We’ve reached the final week of the regular season in the West Coast Conference. Gonzaga’s alone atop the standings and in control of its destiny. Everything else, though, is pretty wild.
1. No. 6 Gonzaga Bulldogs (25-4, 15-1 WCC)
Last week: W 76-46 vs. Loyola Marymount, W 81-67 vs. Pepperdine
This week: Feb. 22 at San Diego, Feb. 24 at BYU
Days since Gonzaga last lost to a WCC team not named Saint Mary’s or BYU: 1,459.
Weeks that Gonzaga has been ranked atop our power rankings since the start of conference play: 2.
Yep, I’ve got to eat some crow. Until last week I had the Gaels ahead of Gonzaga. Even last week, after Gonzaga won in Moraga, it didn’t look like such a stupid thing to have done. But now, as is almost always the case, Gonzaga has shown me and everybody in and around the WCC who’s boss.
The situation is simple for the team from Spokane: win out and take home the regular season title and top seed in the conference tournament. But the path isn’t as easy as that giant number at the top would suggest. Gonzaga travels to San Diego on Thurdsay. The Toreros are a quality team that just beat BYU at home. Then, on Saturday, the Zags head to Provo to face BYU, which has more wins against Gonzaga (5) than any other team in the WCC since the Cougars joined the conference in 2011. For what it’s worth, Gonzaga has 12 wins over BYU during that span.
2. No. 22 Saint Mary’s Gaels (25-4, 14-2)
Last week: L 70-63 at San Francisco, W 73-61 at Portland
This week: Feb. 22 vs. Pepperdine, Feb. 24 vs. Santa Clara
Days since Saint Mary’s last lost to a WCC team not named Gonzaga or BYU: 5.
Barely a week ago the Gaels were in complete control of their destiny. Then they got pummeled by Gonzaga at home and fell into a tie atop the standings. Five days later they fell on the road at San Francisco and lost their grasp on the top spot and, for now, the top seed in the Tournament.
In both losses the Gaels saw the two pillars on which their offense stands come under attack. Gonzaga completely took Jock Landale out of the game. San Francisco held the Gaels to just seven assists. That’s less than half their average of 16 per game, and Emmett Naar alone averages 8.4 per game.
They’re still in the top-25, but another loss could put them, again, on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble despite that gaudy win total.
3. BYU Cougars (21-8, 10-6)
Last week: W 75-70 at Pepperdine, L 75-62 vs. San Francisco
This week: Feb. 22 at Portland, Feb. 24 vs. No. 6 Gonzaga
Days since BYU last lost to a WCC team not named Gonzaga or BYU: 3.
The Cougars are 2-1 over their last three games, but it hasn’t been remotely pretty. They needed overtime at home to survive a San Francisco team that’s just now returned to .500 in conference. Then they needed overtime to survive a Pepperdine team that owns just one win in WCC play. And the cherry on top was the loss on the road to San Diego. A good team, sure, but a team BYU needs to beat if it wants to be taken seriously in this league.
In six seasons in the WCC the Cougars have never finished outside of the top three in the standings. That’s a very real possibility this year, though. Pacific, currently in fourth place, is predicted by KenPom to win their remaining games which would give the Tigers an 11-7 record. If BYU drops both games this week the Cougars will finish 10-8. Even if they beat Portland they could finish tied for third but get the four seed, depending on how things shake out. Of course, a win over Gonzaga would make everything you just read irrelevant.
4. San Francisco Dons (16-13, 8-8)
Last week: W 70-63 vs. No. 15 Saint Mary’s, W 72-63 vs. Loyola Marymount
This week: Feb. 22 at Pacific, Feb. 24 vs. San Diego
They have Frankie Ferrari and you don’t.— Scott Van Pelt (@notthefakeSVP) February 16, 2018
Frankie Ferrari always had a name and last weekend he made a name for himself. He led all scorers with 20 points against No. 15 Saint Mary’s and pushed the Dons to an upset win. His seven assists in that game matched the Gaels combined output as a team. That was followed up by a 17 point, six assist performance in a win over Loyola Marymount. What’s a bigger deal: the back-to-back wins, WCC Player of the Week honors or the shout out from SVP?
Probably the wins. San Francisco is now 8-8 in league play and amazingly still mathematically in the running for a share of third place in the standings at season’s end.
5. Santa Clara Broncos (11-17, 8-8)
Last week: W 81-72 at Portland, W 72-68 at Pacific
This week: Feb. 22 vs. Loyola Marymount, Feb. 24 at No. 22 Saint Mary’s
The middle of the WCC is a muddled mess. There are three teams at 8-8 and two teams within two games of them. Like the Dons above them, the Broncos seem to be finding their footing at the right time. Back to back road wins last week stretched Santa Clara’s winning streak to three games. Most importantly, two of those three wins have come against teams they’re jockeying for position with: San Diego and Pacific.
6. San Diego Toreros (17-11, 8-8)
Last week: L 67-55 vs. Pacific, W 75-62 vs. BYU
This week: Feb. 22 vs. No. 6 Gonzaga, Feb. 24 at San Francisco
USD entered league play with the best shot of upending the conference’s traditional big three. It took 16 games, but they finally did it. Kind of. The Toreros’ stifling defense shut down BYU in the Slim Gym. They held the Cougars to a season-low 13.3 percent from three point land. BYU isn’t a great three point shooting team. This year they aren’t even a great team. But it should give the Toreros some confidence that they can salvage what looked like a season full of potential.
And they’ll need that confidence, because No. 6 Gonzaga comes to town on Thursday. San Diego was the last WCC team other than Saint Mary’s or BYU to take down the Zags, but that happened way back in 2014.
7. Pacific Tigers (14-15, 9-7)
Last week: W 67-55 at San Diego, L 72-68 vs. Santa Clara
This week: Feb. 22 vs. San Francisco, Feb. 24 at Loyola Marymount
The Tigers returned to the WCC in 2013 and in the four full seasons they had never won more than six games against conference foes in a single season. They’d never finished higher than seventh in the standings. In 2016 they self-imposed a postseason ban.
With two games left to play they’re still in the hunt for the three seed in the conference tournament and capable of finishing alone in third place, with some help. Just let that sink in for a second. No matter what happens this week the Tigers will complete their most successful conference season since leaving the Big West. Nobody saw this coming.
8. Loyola Marymount Lions (8-19, 3-13)
Last week: L 76-46 at No. 9 Gonzaga, L 72-63 at San Francisco
This week: Feb. 22 at Santa Clara, Feb. 24 vs. Pacific
Freshman forward Eli Scott scored 16 points vs. Gonzaga and 11 points vs. San Francisco. He’s been in double-figures scoring in all but two games since the start of 2018 and all but five this season. The Lions have a real talent going forward. Unfortunately for this season, they’re locked into a bottom-four seed which means no first round bye in Vegas.
9. Portland Pilots (10-19, 4-12)
Last week: L 81-72 vs. Santa Clara, L 73-61 vs. No. 15 Saint Mary’s
This week: Feb. 22 vs. BYU, Feb. 24 at Pepperdine
Four straight in the loss column for the Pilots. They’re mathematically eliminated from a first round bye in Vegas.
10. Pepperdine Waves (4-24, 1-15)
Last week: L 75-70 (OT) vs. BYU, L 81-67 at No. 9 Gonzaga
This week: Feb. 22 at No. 22 Saint Mary’s, Feb. 24 vs. Portland
Their two most spirited performances of the season came on the heels of the announcement that Marty Wilson would be let go after this season. Coincidence? Probably not. Good decision by the athletic department? Absolutely not.
Wilson had turned this program around in his first four seasons, before injuries sunk his ship. He followed a 10-19 first year with a 12-18 2013 campaign, a 15-16 season in 2014, and then back-to-back years with 18-14 records. Then, like I said, injuries crashed the Waves’ plans. I’ll just let this blurb from the first page of the Waves’ media notes clue you in:
The athletic department isn’t even trying to hide the fact that injuries, not Wilson, are to blame.
Unless the Waves plan on making a major splash with their coaching hire they better get ready for another string of disappointing seasons. Wilson was a Pepperdine alum. So was his wife and his daughter, and soon his son will be too. By all accounts he was one of the guys in this field who do it right. He loved his school and his job and his players. What more can you ask for at a school like Pepperdine? Until they plan on dropping a ton of money into the program the answer is simple: nothing.