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WCC Power Rankings: It’s Gonzaga’s league to lose, once again

The Bulldogs took care of business against San Francisco to solidify their spot atop the WCC.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at San Francisco
Josh Perkins and the Zags ran past San Francisco in the final minutes on Saturday to tighten their grip on the WCC.
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Team of the Week

G — Josh Perkins: Senior, Gonzaga Bulldogs
Averaged 15 points and 5 assists over two games last week.

G — Colbey Ross: Sophomore, Pepperdine Waves
Averaged 20 points and 6.5 assists in the Waves’ two games last week. Dished out 10 assists against Santa Clara alone.

F — Josip Vrankic: Sophomore, Santa Clara Broncos
Recorded double-doubles in both of Santa Clara’s games including a 22 point, 11 rebound performance against Pepperdine.

F — Yoeli Childs: Junior, BYU Cougars
Averaged 27.5 points and nine rebounds in the Cougars two games last week.

F — Brandon Clarke: Junior, Gonzaga Bulldogs
Left off the mid-season Wooden Award Watch List, Clarke responded by averaging 17 points, 8.5 rebounds and three blocks over two games last week.

Power Rankings

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (16-2, 3-0)
Last week: W 67-36 vs. Pacific, W 96-83 at San Francisco
This week: Jan. 17 vs. Loyola Marymount, Jan. 19 at Portland
Previous: First

It’s been three games since Killian Tillie and Geno Crandall were cleared to play for the Zags. In those three games, the Zags have employed a strategy that looks eerily similar to one they ran last season.

Against Santa Clara and Pacific, Tillie and Crandall checked into the game together as the Zags’ first subs. Against San Francisco, Crandall entered just after the first TV timeout and Tillie joined him about a minute later.

Last season, coach Few did the same thing with Rui Hachimura and Corey Kispert. All four of those guys are starting-five caliber players. This tactic allows Gonzaga to trot out two sets of fresh legs without sacrificing an ounce of skill or talent. It’s an all-out blitz on the opposition early in the game. No team in the WCC — and basically no team in the nation — can has a sixth and seventh man capable of matching Tillie and Crandall.

Who knows what will happen once Tillie is in mid-season form. He was expected to be a starter before the season, and you can make the case he’s Gonzaga’s most valuable player. But this rotation is working just like it did last season. And this season the pieces involved are even better. Does coach Few decide to fix something that isn’t broken? Will Tillie, a future NBA Draft pick, accept coming off the bench if asked? We’ll see.

2. San Francisco Dons (14-3, 2-1)
Last week: L 96-83 vs. Gonzaga
This week: Jan. 17 at Pacific, Jan. 19 vs. BYU
Previous: Second

All season long I have been impressed with the Dons’ play on the defensive side of the ball. They’re the rare mid-major team that puts up impressive defensive numbers not because they’re facing inferior opponents (see: No. 9 on these rankings), but because they’re actually good on that end of the floor.

Saturday against Gonzaga, however, the Dons showed their ability on the offensive end: They also didn’t look like themselves defensively, but nobody does against Gonzaga.

San Francisco scored 1.187 points per possession against the Bulldogs. This season, only North Carolina, Creighton and Duke were more efficient offensively against Gonzaga than San Francisco was on Saturday.

It wasn’t a fluke, either. San Francisco has put up more than 1.187 points per possession five times this season. This is a well-coached, disciplined and talented team on both ends of the floor. They let a chance to solidify their position in the at-large conversation slip away over the weekend. That can’t happen again because this team could do some damage in the dance.

3. Saint Mary’s Gaels (11-7, 2-1)
Last week: W 71-60 at Loyola Marymount
This week: Jan. 17 vs. Santa Clara, Jan. 19 vs. San Diego
Previous: Third

The Gaels are the biggest enigma in the West Coast Conference this season.

We’re in mid-January and the Gaels have seven losses, a number greater than they totaled in each of the previous three seasons. I’ve got them sitting at No. 3 in my rankings for a second straight week. Others value them more than I do: ESPN’s BPI (No. 35), KenPom (No. 36) and Sagarin (No. 40) all have the Gaels as the second best team in the WCC. In the NET they’re third, but just nine spots behind San Francisco and closing in fast.

Saint Mary’s is in a rebuilding year. And, for the first time in recorded history, Randy Bennett put together a schedule that isn’t an embarrassment. Despite both of those factors, the always-offensively-minded Gaels are chugging along with an offensive rating of 116.6 which is eighth best in the country.

4. BYU Cougars (11-8, 3-1)
Last week: W 79-56 vs. Portland, W 80-74 vs. Santa Clara
This week: Jan. 17 at Pepperdine, Jan. 19 at San Francisco
Previous: Fifth

The Cougars sit near the top of the WCC standings through the first quarter of conference play. They’ve been blown out by Saint Mary’s but have taken care of business otherwise, despite a few close calls.

Last week, a Santa Clara team that lost to Gonzaga by 43 points fought for 40 minutes in the Marriott Center and nearly pulled the upset. But the Cougars pulled it out just like they did against Pacific on opening night. They’re doing what matters most: winning, even if the path they’re taking isn’t the prettiest.

5. Santa Clara Broncos (10-8, 2-2)
Last week: W 67-64 vs. Pepperdine, L 80-74 at BYU
This week: Jan. 17 at Saint Mary’s, Jan. 19 at Pacific
Previous: Sixth

Sophomores Tahj Eaddy (16.6 PPG, 3.7 APG) and Josip Vrankic (13.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG) continue to lead the charge for this depleted but up-and-coming Broncos squad. In fact, the team’s four leading scorers are underclassmen. Eaddy led the way against Pepperdine with 28 points while Vrankic dropped double-doubles in both of last week’s contests.

6. Pepperdine Waves (9-9, 2-2)
Last week: L 67-64 at Santa Clara, W 76-71 at San Diego
This week: Jan. 17 vs. BYU, Jan. 19 at Loyola Marymount
Previous: Eighth

Aside from a loss to San Francisco in the opening week, the Waves have faced three teams that are either beat up or bad on the offensive end. That said, Lorenzo Romar’s squad has played the second-stingiest defense in the West Coast Conference since the start of 2019. The Waves are one of just two teams, the other being Gonzaga, holding opponents below one point per possession in conference play.

7. San Diego Toreros (12-6, 1-2)
Last week: L 76-71 vs. Pepperdine
This week: Jan. 17 at Portland, Jan. 19 at Saint Mary’s
Previous: Fourth

The Toreros have now played four games without starting point guard Isaiah Wright (13.2 PPG, 5.0 APG). They own a .667 winning percentage for the season, but are just .500 without Wright. It’s gotten even worse in conference play. Their adjusted offensive efficiency has dropped from 106.2 on the year to 96.7 in WCC play — which ranks seventh in the league, per KenPom. The Toreros have turned the ball over on 18.9 percent of possessions this season, but in conference play that’s rocketed up to 24.2 percent — which ranks ninth in the league. The team is clearly not the same without Wright.

8. Pacific Tigers (11-8, 1-3)
Last week: L 67-36 at No. 5 Gonzaga, W 65-57 at Portland
This week: Jan. 17 vs. San Francisco, Jan. 19 vs. Santa Clara
Previous: Seventh

They got blown out by Gonzaga, that’s a fact. But the Tigers did manage to dictate the tempo in the Kennel despite Gonzaga’s furious attempts to speed things up with a relentless 1-2-2, three-quarter court press. And that’s worth pointing out. Yes, Pacific lost by 31 points, but the Tigers also held Gonzaga to its lowest scoring out output of the season.

9. Loyola Marymount Lions (13-4, 1-2)
Last week: L 71-60 vs. Saint Mary’s
This week: Jan. 17 at Gonzaga, Jan. 19 vs. Pepperdine
Previous: Ninth

LMU put together a 12-2 non-conference record on the back of a frustrating, slow-it-down style of defense. But then the Lions started running up against the potent offenses of the West Coast Conference.

Heading into last Saturday’s game the best offensive team the Lions had faced, per KenPom, was Georgetown. The Hoyas rank No. 69 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency — and that game was way back in mid-November. On Saturday, LMU hosted a Saint Mary’s team that ranks No. 15 nationally. This week, they travel to Gonzaga and will face the No. 1 ranked offensive team in the country.

They say defense wins championships. What’s implied, however, is that the defenses that win championships are actually good. LMU’s defense ranks eighth in efficiency in conference play. That’s not good.

10. Portland Pilots (7-11, 0-3)
Last week: L 79-56 at BYU, L 65-57 vs. Pacific
This week: Jan. 17 vs. San Diego, Jan. 19 vs. Gonzaga
Previous: Tenth

The least efficient offense, most turnover prone offense, worst offensive rebounding team and worst free-throw shooting team in conference play? The Portland Pilots.

Is it better on the defensive end? Kind of. Portland’s not the least efficient defensive team in the WCC. They’re the second-least efficient defensive team.