College basketball is back and the non-conference slate is in full-swing. The WCC has long struggled to schedule tough non-conference opponents, with Gonzaga being one of the few conference teams that has shown willingness to go out and play the big boys (looking at you SMC). This year sadly looks like more of the same. Outside of Portland taking on the defending champs that shall not be named in the PK80, only a few teams have scheduled Power 5 opponents. The results so far have been fairly predictable, with our conference friends winning the games they should be winning, and (unfortunately) losing the games they are expected to lose.
It is still early in the season, but let’s take a look around the conference at how our counterparts have fared to start the season.
The Cougars (minus Nick Emery) started the season off with the ultimate tune up game. They squared off against Mississippi Valley State, often considered the worst D1 program in the nation. BYU beat them handily, led by sophomore Elijah Bryant’s 27 points. The Cougars faced a bigger challenge in their second game of the season, defeating Ivy League Princeton 65-56 on the road. The loss of Emery will challenge BYU, but Bryant looks like a WCC Player of the Year candidate, averaging 24.5 points per game through the first two games of the season. TJ Haws is chipping in 12 per game as well. BYU will try to hold onto their spot in the top three in the WCC.
Loyola Marymount (1-1)
LMU hit the road to start their 2017-2018 season, taking on a tough opponent in UT-Arlington. Many expect UT-Arlington to take the Sun Belt conference title and make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008. LMU held their own, leading by as many as 12 in the second half before a late game collapse allowed the Mavericks to come back and post a five point victory. LMU bounced back at home against a weak UC-Riverside squad, defeating them 76-64. LMU is led by JuCo transfer James Batemon at 17.5 points per game, with freshmen forward Eli Scott chipping in 16.
Pacific deserves some credit for taking on a high-profile PAC-12 opponent (Stanford) and a 2016-2017 tournament team in UC-Davis to kick off their season. They are 0-2, not surprisingly, but at least Damon Stoudamire and company are trying to expose their guys to some legit competition. They only lost to Stanford by nine on the road and were within four of UC-Davis at home. Pacific is starting to climb their way out of the cellar in the WCC and has a decent chance to finish in the top-6 in the conference this year. Saint Louis transfer Miles Reynolds and JuCo transfer Roberto Gallinat are leading the team at 14.5 points apiece.
Pepperdine, to their credit, was willing to start the season off in a very tough matchup against Big 12 foe Oklahoma State on the road as part of the 2017 Progressive Legends Classic tournament. The game went about as expected, with Pepperdine shooting 28.3% from the field en route to an ugly 78-47 loss. Pepperdine followed that up with a blowout 107-82 win over Division 3 Cal Lutheran. The Waves saw six players score in double figures in that contest. Sophomore Kameron Edwards averaged 7.2 PPG as a freshmen last year and has been the leading scorer along with freshmen Trae Berhow so far this season, at 12 points each.
The second year of the Terry Porter era has begun, this time being led by Terry’s two sons, Franklin and Malcolm Porter. The season got off to a rough start as UP dropped their opener to crosstown rival Portland State 80-75. PSU scored the last 12 points of the game in the comeback victory. Former Zag Ryan Edwards started for PSU and scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds. He went 1-2 on three-pointers as well, which made me reread the box score a few times. Back to UP, who followed up the loss with an easy blowout win over D3 Walla Walla, 89-52. Senior Phillipp Hartwich has recorded a double-double in each of the first two games, including grabbing an impressive 18 rebounds against PSU. He is one of the few big bodies left in the conference and is averaging five blocks per game. UP has a few intriguing young guards, but doesn’t figure to make much noise this season.
Saint Mary’s (3-0)
The No. 21 ranked Gaels are 3-0, having defeated all three of their opponents by 18 points or more. They are off to a commanding start and have defeated a trio of decent, if unspectacular, teams. SMC opened up at home against St. Francis, a team expected to win the NEC, and defeated them 85-68. Calvin Hermanson hit five three-pointers to lead the team with 24 points. The Gaels then hosted WAC powerhouse New Mexico State and cruised to an easy 92-74 win. Saint Mary’s “big 3” all had good games, with Emmett Naar scoring 22, Jock Landale putting up 16 and 10 and Hermanson adding 16. Finally, the Gaels played Cal-State Fullerton and beat them 76-57, with Hermanson dropping 22. SMC certainly looks the part of a deep tournament team, but unfortunately they won’t be tested very much non-conference. Harvard, Cal and Dayton represent the only decent competition remaining. Games against Seattle, Sacramento State, San Jose State and UNC-Asheville are why Saint Mary’s does not get a ton of love when at-large bids are being discussed. The Gaels will challenge Gonzaga for the top spot in the conference once again, but may need to win in Vegas to avoid getting an ugly seed in the tournament thanks to a weak SOS.
Santa Clara (1-1)
Santa Clara beat a school called La Verne 120-70 to open their season before dropping their next game to a very talented and still under the radar Nevada squad, 93-63. If SCU is going to make any noise this season it will be on the back of junior guard KJ Feagin, who is averaging 18 points this season after averaging 14.6 last year. Princeton grad transfer Henry Caruso is a nice addition for Herb Sendek’s squad as well, averaging 16 points and 6.5 rebounds to start the year.
University of San Diego (2-0)
SMC, BYU and Gonzaga are joined by USD as the four undefeated WCC teams at this point in the season. USD has defeated two pretty bad D1 programs in San Jose State and Robert Morris, but hey, 2-0 is 2-0. Junior Olin Carter III is back and is next in line in a long list of solid guard play in San Diego. 6’2 Utah transfer Isaiah Wright is off to an incredibly hot start as well, averaging 19.5 points and 6.5 assists through two games. He could challenge for WCC newcomer of the year and gives USD another weapon as they make a push toward the top half of the conference.
University of San Francisco (1-1)
USF is coming off a nice fourth place finish in the conference last year and is on the rise after hiring Kyle Smith away from Columbia. They got off to a rather auspicious start however, dropping their home opener 83-71 to Long Beach State and former Gonzaga coach Don Monson. LBST is a decent squad, even playing in the NIT last year. USF followed up their loss with a 75-63 win over St. Francis (PA). St. Francis is considered the best team in the NEC, making this is a solid non-conference win. USF has been led by freshmen Souley Boum. Boum came off the bench in both games but is averaging 21.5 PPG. He’s also 5-8 from downtown on the year. Sample size aside, this guy seems like he can light it up and is worth keeping an eye on as the season goes on. Sophomore Jordan Ratinho returns and has played 70 minutes in the first two games, averaging 17.5 points per game. He will likely be the top guy in San Francisco this season.
So there you have it. Here at The Slipper Still Fits we are planning to keep our readers informed of the performance of our conference opponents as we prepare to ride our Zags to yet another Conference title.