There are just four games, at most, left for each of the WCC’s ten teams. But, not one single seed in the conference tournament has been clinched. Not first, even though Gonzaga is the No. 2 team in the AP Poll and owns a commanding 2.5 game lead in the standings. And not 10th, even though hapless Portland is 0-12 in conference play.
Everything is up for grabs over the final two weeks of the West Coast Conference race. Here’s how the teams stand heading into the home stretch.
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (25-2, 12-0)
Last week: W 73-60 at Loyola Marymount, W 79-67 at San Diego
This week: Feb. 21 vs. Pepperdine, Feb. 23 vs. BYU
For the past two weeks I’ve used this space to gush about the Zags’ defense. This week it’s time to look at the offense.
After a pair of sluggish and uninspired first halves last week, which saw the Zags score just 32 points against LMU then break that season-low with a 30 point performance against San Diego, this might seem like a strange time to dig into the Zags’ historically great offensive numbers. But, in both of those games the Zags came out of the break and played the blistering basketball with which we’ve grown accustomed. On Thursday, they shot 64 percent from the field in the second half and on Saturday they were an even nicer 69 percent.
In Thursday’s game against the Lions the Zags recovered from their dismal first half and finished with an offensive rating of 114.0 for the game. For comparison, Adam Morrison and Gonzaga led the nation in that statistical category during the 2006 season with an offensive rating of 114.4. This year’s squad had a bad day and still played basically as efficient on offense as the most efficient offensive team in all of college basketball from 13 years ago.
And that’s exactly why this year’s Gonzaga team owns what is probably the most college offense of the three-point era. The Zags’ best-in-the-nation offensive rating as of now sits at 125.1. Sports Reference has offensive rating statistics going back to the 1997 season. Only nine teams have finished with an offensive rating over 120.0 during that time and 2018 Villanova (122.2) is the only to finish above 122.0.
If you can think of any teams from prior to 1997 that could have been more efficient than the Zags, let me know in the comments. I’ll try to dig up the box scores for them and run the numbers. For example, I already did this with the high-scoring, Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble led 1990 LMU Lions. They fell just short with an offensive rating of 120.9.
2. BYU Cougars (18-10, 10-3)
Last week: W 88-82 (OT) at San Diego, W 70-62 at Loyola Marymount
This week: Feb. 21 vs. San Francisco, Feb. 23 at Gonzaga
The Cougars entered conference play on a three game losing skid, their second of the season, with an 8-7 record. I had this to say about BYU in my final power rankings before the start of WCC action: “I expected BYU to finish second in the WCC this season, easily. Looking at them now, it might be a tough task to finish in the top-half of the league.”
Well, I was right about this team all along! And somehow wrong about them every step of the way.
The Cougars have pulled themselves together and, with just three games remaining, still mathematically in the hunt for a first place finish. That’s extremely unlikely, of course. More realistic is a second place finish. A win on Thursday against San Francisco, combined with a Saint Mary’s loss at any point before the end of the season, and BYU would clinch at least a share of second place.
3. Saint Mary’s Gaels (17-10, 8-4)
Last week: W 66-55 at Santa Clara, W 72-65 vs. Pepperdine
This week: Feb. 21 at Pacific, Feb. 23 at San Diego
Pepperdine knocked Saint Mary’s out of the at-large conversation with an overtime win in Malibu late last month, but the Gaels got revenge on Saturday in Moraga. Dig a bit deeper into the numbers in this season split with Pepperdine, a very average team both nationally and in the West Coast Conference, and the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Saint Mary’s offense becomes clear.
In the loss, on the road, Saint Mary’s shot 21.9 percent from three point range. In the win, at home, Saint Mary’s shot 43.5 percent.
Overall, the Gaels rank as the 49th-best three-point shooting team nationally at 37.6 percent. At home, in conference play, the Gaels have shot lights out. They’ve hit 43.3 percent of their 120 attempts from long range and are 6-0 in McKeon Pavilion. On the road in WCC play though, where the Gaels are just 2-4, they’ve connected on only 27.4 percent of their 117 threes.
Saint Mary’s faces a two-game road trip this week before closing out conference play with back-to-back home games.
4. San Francisco Dons (20-6, 8-4)
Last week: W 89-77 vs. Pepperdine, W 68-63 (OT) at Portland
This week: Feb. 21 at BYU, Feb. 23 at Santa Clara
Two wins last week, but neither inspired much confidence. Thursday’s win at home against Pepperdine was the Dons’ second-most efficient offensive performance of the season, but also their least efficient defensive performance that did not result in a loss. Then, on Saturday, they got taken to overtime by a Portland team that is winless in conference play and heading towards being the worst WCC team of the KenPom era.
Big picture, though, wins are wins. The Dons are still alive in the race for second place and remain a fringe bubble team — Bracket Matrix has San Francisco in the “next four out” category. Even bigger picture: Kyle Smith has led the Dons to the 20-win plateau in each of his first three seasons. Prior to Smith’s arrival on the Hilltop, the Dons’ three most recent 20-plus win seasons were 2014, 2012 and 1982.
5. Santa Clara Broncos (14-13, 6-7)
Last week: L 66-55 vs. Saint Mary’s, W 64-59 vs. Pacific
This week: Feb. 23 vs. San Francisco
Santa Clara, a team that opened the season with a 17-point loss at home to Prairie View, is in fifth. With three games left to play. The Broncos, who stumbled to a 1-5 start and have as depleted of a roster as imaginable, currently sit two games clear of having to play in the opening round of the WCC Tournament. With just three games left to play. And, two of those games are against teams currently occupying the seven through ten spots.
If they maintain their position and get a bye out of the first round, they’ll probably finish the season above .500 which means they could earn a postseason berth. Things could, and probably should, be a lot worse.
6. Loyola Marymount Lions (17-10, 5-8)
Last week: L 73-60 vs. Gonzaga, L 70-62 vs. BYU
This week: Feb. 23 at Pacific
A two spot jump despite back-to-back losses? Well, everybody in the bottom half of the league is losing games. Literally, every team in the bottom half of the standings has lost at least two games in a row. LMU’s two losses happened to come against the two teams atop the standings, and both were pretty close games. Unfortunately, this isn’t horseshoes or hand grenades.
The Lions, who were ranked tenth in the nation when the NCAA released its first ever NET rankings back in late November, are destined to finish at or below .500 in WCC play.
7. Pepperdine Waves (12-15, 5-8)
Last week: L 89-77 at San Francisco, L 72-65 at Saint Mary’s
This week: Feb. 21 at Gonzaga, Feb. 23 vs. Portland
A pair of road losses to two teams fighting to stay in the hunt for second place. No shame in that. But, the Waves are now doomed to finish at or below .500 in WCC play. Next up is a trip to Spokane for a meeting with Gonzaga. Fortunately for Pepperdine, it’s their only scheduled game against the Zags this season.
8. San Diego Toreros (16-11, 5-7)
Last week: L 88-82 (OT) vs. BYU, L 79-67 vs. Gonzaga
This week: Feb. 21 vs. Portland, Feb. 23 vs. Saint Mary’s
Like LMU, the Toreros found themselves in a pair of relatively close games against the two teams atop the league standings. And, like LMU, San Diego came up short in both. Unlike LMU, the Toreros losing streak is three games rather than just two. San Diego is fully healthy, finally, but not looking like the team we thought they would be.
9. Pacific Tigers (13-14, 3-9)
Last week: L 64-59 at Santa Clara
This week: Feb. 21 vs. Saint Mary’s, Feb. 23 vs. Loyola Marymount
Pacific is on a three game skid for the second time in conference play. The Tigers are six games below .500 in league. Since rejoining the WCC for the 2013-14 season the Tigers have never finished above .500 in league play. That became a mathematical imposibillity this season two weeks ago. Last week’s loss to Santa Clara locked up the Tigers’ fifth sub-.500 conference season in six years.
The Tigers were 10-5 entering conference play.
10. Portland Pilots (7-20, 0-12)
Last week: L 68-63 vs. San Francisco
This week: Feb. 21 at San Diego, Feb. 23 at Pepperdine
Two overtime games in their last four. The Pilots are getting closer to a win. Unfortunately, their next three are on the road.