Breaking down the top performers and individuals in WCC men’s basketball at the midway point of the season.
We are one month away from March and the greatest postseason in collegiate sports. With the WCC still dealing with the issues associated with sports in the COVID year, not all teams have been able to play a substantial number of games.
However, we have seen enough to update our conference power rankings through eight games (or seven, or six, or five). So let’s take a look at how the conference is shaping up with one more month to play.
10) Portland Pilots (6-10, 0-7 WCC)
Nobody should be surprised by this one. The Portland Pilots have put together a whopping .093 win percentage in WCC regular season games since Terry Porter took over. Despite the efforts of transfer guard Ahmed Ali — who is scoring over 17 points per game against his conference opponents — the Pilots have lost all seven games by an average of 20.6 points. Given the mass exodus this past offseason, it was not much of a hot take to argue that the Pilots would not win a conference game for the second time in three seasons, and that is the path they appear to be following.
9) San Diego Toreros (2-7, 1-4 WCC)
The San Diego Toreros were the last team in the WCC to get started, and their 1-3 non-conference record had them in last place entering the conference slate. However, given their single win over Portland, they have earned the ninth spot in these power rankings. Even when the Toreros have all players available, they may be the only WCC team without a clear star on the floor. San Diego only has seven more games currently scheduled, and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if it only picks up one more win before the postseason.
8) Loyola Marymount Lions (8-6, 3-3 WCC)
I want to start by saying that the separation between number eight and number four on this list is extremely tight. With that said, the Loyola Marymount Lions are the team in that group that may have the least impressive group of wins. They can hang their hat on a win against an incredibly tough San Francisco team, but their near loss at home to San Diego and a road win over Portland won’t turn many heads. Eli Scott is once again having an All-Conference type season, and Keli Leaupepe is Heat Check’s favorite player in the country, but that is not enough to overcome their 1-3 record against the other teams in this group.
7) Santa Clara Broncos (9-4, 3-2 WCC)
Santa Clara may be third place in the standings right now, but it has not had a single game against Pepperdine, BYU or Gonzaga. Josip Vrankic is a potential All-Conference First Teamer, and Keshawn Justice has taken a step up during WCC play, but the Broncos seem to be missing something in the backcourt. This is understandable given their offseason transfers, but unless they identified a reliable backcourt scorer and 3-point option, their ceiling was always going to be relatively low this season.
6) Pacific Tigers (5-4, 2-3 WCC)
Unsurprisingly, there are very few teams that have returned from extended COVID breaks and performed well in their first game. Pacific happens to be one of those teams. With huge wins over Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount, Pacific set itself up well heading into the toughest part of its schedule: three straight road games against the most-talented teams in the conference. Sure, the Tigers got blown out by both Pepperdine and Gonzaga, but their double overtime loss to BYU on the road showed the toughness of Damon Stoudamire’s team.
5) San Francisco Dons (10-8, 4-4 WCC)
No team outside of Gonzaga has a better win this season than the San Francisco Dons. So why are they so low on this list? That answer lies in their inability to beat the top teams in the conference. The Dons are 4-4 overall, but only 1-4 against teams from cities other than Portland or San Diego. Todd Golden is an incredible basketball strategist, but his team has shown an inability to string together wins against solid basketball teams. They are still in the top half of the conference, but they are the team that appears most vulnerable to upset losses.
4) Saint Mary’s Gaels (11-5, 2-3 WCC)
The Saint Mary’s Gaels have the weirdest list of results, by far, in the WCC. Behind the 15-points-per-game scoring of Logan Johnson and Tommy Kuhse’s steady hand at point, the Gaels have put together a 2-3 record with all of their losses suffered at home and both of their wins coming on the road. The loss of Alex Ducas for an extended period of time has definitely contributed to the Gaels’ early conference struggles. But even with Ducas, they are just not athletic enough to keep up with teams like BYU and Gonzaga. However, the last two games have confirmed what we always knew: Randy Bennett is a damn good coach.
3) Pepperdine Waves (7-8, 3-3 WCC)
Sure, Pepperdine has a .500 record in conference play, but they have completed all of their games against the WCC’s NCAA Tournament hopefuls and came away with a 1-3 record. It would not be a surprise at all if the Colbey Ross, Kessler Edwards and the Waves finish the year with the only win against the conference’s top two. It is no secret that Lorenzo Romar is not the best Xs and Os coach, but his roster has too much talent not to expect future success from them this season.
2) BYU Cougars (14-4, 5-2 WCC)
BYU came into the season as the presumed second-best team in the conference, and the Cougars have been just that for the entire year. The team’s top four scorers are all former transfers, and their experience was vital in their wins over St. John’s, Utah State, Utah and San Diego State. They have a 5-2 record in the WCC so far, and should finish the season with no more than three or four losses. This should put them in a good spot to get a bye to the WCC Tournament Semifinals, and a potential NCAA Tournament at-large bid.
1) Gonzaga Bulldogs (17-0, 8-0 WCC)
Just look at Gonzaga’s wins, the AP and Coaches Poll, the record, and the margin of victory. The Gonzaga Bulldogs are not only the best team in the WCC, and they are one of the two best teams in the entire country.
Awards race updates
With one month left in the season, where do the four WCC men’s basketball awards stand?
Player of the Year: Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
This should be as surprising as Gonzaga’s number one spot on the list. Kispert has been one of the best players in the country, and has put himself squarely among the 2-3 top challengers to Luka Garza’s National Player of the Year hopes. The Gonzaga forward is making the most of his senior season, scoring 20.2 points per game with a .577/.486/.900 shooting line. There is a reason Kispert is #1 on Evan Miyakawa’s rankings, and the highest margin between ORtg and DRtg of any of the nation’s player of the year candidates.
Coach of the Year: Mark Few, Gonzaga
It gets old picking Few to win this award when Gonzaga is almost always expected to be the top team in the conference, but his success coaching one of the nation’s two title favorites should put him ahead on this list. The lackluster performance of the other teams in the conference make it difficult to identify a candidate similar to Damon Stoudamire from last season.
Challengers: Mark Pope (BYU), Lorenzo Romar (Pepperdine)
Newcomer of the Year: Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
It’s quite simple, the Gonzaga freshman is a potential All-American and Top 5 draft pick who has been key in the nation’s best offense. Not many top freshman have performed at the level that Suggs has from start to finish. Even when Suggs struggles with decision making and fouls — something most freshmen suffer — he has been an asset for the Zags on both ends of the floor. If the coaches choose to spread the love, a player from BYU could potentially steal the award, but it would require something drastic to get to that point.
Defensive Player of the Year: Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
The WCC Defensive Player of the Year award is the most likely award to go to a non-Gonzaga player. This would not necessarily be because of actual defensive success, however. If we are going purely by defensive success, Jalen Suggs jumps out as the best defensive player in the conference. He leads the WCC in steals per game, steal percentage, defensive rating, defensive box plus/minus, and is third behind Tommy Kuhse and teammate Joel Ayayi for defensive win shares. Suggs, Anton Watson and Joel Ayayi form one of the best defensive units in the conference. However, it would not be surprising to see a player like Khalil Shabazz winning this award by the end of the season.
Challengers: Anton Watson (Gonzaga), Khalil Shabazz (USF), Matt Haarms (BYU)