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Catching Up on the WCC

While Gonzaga pauses, let’s take a look around the conference for some basketball.

NCAA Basketball: Pepperdine at San Diego State Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

BYU, 5-2

BYU was doing its usual high-scoring offense cruising to some easy victories through their first three games before getting absolutely humbled by USC in the opening of the Roman Legends Classic. The Cougars shot 27.5 percent from the floor in the 79-53 loss. BYU turned it around, however, picking up a good win over St. John’s and carrying a close away in over a decent Utah State squad.

Joe Lunardi’s brackets are putting BYU as the second WCC school to make the NCAA Tournament. The talent is obviously there, but BYU will also have to get the wins to punch the ticket. The Cougars still have a game at home against Utah and on the road against San Diego State. If they take both of those, BYU comes out of the non-conference with four good wins, which should help pad that resume.

Loyola Marymount, 2-3

Let’s give credit to LMU’s absolutely wacky non-conference schedule, which consists of eight games against five teams. LMU has two away losses to Minnesota, and also lost their first of two games against UC Santa Barbara.

Of course, senior forward Eli Scott is giving it his all, averaging 15 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Scott and sophomore forward Keli Leaupepe are adept at drawing fouls, which means looking forward this will be an interesting game for the Zags. Another strong point in LMU’s young season—they are currently ranked No. 26 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.

Pacific, 2-1

The Pacific Tigers halted men’s basketball operations after positive COVID tests among a Tier 1 member of the program on Dec. 14 and will remain on hold for at least 14 days.

Through the three games they could play, it looks like we are in for another year of absolutely grinding Pacific ball. The Tigers are currently ranked No. 341 in tempo by KenPom. They aren’t shooting the ball well at all, but behind the steady hands of Pierre Crockrell and Daniss Jenkins, this is a squad that takes care of the ball. The Tigers average just 8.3 turnovers per game.

Finally, my favorite tidbit: Jenkins hasn’t committed a foul in 93 minutes of play, joining MaCio Teague of Baylor as the only players to have that many minutes played with zero fouls.

Pepperdine, 3-2

There was a lot of hype for Pepperdine (in terms of the level of hype the WCC can provide), and to a certain extent, the Waves are living up to it, through their losses. Pepperdine took UCLA to triple OT in a loss and recently fell to San Diego State on the road, 65-60. Led by Colbey Ross and Kessler Edwards, the Waves are a fun team to watch.

Fun tidbit statistic, as of Dec. 8, Ross is one of five players in college averaging over 40 minutes per game.

Portland, 3-1

Let’s give credit to Terry Porter and the Portland Pilots for having any wins to start the season considering how wonky there beginning was. Portland (alongside Portland State) were believed to be the only two Division I schools in the nation not able to even practice due to COVID restrictions in late October.

Don’t let the Pilots winning record confuse you, however. This is still one of the worse teams in the nation. Two of Portland’s win are against NAIA William Jessup and Northwest. The third win is against Portland State, currently ranked sub-300 in KenPom. Portland’s only loss on the season was in their season opener against Seattle University—the same team they will close their non-conference slate with.

Saint Mary’s, 6-1

The Gaels have gotten things back on track after that ugly looking season opening loss to the Memphis Tigers. Randy Bennett is employing the same exact game scheme as he did last year, only doing it without Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts. Understandably, the offense has suffered a bit.

Saint Mary’s tempo is somehow even slower than it was last season, and is currently ranked No. 355 out of 357 teams according to KenPom. For reference, Gonzaga is averaging nearly 10 more possessions per game than the Gaels. I personally cannot think of a team I want to watch less than this one.

San Diego, 0-1

The San Diego Toreros’ season did not get started until last night in a loss against UCLA. San Diego paused all men’s basketball activities back on Nov. 20 after a positive COVID test within the program. Junior Joey Calcaterra had 18 points in the loss and senior Yauhen Massalski had nine points and 10 rebounds. With only one game under their belt, there are few statements to be made about the Toreros just yet.

San Francisco, 4-2

I would argue that the Dons’ 61-60 upset over Virginia is a bigger win than Gonzaga’s defeat of Kansas to open the season, considering the gulf of talent between the two teams. San Francisco’s start had a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde look, with the Dons losing to a not-good UMass-Lowell squad to open the season.

A ridiculous shooting night against the Virginia Cavaliers helped give San Francisco one of the bigger upsets of the college basketball season. The Dons are getting some stellar elevated play out of senior guard Jamaree Bouyea and junior guard Khalil Shabazz. The Dons offensive attack is to shoot as many threes as possible, and as already demonstrated this year, if they get hot, they can hang with the best of ‘em.

Santa Clara, 5-0

Santa Clara head coach Herb Sendek might be piecing together an interesting opponent for the Zags this season. The Broncos are a top 75 defense according to KenPom. Granted, the competition hasn’t been the best, but at the moment, the Broncos have a top-five level two-point defensive percentage, generally an indicator of a good defensive squad.

The offense is taking a playbook out of last year’s Gonzaga team. Senior forward Josip Vrankic has been a machine, drawing fouls at a top-10 rate, and taking nearly one-third of the Bronco’s possessions.