Conference play is upon us in the West Coast Conference and the league race is shaping up to be a doozy. Not at the top, obviously. Gonzaga looks ready to run away with things and San Francisco seems poised to follow close behind. The rest of the teams though, who knows. Six of the WCC’s ten teams currently sit at 1-1 in conference play.
Team of the Week
G — Tahj Eaddy: Sophomore, Santa Clara
Scored a career high 30 points in the Broncos win over San Diego
G — Jordan Ford: Junior, Saint Mary’s
Another week, another appearance for the Gaels’ go-to scorer. Ford averaged 23.5 points per game last week. He leads the league in scoring this season at 22.8 per game.
G — TJ Haws: Junior, BYU
Scored 24 points and dished out six assists to help the Cougars fend off Pacific and then dropped 20 in a loss at Saint Mary’s.
F — Malik Fitts: Junior, Saint Mary’s
The South Florida transfer averaged a double-double last week with 15.5 points and 11 rebounds per game.
F — Rui Hachimura: Junior, Gonzaga
Led the Bulldogs past Santa Clara with 25 points on 8-12 shooting and a perfect night at the free throw line (9-9).
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (14-2, 1-0)
Last week: W 92-69 vs. Santa Clara
This week: Jan. 10 vs. Pacific, Jan. 12 at San Francisco
Against Santa Clara on Saturday Killian Tillie made his season debut and Geno Crandall returned after missing nine games with a fractured hand. The Zags are at full-strength for the first time this season. Even without Tillie, before Crandall went down, the Zags beat Duke and rose to No. 1 in the polls. They should be even better now than they were then.
2. San Francisco Dons (14-2, 2-0)
Last week: W 76-72 vs. Saint Mary’s, W 72-69 at Pepperdine
This week: Jan. 12 vs. Gonzaga
Dons fans, I hope you’re ready for this. Because last week was a crash course in life as a fan of a rising mid-major team.
On Thursday, San Francisco took down Saint Mary’s and solidified its place as this season’s No. 2 in the WCC. On Saturday, they narrowly avoided defeat on the road against a not-great Pepperdine team. A loss there and the door likely closes on at-large contention.
Up next, a shot to solidify their position in the bracket when Gonzaga visits on Saturday. And the Dons have a whole week to prepare.
3. Saint Mary’s Gaels (10-7, 1-1)
Last week: L 76-72 at San Francisco, W 88-66 vs. BYU
This week: Jan. 12 at Loyola Marymount
Saint Mary’s looked good despite losing on the road to San Francisco. And the Gaels looked even better in a drubbing of BYU, for whatever that’s worth. But really, in both games Saint Mary’s took care of the ball and had multiple guys who stepped up as scoring options alongside Jordan Ford. Hopefully this is the start of a trend.
4. San Diego Toreros (12-5, 1-1)
Last week: L 68-56 at Santa Clara, W 73-64 vs. Pacific
This week: Jan. 12 vs. Pepperdine
Life without Isaiah Wright (13.2 points per game, 5.0 assists per game) is proving to be pretty tough for the Toreros. San Diego is 2-1 in the three games since Wright suffered a stress fracture in his wrist. On Thursday against Santa Clara the Toreros turned the ball over a season-high 20 times. There are plenty of weapons on the roster, but the Toreros need to be able to get them the ball in position to score.
5. BYU Cougars (9-8, 1-1)
Last week: W 90-87 at Pacific, L 88-66 at Saint Mary’s
This week: Jan. 10 vs. Portland, Jan. 12 vs. Santa Clara
The Cougars led Pacific by 21 points on Thursday but very nearly ended up walking out of the Spanos Center with a loss. Dave Rose’s team is very weak on the defensive end of the floor. On Saturday, they didn’t look very good on the other end either. Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws combined for 41 of the Cougars 66 points while seven of the 13 Cougars who saw action against Saint Mary’s failed to score.
6. Santa Clara Broncos (9-7, 1-1)
Last week: W 68-56 vs. San Diego, L 91-48 at Gonzaga
This week: Jan. 10 vs. Pepperdine, Jan. 12 at BYU
Down to eight scholarship players, Santa Clara’s turnaround has been nothing short of miraculous. If this team finishes fifth or better when it’s all said and done, Herb Sendek better be named WCC Coach of the Year. The Broncos weren’t supposed to be any good coming into this year — the league’s coaches pegged them ninth in the preseason poll — and then they lost two starters including their best player, KJ Feagin.
Yeah, they got the crap kicked out of them by Gonzaga, but that’s a fate most teams in this league will experience at least once this season. What the Broncos did to a very solid, albeit banged up San Diego squad was impressive. I have a feeling we will be seeing a lot more of the latter than the former from this group over the next two months.
7. Pacific Tigers (10-7, 0-2)
Last week: L 90-87 vs. BYU, L 73-64 at San Diego
This week: Jan. 10 at Gonzaga, Jan. 12 at Portland
Even with BYU down relative to expectations, the Tigers have an absolutely brutal first eight days of conference play. On opening night, in what was technically a home game against the Cougars, chants of B-Y-U were clearly audible over the television broadcast. Then the Tigers had to travel to San Diego and face a good Toreros team. After that, a trip to Spokane where they’ll take on Gonzaga. Yikes. This is the kind of 0-3 start that says more about the teams in the league than it does the team with the record.
8. Pepperdine Waves (8-8, 1-1)
Last week: W 77-62 vs. Loyola Marymount, L 72-69 vs. San Francisco
This week: Jan. 10 at Santa Clara, Jan. 12 at San Diego
Pepperdine very nearly derailed the Dons’ season on Saturday in Malibu. The Waves led for much of the game. In the final moments, Frankie Ferrari hit a three to give San Francisco a one point lead. With the shot clock turned off, Colbey Ross dribbled the ball up the court and took his time setting up the offense so the Waves could have a chance to win it as time expired. But Ross, who is a turnover-prone point guard, got a bit careless with his dribble. Jamaree Bouyea picked his pocket, got fouled and iced the game at the line.
This is still a young team learning under a new coaching staff, after all.
9. Loyola Marymount Lions (13-3, 1-1)
Last week: L 77-62 at Pepperdine, W 76-64 vs. Portland
This week: Jan. 12 vs. Saint Mary’s
The Lions opened league play by losing to the team previously ranked ninth and then beating the team that has sat at the bottom of these rankings for as long as I can remember. It’s about as unimpressive of a 1-1 record as is possible in the West Coast Conference. For a more detailed explanation of why I am quickly losing faith in the 13 win Lions, take a look at last week’s power rankings.
10. Portland Pilots (7-9, 0-1)
Last week: L 76-64 at Loyola Marymount
This week: Jan. 10 at BYU, Jan. 12 vs. Pacific
Portland is the only offense in the West Coast Conference averaging under 1 point per possession this season (0.973) versus Division I competition. The Pilots also own a defense that is giving up 1.051 points per possession to D-1 competition, which isn’t the worst in the league — that honor goes to Pacific — but it is second worst and very bad.