The penultimate power rankings of the season are upon us. Two games remain, at most, in the West Coast Conference regular season. And... about all that’s been locked up is Gonzaga on top and Pacific and Portland at the bottom.
There’s a lot to be sorted out between spots two and eight over the next week. So let’s take a look at how things stand heading into the home stretch.
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (27-2, 14-0)
Last week: W 92-64 vs. Pepperdine, W 102-68 vs. BYU
This week: Feb. 28 at Pacific, March 2 at Saint Mary’s
Josh Perkins became Gonzaga’s all-time leader in assists last week when he broke Matt Santangelo’s 20-year old record of 668. His ascent to all-time great status at Gonzaga is one of the more unexpected developments in the program since the initial explosion onto the national scene two decades ago.
The fifth-year senior point guard was, by some measures, the most highly rated recruit in program history when he arrived on campus in the fall of 2014. So, expectations were understandably high. But a flying knee to the face from Georgia’s Kenny Gaines derailed his initial freshman season. The next year, Perkins and the backcourt became the scapegoats on a team that struggled after a season-ending injury to Przemek Karnowski. Then, before the start of his sophomore year, Perkins was arrested for physical control of a vehicle while under the influence and held out of the first game of the season.
But, despite all that, Perkins has been named to WCC’s all-academic team three years running and is essentially a lock to take home all-WCC first team honors for the second straight season. His name is peppered all over Gonzaga’s record book, not just atop the assist column. He’s second in wins (128), fifth in threes (244), sixth in steals (163) and 16th in points (1,468). On Saturday he moved to 199 assists for the season, which pushed him past... Josh Perkins (junior year edition), and into sixth place in Gonzaga’s single season assist list.
This is the school that produced John Stockton, but you can easily make the argument that Josh Perkins put together a better career than anyone else to play the point guard position at Gonzaga.
2. Saint Mary’s Gaels (19-10, 10-4)
Last week: W 58-32 at Pacific, W 66-46 at San Diego
This week: Feb. 28 vs. Portland, March 2 vs. Gonzaga
Two seasons ago the Gaels ranked eighth in the nation in assist rate, with helpers coming on 63.1 percent of the Gaels’ field goals. This season they’re dead last with an assist rate of 39.1 percent. As a team last week Saint Mary’s averaged just nine assists per game.
This isn’t the style we’re used to from Saint Mary’s.
It’s also not the record we’re used to seeing from Saint Mary’s. The Gaels are one loss away from matching their loss total from the two previous seasons combined. Despite all of that, the Gaels are a bubble team as the calendar prepares to flip to March. Bracket Matrix lists Saint Mary’s among the “next four out.”
How? Well, those losses actually have something to do with it. The Gaels’ strength of schedule currently rates as the 87th toughest in the nation, per KenPom. They’ve never had a schedule ranked better than 100 in the KenPom era. Additionally, they’re getting a boost from the new NET rankings. The Gaels are 55th in the old RPI, but 39th in the NET.
3. San Francisco Dons (21-7, 9-5)
Last week: W 77-71 at BYU, L 68-65 at Santa Clara
This week: Feb. 28 vs. San Diego, March 2 vs. Loyola Marymount
The Dons picked up a massive win over BYU on Thursday and then lost all of their momentum by dropping a game to Santa Clara Saturday. That win over the Cougars helped a lot more than the loss to Santa Clara hurt, however. It gives San Francisco a season sweep of BYU, which is the first tie breaker in the conference tournament seeding procedure.
It also keeps the Dons in the race for the two seed. Saint Mary’s, the other team in the hunt, still has to face No. 1 Gonzaga over the weekend — the Gaels lost their first meeting by 48 points. So, they’ll likely finish the season with an 11-5 record. If San Francisco wins their two games this week, both at home, they too will have an 11-5 record. Should BYU finish the season with an 11-5 record as well, which seems likely, there will be a three way tie for second.
In that scenario, San Francisco gets the two seed thanks to the Dons’ 3-1 record against the Gaels and Cougars.
If the tie for second is between just San Francisco and BYU, San Francisco’s 2-0 record against the Cougars gives the Dons the two seed. If it’s between just San Francisco and Saint Mary’s the situation becomes less clear cut.
The first tie-breaker is head-to-head, and the Gaels and Dons split their season series. So, onto the second tie-breaker: record against the top team. In this case, Gonzaga. San Francisco is 0-2 against the Zags while Saint Mary’s is 0-1 with a game in Moraga to be played. If the teams finish in a two-way tie it comes down to one game: Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s. If both teams are 11-5 and Saint Mary’s owns a win over Gonzaga, it’s the Gaels who take the two seed. That’s unlikely, because it means Saint Mary’s lost to Portland, the worst team in modern WCC history, and then beat Gonzaga, the best team in modern WCC history, two nights later.
So, what if the more likely scenario plays out and there’s a two-way tie for second at 11-5 with both teams posting 0-2 records against Gonzaga and a season split against each other? Then, it’s fourth place BYU that will determine who gets the two. San Francisco’s 2-0 record in that series would give the Dons’ the two seed.
Long story short, and my goodness that story was long, the Dons should be rooting for Gonzaga this week. If San Francisco takes care of business and the Zags do as well, the Dons get the two no matter how many teams are tied for second.
4. BYU Cougars (18-12, 10-5)
Last week: L 77-71 vs. San Francisco, L 102-68 vs. Gonzaga
This week: March 2 vs. San Diego
Last week was absolutely brutal for the Cougars, even though both losses are totally reasonable. The Cougars entered the week in control of the race for second place. Now, with just one game remaining, they’re still alive but need a lot of help. The Cougars need to win against San Diego — a team that took them to overtime a few weeks ago — and then see San Francisco and Saint Mary’s both lose each of their two games. Considering Saint Mary’s plays winless Portland on Thursday, that’s unlikely. But it’s possible!
5. Santa Clara Broncos (15-13, 7-7)
Last week: W 64-59 vs. Pacific, W 68-65 vs. San Francisco
This week: Feb. 28 at Loyola Marymount, March 2 at Portland
The Broncos are keeping things interesting in the WCC and we should all be thankful for that. Santa Clara’s win over San Francisco on Saturday kept the three team fight for second going for at least one more game. The Broncos have absolutely no depth, and run a seven-man rotation, but they get good production from the guys they have. Four players scored in double figures in each of Santa Clara’s games last week.
6. Loyola Marymount Lions (18-10, 6-8)
Last week: W 63-56 at Pacific
This week: Feb. 28 vs. Santa Clara, March 2 at San Francisco
If the Lions lose their final two games, which is a very real possibility considering they’re against teams above them in both the standings and these rankings the Lions will own an absolutely baffling record: four games below .500 in conference play but six games above .500 for the year.
That’s the sort of thing you typically see in deep power conferences, where teams beat up on cupcakes in the non-league and then get obliterated by their conference foes. Which, is exactly what LMU has done this season.
7. Pepperdine Waves (13-16, 6-9)
Last week: L 92-64 at Gonzaga, W 86-80 vs. Portland
This week: March 2 vs. Pacific
Get blown out by the best team in conference history on the road then barely squeak past the worst team in conference history at home. Not the most impressive week for the Waves. But, the same can be said for most other teams in the WCC right now though so, the Waves stay steady in seventh.
8. San Diego Toreros (17-12, 6-8)
Last week: W 63-52 vs. Portland, L 66-46 vs. Saint Mary’s
This week: Feb. 28 at San Francisco, March 2 at BYU
Like Pepperdine above them, the Toreros took down lowly Portland but got blown out by one of the league’s traditional powers. San Diego is sputtering down the stretch. The Toreros are 2-5 in the month of February and could easily head into the conference tournament on a three game losing streak.
9. Pacific Tigers (13-16, 3-11)
Last week: L 63-56 vs. Loyola Marymount
This week: Feb. 28 vs. Gonzaga, March 2 at Pepperdine
The Tigers haven’t finished above .500 in conference play since rejoining the league six seasons ago. They’ve also never won fewer than four games in league play. With Gonzaga visiting and then a trip to Pepperdine on the docket, a three win Tigers team seems more likely than not.
This team was 10-5 after non-conference play.
10. Portland Pilots (27-2, 0-14)
Last week: L 63-52 at San Diego, L 86-80 at Pepperdine
This week: Feb. 28 at Saint Mary’s, March 2 vs. Santa Clara
The regular season finale is at home against a beatable Santa Clara team. Come on Portland, you can do it!