The weekend games brought some separation as the conference teams press on during the last month of WCC play. Nothing looks to change with St. Mary’s and Gonzaga leading the pack. It is in the 3-6 spots where there is room to maneuver, and then we’ll see for whom the bottom drops out to earn a day one tournament game.
Predicted order of finish
St. Mary’s has already swept BYU and Pacific, so unless they get tripped up at USD next week, the Gaels will be playing for the regular season championship when Gonzaga visits Moraga on Feb. 10 and a likely 18-0 finish in WCC play.
As in past years, Gonzaga didn’t schedule a non-conference game during WCC play against a top tier team which is both good and bad, Bad, because they don’t have the opportunity to raise their RPI. Good, because they will be doing less travel and can focus on the remaining conference schedule including going to St. Mary’s. They also play BYU twice, and the Cougs have beaten the Zags once in each of the last four, including the last three in Spokane.
BYU has quietly settled in to 3rd place. Despite not being as talented as in years past, the Cougs have taken care of business. They do have both games left vs. Gonzaga, but the focus has to be on making sure nobody else pins an L on them. It is important for them to finish 6-2 which should keep them a game ahead of Pacific.
Sitting in 4th place, Pacific is certainly the surprise of the conference. They may look back to the loss at USF this weekend as a missed opportunity because they would be tied for 3rd. It doesn’t look like the Tigers can finish better than 6-2 and catch BYU, but if they do, then the tiebreaker between those two teams gets really interesting.
San Diego has a very unfavorable schedule and has to stay the course with outstanding defense that has gotten them to .500 at this point. The Toreros still have a pair with GU, plus home games against the Gaels and Cougars. Their tournament seed may come down to their last game at USF. They are getting some offensive production from unlikely sources and will need it for a 5th place finish.
Santa Clara’s place in the standings might become clearer after next week when they host Pacific and USF. Two wins are likely to take them from 6th to 4th place. Two losses could drop them into the 7th spot. As they have been healthy lately, the Broncos are playing good basketball. If they can find someone else to regularly score with Feagin and Caruso, then they might move up one spot. However, USD just might be the better team.
USF has probably the worst travel schedule in the conference. It started with four of their first five on the road, then four at home, and three on the road before the last six alternate home and away. The Dons have St. Mary’s twice and BYU at home, but being three games out of 4th might be too much to make-up and want to play for a 6th place finish.
Portland is starting to play better winning two of their last four. The Pilots host Pepperdine and LMU this week and can lock up at least 8th place with a sweep. It would give them four wins and put them three ahead of those two teams. No doubt this is their most important stretch of the season.
Pepperdine and LMU have Feb. 10 highlighted on their calendar. That is when they meet for the second time. The loser is likely to keep the cellar spot, and neither team seems to long for anything higher than a 9th or 10th place finish. Marty Wilson could be on his way out, as could Mike Dunlap, but it’s unlikely, since LMU won’t consider a contract buyout of the remaining three years on his deal.
Midway Season Awards
Coach of the Year
Damon Stoudamire, Pacific
By year’s end, Randy Bennett’s name will go in this space, but isn’t it nice to talk about a new coach doing good things with his program?
Player of the Year
Jock Landale, St. Mary’s
At 23 + 11 in the scoring and rebounding department, Landale leads the next guy by three in each category. Would be nice if he could carry the Gaels to an undefeated regular season WCC championship.
Favorite Five Players to Watch
Jock Landale, St. Mary’s
Johnathan Williams, Gonzaga
Can be dominating at times and is so athletic. On any other team, he would have Landale numbers.
Yoeli Childs, BYU
Has saved BYU’s season after the departure of Nick Emery. Without his frontcourt presence, the Cougs are looking at a 4th or 5th place finish.
Isaiah Piniero, USD,
If you are looking at an MVP, Piniero might be it. He has stepped in right away to make the Toreros relevant. He will be a PoY candidate in ’18-’19.
James Batemon, LMU
Have to show a little love to my Lions. Batemon sometimes tries to carry the Lions too much and doesn’t get enough credit playing on a bad team. Has 10 games of 20 points or more, trailing just Landale.