Checking in on… the WCCPosted by rtmsf on January 7th, 2010
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Final Pre-Conference Standings (through games of 1/4)
- Saint Mary’s 13-2
- Gonzaga 11-3
- Portland 9-5
- Loyola Marymount 9-7
- Santa Clara 8-9
- San Diego 7-9
- San Francisco 5-10
- Pepperdine 4-12
Table Set for Early Drama
With several key conference match-ups scheduled in the first two weeks of play, the WCC race could be either very interesting or very boring within a short period. Because of an unusually front-loaded schedule, Gonzaga goes on the road against three conference foes considered most likely to upset them – Portland, Saint Mary’s and San Diego – within a one-week period (Jan. 9-16). If one or more of those teams stops the Zags, the race could be worth watching; if the Zags run the table, it’ll be all over but the shouting.
In the early conference season, the curtain-opening game between Gonzaga and Portland at Portland this Saturday (Jan. 9) looked like one of the most intriguing WCC contests in recent years. Portland’s stumbles against West Virginia, Portland State, Idaho, Washington and Nevada, however, have taken some of the luster off that game. For their part, the Zags won respect and frequent flyer miles with their final two OOC games, an 83-69 win over Oklahoma at home on New Year’s Eve followed by an 85-83 overtime win over Illinois in Chicago barely 48 hours later. The Zags will have a full week to recharge before making the reasonably sort trip to Portland to stare down the Pilots, who must summon all their early-season moxie (wins over Oregon, UCLA and Minnesota) to have a chance.
After Portland, Gonzaga travels to the snake pit known as McKeon Pavilion for a Thursday-night (Jan. 14) barn-burner against Saint Mary’s in Moraga, then continues south to take on San Diego in the Jenny Craig Pavilion on Saturday. It will be quite a week for the Zags, but they have proven impervious to tough travels to tough venues, and all their opponents must bring their A-games to have a chance for victory. A 3-0 Gonzaga squad with its tough road games behind it (except for a potentially intriguing Feb. 18 game against Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles) will not be a pretty sight for WCC teams to behold.
Saint Mary’s stands a good chance of facing Gonzaga with a 2-0 conference mark, as the Gaels open on the road Friday night (Jan. 8) against San Francisco, which has struggled in the pre-conference slate, and then at up-and-down Santa Clara on Sunday afternoon. Saint Mary’s had established McKeon Pavilion as one WCC stop Gonzaga didn’t want to make with consecutive victories there in ’07 and ’08 before stumbling there last year without injured star Patty Mills. With an NCAA berth hinging on a victory over Gonzaga at some point this year, Saint Mary’s will bring all its Aussie chants, Samhan juju and Randy Bennett strategy to the showdown.
Another Friday night game of interest pits San Diego at Santa Clara, with a possible fourth-place conference finish and first-game WCC tournament bye at stake. San Diego has been difficult to figure out this year, compiling a 7-9 record that includes encouraging wins over Stanford, Oklahoma and Houston, and puzzling losses to Fresno State, Pacific and UC-Riverside. San Diego split its last two OOC games, hanging with a tough Mississippi State team on New Year’s Eve before losing 77-68, then bouncing back to beat Florida A&M 74-64 three days later. The win over Florida A&M was accomplished without 6-2 senior guard De’Jon Jackson and 6-8 freshman forward Chris Manressa in uniform, and their status is uncertain for the Santa Clara game.
Loyola Marymount, one of the hottest teams in the WCC with a six-game winning streak that includes a road win over Notre Dame, will have something to say about that fourth-place spot in the WCC standings as well. The Lions open Friday night against perennial saddle burr Pepperdine in Malibu with a lot at stake: Beach Brat Bragging Rights over the Waves, who have a multi-year home winning streak against them, and a shot at a 3-0 conference record by week two. After Pepperdine, the Lions host San Francisco and Santa Clara, both beatable, in the following weekend’s play. LMU’s moment of truth could come the weekend after that (Jan. 21-23), when they travel to Portland and Gonzaga.