Conference play is a slog. Just a week ago it seemed like there’d be some separation between the top three teams in the league and everybody else. But, road games against opponents who are familiar with you are a fact of life in conference play. So now the West Coast Conference race is as muddy as ever.
Gonzaga’s going to win, that much is clear. But who will finish second and take home a coveted double-bye to the tournament semifinals? There are four teams in the hunt for just one spot.
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (19-2, 6-0)
Last week: W 98-39 at Santa Clara
This week: Jan. 31 at BYU, Feb. 2 vs. San Diego
The 59-point win (98-39) for @ZagMBB is the largest road win by a Div I team against a Div I opponent since 12/15/1996, when USC won at UC Irvine by 62 (107-45).— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) January 25, 2019
It is Gonzaga's 3rd 50-point road win under Mark Few (since 1999-00) - no other team has more than 1 over that span.
There have been plenty of really good Gonzaga teams over the years. Those teams have had plenty of chances to do this to really bad WCC teams. Santa Clara is not a really bad WCC team. The Broncos are currently .500 for the season and sit at No. 204 in KenPom. Since KenPom started in the 2001-02 season, 46 WCC teams have finished ranked lower than Santa Clara is currently. Which means, in simple terms, this Gonzaga team is exceptionally good.
Probably the best Gonzaga team ever.
2. San Francisco Dons (17-4, 5-2)
Last week: W 83-61 vs. Portland, L 67-63 at San Diego
This week: Feb. 2 at Saint Mary’s
Did you hear that popping sound? It was the bubble and it just burst underneath San Francisco. The Dons were heading for a sweaty Selection Sunday even before losing to San Diego on Saturday. Unless the Dons can somehow pick off Gonzaga in Spokane and avoid losing until the WCC Tournament Final, their at-large hopes are as good as dead.
Which is really unfortunate, because there are going to be 68 teams in the field and 36 of those will earn at-large berths. I do not believe there are 36 teams in the country better than San Francisco.
3. San Diego Toreros (15-7, 4-3)
Last week: W 71-58 vs. Loyola Marymount, W 67-63 vs. San Francisco
This week: Feb. 2 at Gonzaga
The Toreros have had it rough this season. Yauhen Massalski missed three games in early December. Isaiah Wright missed four games, including the first three of conference play. And now, Olin Carter has been sidelined for four straight. But Massalski is back to his early-season form and Wright has the offense humming once again. Even without Carter, the Toreros were able to storm back in the second half to upset San Francisco on Saturday.
What San Diego showed over the weekend was just how dangerous a veteran team with multiple options on the offensive end can be. Carter, for his part, is a lethal scorer who can light it up on any given night. But so is Isaiah Pineiro, who scored 22 points against San Francisco. Isaiah Wright (17 points) is as well. Massalski (13 points) is a load in the paint. And then there’s Tyler Williams. The senior swingman had just four points against the Dons, but has scored in double figures in nine of the Toreros’ 21 games this season.
Once Carter (16.5 ppg) returns from the abdominal injury that has kept him on the bench, the Toreros will be even more dangerous. Thankfully for them, they’ve got a full week for Carter to heal before their next challenge: a trip to Spokane.
4. BYU Cougars (13-9, 5-2)
Last week: W 71-66 vs. Saint Mary’s
This week: Jan. 31 vs. Gonzaga, Feb. 2 vs. Loyola Marymount
After getting absolutely pummeled by San Francisco and Saint Mary’s on the road by an average of 20.5 points, it seemed the Cougars were doomed to finish outside of the top-three in the WCC for the first time in program history.
Now though, one game shy of halfway through the conference slate, BYU sits tied for second. It’s too soon to say if the Cougars are secure in a top-three finish, though. They’re certainly contenders, but their stretch run will be absolutely brutal. A pair of games remain against both Gonzaga and San Diego, as well as a home date against a San Francisco team that suddenly finds itself with its back against the wall.
5. Saint Mary’s Gaels (13-9, 4-3)
Last week: L 71-66 at BYU, L 84-77 (OT) at Pepperdine
This week: Feb. 2 vs. San Francisco
Last week was an absolute disaster for the Gaels. It was worse than the four-game losing streak that sent them into national irrelevance back in November. It was worse because, since then, the Gaels had scrapped and clawed their way, somehow, back into the at-large conversation. Saint Mary’s’ aggressive schedule — a four word phrase never uttered before this season — hurt the Gaels early. But once this young team found its footing, that brutal non-conference was bolstering their resume to the point that bracketologists were talking about Saint Mary’s, albeit only as one of the first or next four teams out.
The bracketologists talking about Saint Mary’s at this point are the ones trying to project the NIT field.
6. Loyola Marymount Lions (15-6, 3-4)
Last week: L 71-58 at San Diego, W 69-61 at Santa Clara
This week: Jan. 31 vs Pacific, Feb. 2 at BYU
James Batemon (17.3 ppg) scored 20 points in the win over Santa Clara. It was the first 20-plus-point performance from the senior guard since Dec. 19 against Boise State. During those eight games that Batemon failed to crack 20, the Lions went 3-5. He’s the only real threat to take over a game on the Lions’ roster, and he’s going to need to do that more often than not down the stretch if the Lions want a shot at finishing in the top half of the WCC.
7. Pepperdine Waves (10-11, 3-4)
Last week: L 74-70 at Loyola Marymount, W 84-77 (OT) vs. Saint Mary’s
This week: Jan. 31 at Portland, Feb. 2 at Pacific
The Waves picked up by far their biggest win of the season on Saturday against Saint Mary’s. Lorenzo Romar’s team has now surpassed last year’s win total (six) and last year’s conference win total (two). Colbey Ross (29 points) and Kameron Edwards (24 points) played exceptionally well on Saturday.
8. Pacific Tigers (12-10, 2-5)
Last week: W 74-70 vs. Portland
This week: Jan. 31 at Loyola Marymount, Feb. 2 vs. Pepperdine
The Tigers survived a scare from Portland in their lone game last week. Had that game gone the other way, Pacific would be sitting in a tie with the Pilots for last place in the league standings. This team looked solid at times in the non-conference and played inspired basketball at home against BYU and San Francisco. But right now, the Tigers don’t have much going for them.
9. Santa Clara Broncos (11-11, 3-5)
Last week: L 98-39 vs. Gonzaga, L 69-61 vs. Loyola Marymount
This week: Feb. 2 vs. Portland
Back-to-back losses for the Broncos. Not good. The bright side? They won’t face Gonzaga again this season. The Broncos have lost two games against the Zags by an average of 44.5 points.
10. Portland Pilots (7-15, 0-7)
Last week: L 83-61 at San Francisco, L 74-70 at Pacific
This week: Jan. 31 vs. Pepperdine, Feb. 2 at Santa Clara
Still winless in conference play. The Pilots are currently No. 316 in KenPom. If the season ended today, this year’s Portland squad would rate as the third-worst WCC team of the KenPom era and the worst since the 2009 Loyola Marymount team that finished at No. 323. It’s bad.