Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on February 27th, 2014

Michael Vernetti is the Rush the Court’s correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

Looking Back

Perris Blackwell is pulling down rebounds for Washington, De’End Parker is leading Cal State San Marcos to the top of NAIA ranks, and Cody Doolin is plotting his comeback next year at UNLV. But Rex Walters has commanded a resolute Gang of Six anchored by senior forward Cole Dickerson to propel San Francisco to the brink of second place in the WCC with an outside chance of tying for the title. By holding off hapless Saint Mary’s and still-struggling Pacific at home last week, the Dons moved to 11-5 in conference play and into a virtual tie with BYU for the second spot (the Cougars have a half-game lead by virtue of having played one more game). If the Dons sweep Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount this week in Southern California and BYU and Gonzaga stumble in their final contests, Walters’ embattled troops will have pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in WCC history.

It is still a slight possibility that Cole Dickerson and USF could record an improbable conference crown. (ISI Sports)

It is still a slight possibility that Cole Dickerson and USF could earn itself an improbable conference crown. (ISI Sports)

Gonzaga paved the way for this potential outcome by dropping both its road contests last week, first to an aroused BYU in Provo, and then to a scrappy San Diego at the Jenny Craig Pavilion. The Zags’ lack of depth was a factor in both losses, as Mark Few has narrowed his rotation to exclude anyone besides Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower, Jr. in the frontcourt. Providence transfer Gerard Coleman, Louisville transfer Angel Nunez and two freshmen are anchored on the bench as the Zags plow unsteadily towards another conference championship and a top seed in the WCC Tournament, opening March 6 in Las Vegas.The other factor in San Francisco’s rise has been the decline of Saint Mary’s, whose six losses prevent it from finishing in one of the top two league spots for the first time in recent history. The Gaels displayed all their Jekyll-and-Hyde characteristics last week, managing just 23 first-half points in the loss at San Francisco, then dominating Santa Clara with 59.2 percent shooting and a career-best 35 points from senior guard Stephen Holt. Anyone who says they know which Saint Mary’s team will show up on any given night hasn’t been paying attention this season.

BYU is the other success story emerging in the final weeks of the WCC season, as the Cougars seem to have figured out a way to win on the road. They gutted out a 60-57 win over Saint Mary’s in Moraga on February 15 for only their third conference road victory, then sat back and downed Portland and Gonzaga last week at home to take over second place by a half-game. The only thing keeping BYU from it highest WCC finish since entering the conference three years ago is a final road test against San Diego on Saturday afternoon.

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (23-6, 13-3)
  2. BYU (20-10, 12-5)
  3. San Francisco (18-10, 11-5)
  4. Saint Mary’s (20-9, 10-6)
  5. Pepperdine (15-13, 8-8)
  6. Portland (15-13, 7-9)
  7. San Diego (16-14, 7-10)
  8. Pacific (14-13, 5-11)
  9. Santa Clara (12-17, 5-11)
  10. Loyola Marymount (11-17, 3-13)

WCC News & Notes

  • On the surface, all seems well for Gonzaga. The Zags hold a two-game lead going into the conference’s final week of play and all of Few’s troops are healthy. The problem is that Few doesn’t trust any of them outside the starting five and reserves Kyle Dranginis and Drew Barham. Plus, the Zags have stumbled on the road this year and must finish up against Saint Mary’s in Moraga and Pacific in Stockton – either of which would consider a win a distinct highlight of their seasons. This will not be a worry-free week for Few and the Zags.

    Przemek Karnowski is putting together an outstanding year. (USA TODAY Sports)

    Przemek Karnowski is putting together an outstanding year. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • BYU seems to have survived a road-heavy early part of the conference schedule to put itself in a position to cinch at least a tie for second place. Standing in its way is Bill Grier’s unpredictable San Diego Toreros, coming off an upset over Gonzaga. Combining BYU’s sometimes-unsteady road history and San Diego’s penchant for mounting end-of-season rallies that unnerve the teams ahead of it makes BYU’s trip to San Diego on Saturday very interesting.
  • When the Cody Doolin fight-with-a-teammate drama that drove him to withdrawing from San Francisco occurred last November, the Dons seemed in turmoil. Instead of imploding, however, they instead rallied behind the makeshift starting backcourt of Avry Holmes and Matt Glover, abetted off the bench by Tim Derksen, and an overworked frontcourt of Cole Dickerson, Mark Tollefson and Kruize Pinkins to right the ship. They must finish out the conference schedule with road wins at Pepperdine and LMU to complete the Cinderella story.
  • It’s been awhile since Randy Bennett’s Gaels weren’t competing for at least a share of the WCC title in the last week of the season, but that’s the situation in this up-and-down year. Finishing with wins over Portland and Gonzaga in Moraga would undoubtedly provide momentum for Saint Mary’s entering the WCC Tournament, but that’s a far cry from past years when the Gaels could hope for an at-large NCAA berth if they stumbled there. Now, they must hope for a Las Vegas sweep and the automatic NCAA bid that comes with it.
  • The other team with a chance to impact the standings in the last week is Marty Wilson’s Pepperdine Waves. Although a top-four finish is not possible, the Waves could guarantee their first winning conference season since 2004 by sweeping San Francisco and Santa Clara. That goal clashes with San Francisco’s loftier mission, which makes tonight a crucial night in the WCC.
  • Handicapping the bottom portion of the conference, Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount seem most likely to be the teams eliminated in the play-in portion of the WCC Tournament scheduled for March 6. That would put San Diego and Pacific, along with Portland, into the mix for the remaining three days of competition.

Looking Ahead

It’s the last week of regular-season conference play and Gonzaga has a two-game lead, but that doesn’t mean the remaining games are meaningless. San Francisco at Pepperdine (, 7:00 PM Pacific) and Gonzaga at Stockton (ESPNU, 7:00 PM Pacific) should be white-knuckle affairs tonight because of the conflicting goals of the combatants. If Gonzaga should lose and face a final-game showdown with Saint Mary’s in Moraga on Saturday, the Zags’ shot at an undisputed WCC regular season championship would be in doubt. The same can be said for San Francisco’s dreams, which could come undone with a Pepperdine win.

If that isn’t enough drama, Saturday clashes between BYU and San Diego (, 1:00 PM Pacific) and Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s (ESPN2, 7:00 PM Pacific) could offer even more.

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