco. The year prior it came on March 7 against Gonzaga. It was Feb. 11 the year before that, and Jan. 22 the year before, January 2 before that, Jan. 10 the year prior. You get the picture. The Gaels made it at least into conference play before picking up their fourth loss in each of the past 11 seasons. Often deep into February, too. You have to go all the way back to the 2005-2006 season to see a Gaels team hit four losses before picking up five wins.
So, it’s bad. But, it’s a rebuild. And, there are positives.
The last time this happened, like I said, was 2005. Saint Mary’s loaded up in the non-conference back then. They lost four straight games to top-75 KenPom teams. Since then, for the most part, the Gaels have played an infuriatingly easy schedule. After averaging 29.7 wins per season over the past three years, but missing out on the NCAA Tournament in two of them, the schedule has been bolstered. All four of the Gaels losses have come against top-100 KenPom teams.
7. BYU Cougars (5-4)
Last week: L 92-82 (OT) at Illinois State, L 113-103 at Weber State
This week: Dec. 5 vs. Utah State, Dec 8 vs. Utah
BYU’s return to an uptempo offense — the Cougars rank No. 11 nationally in adjusted tempo, per KenPom this season, after coming in at No. 190 last season — could not have come at a worse time. Everybody seems to be taking, and making, more threes than ever. Except for the Cougars, who have connected on just 28.3% of their shots from deep.
When you can’t hit threes, and you give your opponent tons of chances to take threes of their own, you’re putting yourself in danger. BYU has lost three straight games. The return of Nick Emery this week might not be enough. There is something fundamentally and tactically broken about this team right now.
8. Pacific Tigers (6-4)
Last week: L 81-78 (OT) at Fresno State, W 82-69 vs. Air Force
This week: Dec. 5 vs. Texas-Permian Basin
Yo, it’s December and the Tigers are playing a D-II school named after an oil field. That’s all I’m gonna say.
9. Santa Clara Broncos (3-5)
Last week: L 78-66 at California, W 81-70 vs. Jackson State, W 81-74 vs. Northern Arizona
This week: Dec. 7 vs. Idaho State, Dec. 9 vs. Sonoma State
Two straight wins. Two straight wins over terrible teams. Alright.
10. Portland Pilots (5-4)
Last week: L 93-69 at Colorado
This week: Dec. 5 at Portland State, Dec. 8 vs. Sacramento State
Honestly, I have nothing to say. This team is really bad.