Checking in on… the WCCPosted by nvr1983 on December 10th, 2009
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Standings (through games of 12/8/09)
- Saint Mary’s 6-1
- Gonzaga 6-2
- Portland 5-3
- Santa Clara 4-4
- San Diego 4-5
- Pepperdine 3-5
- Loyola-Marymount 3-6
- USF 2-6
With approximately one-quarter of the 2009-10 season completed, does it make any sense to designate the league’s best team so far? If so, what criteria should be used? Saint Mary’s has the best winning percentage and leads the conference in several key statistical categories (scoring offense, scoring defense, scoring margin, rebounding margin, and blocked shots), but has compiled that record against a mixture of strong (Vanderbilt, San Diego State, and Utah State) and weak teams (Cal Poly, New Mexico State, and San Jose State).
Gonzaga has two losses, but they came against powerhouse Michigan State on the road and up-and-coming Wake Forest at home. The Zags’ three wins at the Maui Invitational were over a resurgent Colorado, Big Ten stalwart Wisconsin and potential Big East contender Cincinnati. That performance, plus a come-from-behind 74-69 victory over Washington State at home on Dec. 2 was enough to vault the Zags to a high of No. 16 in the ESPN/USA Today poll before they fell to No. 22 following the loss to Wake. Zag fans would argue strongly that their more difficult schedule in the early going gives them the nod over the Gaels, and the national media agrees by awarding Gonzaga a Top 25 ranking while casting only a few votes for Saint Mary’s.
Portland had worked its way into the discussion with impressive early wins over Oregon, UCLA, and Minnesota (then ranked No. 16), which earned the Pilots their first Top 25 designation in 50 years. But Portland faltered against No. 8 West Virginia (84-66 loss), then began a post-ranking free fall with losses to cross-town rival Portland State and University of Idaho in Moscow, ID on Dec. 6. Portland quickly exited the Top 25 ranks after that.
This debate will only continue to rage as the pre-season progresses. Gonzaga faces more top-notch competition with games against Duke on Dec. 19 at Madison Square Garden, Oklahoma at the Spokane Arena on Dec. 31 (Happy New Year!), and Illinois in Chicago on Jan. 2, 2010 on the weekend before the conference season kicks off. That one might be over before the travel-weary Zags even wake up, as it will take place at 11 a.m. Pacific Time.
Portland has a chance to resurrect its national reputation with games against Pac-10 favorite University of Washington on Dec. 19 (in Seattle) and perennial WAC contender Nevada in Reno on Dec. 28. Saint Mary’s can give its fans fodder for discussion with games against Oregon in Eugene on Dec. 12 and by participating in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu over Christmas, with an opening-day contest against improving Northeastern and a possible run-in with (so-far) undefeated UNLV.
As much as these non-conference games fuel disagreements among teams about who’s best, they have helped the WCC post an impressive record. Helped by wins by San Diego over Stanford, Oklahoma, and Houston and by Loyola-Marymount over USC, the WCC is currently 10-8 against BSC competition and 5-3 against the Pac-10 (as of games of 12/8/09).
Taking the top dogs out of the equation, the competition among remaining WCC teams has been fierce but not decisive. With the aforementioned early wins over Stanford, Oklahoma and Houston, San Diego was cruising, and looked to be a candidate to challenge the top-tier teams. Just when you could mention the Toreros and NCAA Tournament in the same breath, however, they suffered four straight losses to Washington State (93-56 — Ouch!), San Diego State, UC Riverside and, most painfully because of an offensive insufficiency, 69-37 to ho-hum Fresno State. Things may not get better real soon for San Diego, as they faced undefeated New Mexico University (not to be confused with struggling New Mexico State) in the Jenny Craig Pavilion on Wednesday (Dec. 9).
Santa Clara reversed its early-season swoon just as it lost leading scorer Kevin Foster for the season with a foot injury. Without Foster, the Broncos battled tough UNLV down to the wire before losing 66-63 at home on Dec. 5. Santa Clara had pulled to within a point at 64-63 with 3.8 seconds left before UNLV’s Matt Shaw hit two free throws to ice the game. Without Foster, the Broncos got strong performances from 6-9 sophomore Marc Trasolini (22 points), freshman guard Robert Smith (12 points) and junior forward Troy Payne (10 points). Indicating that Kerry Keating had lit a fire under his troops, the Broncs topped UC-Santa Barbara 79-68 in Santa Barbara four days before the UNLV game. The loss of Foster will obviously hamper Santa Clara as the season progresses, but the performance against UNLV shows there is life in the Broncos still.
Loyola-Marymount coach Max Good will not shed any tears for Keating, as he has seen one of his prize recruits, 6-10 freshman Edgar Garibay, go down for the season just as he was beginning to work Garibay into the rotation. Loyola has also been without junior transfer guard Larry Davis and his 13.2 ppg average for the past four games because of an injury to his heel. Davis is not expected to play in the Lions’ next game on Thursday (Dec. 10), when they hope to avenge one of their many close losses against Montana at Gersten Pavilion. Starting four sophomores and a junior, Loyola has already exceeded last year’s win total and has lost five games by six points or less. Things don’t get any easier for the Drew Viney-led Lions, however, as they travel to South Bend on Dec. 12 to play Notre Dame.
The losses keep mounting for Pepperdine – three in a row heading into Thursday’s (Dec. 10) home game against Cal Baptist – but sophomore guard Keion Bell continues to light it up. Bell is one of only three players in the US averaging at least 20 points, five rebounds and four assists. He is also the only known player to perfect the leap-frogging of five teammates en route to a dunk, a feat he performed at the Waves’ Blue and Orange Madness to kick off practice in October. That is not yet a statistical category, but Bell is the unofficial leader. Pepp faces Portland State (Dec. 13) and New Mexico State (Dec. 18) on a current four-game home stand that they hope to ride back into the win column.
USF hopes it reached the bottom of its early-season slide with a 76-71 win over San Jose State on Dec. 8. Star forward Dior Lowhorn returned from an illness that forced him to miss the Dons’ 69-43 shellacking by BYU last Saturday (Dec. 5) to lead all scorers with 26 points. Sophomore Angelo Caloiaro continued his steady play with 12 points against San Jose, and guard Kwame Vaughn contributed 15. The Dons hit the road for a Dec. 12 game against Loyola of Chicago.