It was just one week ago when I was praising the improvements the WCC had made and how close this conference was to emerging on the national scene. After great performances by Gonzaga, Portland, and USD on the national stage, the national media quickly began discussing how the WCC might even be equal to the Pac 10. However, after a demoralizing week by nearly every team in this conference, we can probably stop the clamoring for this to be a two or even three bid league. Instead, Gonzaga will need to spend January and February making sure they don't lose, because the assumption that this league is Gonzaga and the 7 Dwarfs will sadly continue. Unfortunately, this is what happens when teams in mid-major leagues throw away great opportunities like Portland and USD did.
1) Gonzaga (6-2): 74-69 win vs. Washington State; 77-75 loss vs. Wake Forest
It pains me to say that this team was literally some made free throws and a couple smarter plays away from playing a top 10 match up against Duke at Madison Square Garden. As much as I don't like to assume any games will be automatic wins, I don't see anyway that this team will possibly lose games to Augustana and Davidson. However, one thing that I continue to like about this team is the toughness they play with and the physicality that they demonstrate every night. Also, as opposed to previous teams that have peaked in November and December, it's clear that the coaching staff is still trying to figure out exactly what each guy can bring to the table. This will make for a couple more head scratching performances, but should also make for one of the better teams in the country in March.2) St. Mary's (6-1): 78-71 win @ San Jose St.; 68-63 win @ Utah St.
While Portland and San Diego struggled this week, the Gaels pulled off two very impressive wins. This group really showed some moxie in the win over San Jose St., as they came back from a 15 point deficit to earn the victory over a very underrated team. The one weakness I see with this group is depth, as they have only five guys who really make significant contributions on a nightly basis. However, these two wins over San Jose St. and Utah St. are very impressive, and lets hope the Gaels can send a big message when they travel to Oregon on Saturday.
3) Portland (5-3): 86-82 loss vs. Portland St; 68-48 loss @ Idaho
If you want to see a blueprint for how to become irrelevant in one week, just look at what the Portland Pilots have done. After finally securing a top 25 ranking for the first time in 50 years, the Pilots choked away a comfortable lead against Portland St, and then followed that up by laying an egg in Moscow. While the Idaho loss is galling because of the final score, the Portland St. loss at home is the most stunning. You just can't simply lose games like that if you want to be in the hunt for an at-large bid come March.
4) Santa Clara (4-4): 79-68 win @ UCSB; 66-63 loss vs. UNLV
Santa Clara was a couple baskets away from being the #3 team on this list. However, after jumping out to an eight point halftime lead against UNLV, the Broncos just couldn't quite hold on for the win. Unfortunately, the news became even worse when it was announced that Kevin Foster, who leads the team with 19.8 points per game, will likely be out for the season with a foot injury. With that said, the Broncos clearly played hard without him in the loss to UNLV, and hopefully some guys will take advantage of the added playing time and step up.
5) San Diego (4-5): 69-62 loss vs. San Diego St.; 58-55 loss @ UC Riverside; 69-37 loss @ Fresno St.
I'm beginning to get to the point where I worry about the mental makeup of the Toreros. After back-to-back tough losses against good competition, USD completely imploded in the loss to Fresno St. Brandon Johnson has been suspended for disciplinary issues, which has become a theme under Billy Grier. Lets hope that the hangover from those close losses doesn't extend much more, because the Toreros have a huge game against New Mexico on Wednesday night.
6) LMU (3-6): 91-72 win vs. Academy of Art; 76-70 loss @ Wyoming
After securing a fairly simple win against the Academy of Art ( I was unaware this was a school prior to this recap), the Lions threw away a huge opportunity when they blew a lead in the last three minutes against Wyoming. I know I say it every week about this team, but the talent is there for them to significantly improve and be a threat by January. However, as is the case with many young teams, there is still a long ways to go before they know how to win close games.
7) Pepperdine (3-5): 83-77 loss @ Cal Poly
Here is another case of a WCC team conceding a comfortable win. The Waves led by 10 points at the half against Cal Poly, but then allowed 52 second half points to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The one positive aspect of the loss is the fact that Pepperdine found a couple guys to compliment Keion Bell. In fact, Jonathan Dupre' led the team in scoring with 19 points, while Bell scored 18 and dished out five assists.
8) USF (2-6): 78-54 loss @ Colorado; 69-43 loss @ BYU
There really isn't much to say about USF at this point in the season. They were embarrassed in back-to-back losses on the road and continue to waste the great production of Dior Lowhorn. In fact, if you want to get a sense for why USF lost both these games, just go back and read every addition of the WCC Power Rankings I have written in the past year. Until the Dons can learn to surround a great player with decent talent, they will continue to languish at the bottom of these rankings.