Turk’s Take: WCC Stretch Report

It is certainly a race for everything but #1.  Here is where the teams are in the current standings, and what might happen before February is over:

Gonzaga – The only team that can beat them is Gonzaga, and they will go on and win the WCC Tournament as well.  Even though last year’s squad was their most experienced team, this bunch might be the team to win it all.  They must stay healthy, and they have to improve on 68% from the line. There is great offensive depth as shown with seven guys averaging in double figures.  (1) (Previously predicted order of WCC finish)

BYU – The Cougars have won 13 of their last 16 and are playing with a great amount of confidence.  They are shooting nearly 51% from the field, and while they are defending better, the offense will get them further, especially when they are trying to take down GU.  BYU lacks the overall inside presence to overtake Zags, but they deserve an NCAA bid.  They must keep their eye on that prize and not look too far ahead to their upcoming home date with Gonzaga.  (2)

St. Mary’s – Randy Bennett always looks like he’s lost his best friend, and you just want to give him a big hug.  However, it’s his team HE needs to hug.  Nothing ever comes easy for them.  Two of their remaining five games are against teams who have beaten them – Pacific and Santa Clara – and they finish the regular season in Spokane.  Their success down the stretch will hinge on Malik Fitts, who has gotten in foul trouble in big games and has not consistently rebounded well, which is the Gaels’ biggest weakness.  (3)

Pacific – While a four-game winning streak and a third-place tie in the standings should say a lot, Pacific has to go 4-1 and beat St. Mary’s in Moraga to claim third place.  I just don’t think that’s possible.  The Tigers have saved Damon Stoudamire’s job no doubt, but this is not a top-three team.  (4)

Pepperdine – Pep is winning the games they can, but will kick themselves when they land in the second half of the conference because of some close games they should have won.  With BYU and Gonzaga left at home, along with a roadie at USF, it is likely Pep will finish sixth unless they can take down the Dons.  That can all change with a better focus on defense, which they just have not managed to do.  (6)

Santa Clara – The Broncos are the hardest team to figure out.  They have five losses behind each of their five conference victories.  With that pattern of play, it’s hard to believe they won’t drop one spot here, especially with a stretch that includes games at BYU and Pacific, followed by a home game vs. the Gaels.  (7)

USF – The Dons are on their second three-game losing streak of the season.  They went on a three-game winning streak the first time they lost three in a row, but that’s not likely to happen this time, as Gonzaga is among their next three opponents.  They do control their own destiny now with games against the Waves and Broncos before finishing against Portland and LMU.  If they can be more like the team who gave GU and BYU trouble while scoring in the 70’s, and less like the team who scored 48 points in two other WCC games, they will leapfrog into 5th.  (5)

LMU – The Mad Scientist, aka Mike Dunlap, has continuously tinkered with his starting lineups and rotations with little success.  His team has now reached a point where they are giving up a reasonable 69 ppg while scoring an abysmal 66 ppg, among the worst in the country.  You simply cannot win games in this conference that way, and Dunlap is not budging on how his team plays offensively.  This has pushed the Lions to the precipitous cliff from where they are looking down at the possibility of finishing last. (9)

USD – As one of the youngest teams in the WCC, the Toreros have given it everything they have.  They just don’t have enough offensive firepower yet and lack interior defense to compete with the upper half of the conference.  Unfortunately, they have the Zags, Gaels, and Cougars left, while trying to make it difficult for Pep and Pacific, too.  USD could be looking at an 0-5 finish and last place.  (10)

Portland – They are who we thought they would be even though the Pilots got their only conference win in the first week.  They have not really put up a fight until this weekend at USD, where they lost in double OT when they had a chance to get out of the cellar.  UP will have one more chance when they host LMU in what will be Terry Porter’s last game as coach on Senior Night.  A win for the Pilots might just make for a second coaching casualty in getting Mike Dunlap fired and, amazingly enough, could bump them up two spots in the conference standings.  (8)