WCC making a case for best conference in the West ahead of Mountain West, Pac-12
The West Coast Conference season is all of one week old – just a single game for Gonzaga and Portland – and just two unbeatens remain.
San Francisco and Gonzaga are at the top with zero losses. They collide Saturday night in San Francisco, so there will be one undefeated – provided the Zags don’t stumble at home vs. Pacific on Thursday – come Sunday morning.
The Zags rolled in their lone game, a 91-48 blowout over Santa Clara. The Dons are 2-0, breaking a late tie to hold off Saint Mary’s and riding Frankie Ferrari’s go-ahead 3-pointer with 14.2 seconds left to edge Pepperdine.
Pepperdine, eighth in the preseason poll, thumped Loyola Marymount, which came in with a 12-2 record, and nearly beat USF, considered by many to be the second-best team in the WCC.
Santa Clara, picked ninth in the preseason poll, handled San Diego, thought to be a top-five team. BYU, third in the preseason poll, barely dug out a road win over Pacific before getting crushed at Saint Mary’s.
Week 1 reinforced the chatter about the WCC being much improved. It certainly didn’t diminish the possibility that the WCC might be the West’s best conference.
“We’re going to have some really tough outs in this league,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “The league has done a great job in the nonconference season. It looks to me like it’s the best league out West, which it’s been a while since we’ve been able to say that. I think we can say that now. We’re going to be challenged.”
A glance at the numbers can support or counter Few’s contention. At the top, Gonzaga has a clear edge in KenPom.com’s and the NCAA’s NET rankings. In KenPom, GU is No. 3, Nevada of the Mountain West is No. 14 and Oregon, the Pac-12’s top squad, is No. 44. The Ducks are followed closely by conference rivals No. 50 Washington, No. 54 Arizona State and No. 56 Arizona.
Saint Mary’s is No. 38 and San Francisco checks in at No. 45. Utah State of the MWC is No. 47.
In NET, GU is fifth, Nevada 28th and Washington 53rd.
KenPom has the WCC No. 8 among the 32 Division I conferences, matching the conference’s finish in 2015. The WCC was 14th, 11th and 12th in the past three seasons.
The Pac-12 is No. 6, with the Mountain West No. 11, WAC No. 16, Big West No. 21 and Big Sky No. 26. The Big 12, Big Ten and ACC hold down the top three spots.
The Pac-12 ranks higher than the WCC because it has eight teams in the top 100 and only one, Cal at 208, above 200. The MWC has four teams at 243 or higher. The WCC has four in the top 100, Santa Clara at 201 and Portland at 293.
CBSsports.com, through nonconference play, had the Pac-12 seventh, the WCC ninth and the Mountain West 17th, one spot behind the WAC.
Analytics aside, the WCC measures up well in actual basketball games. The conference was 10-7 vs. the Pac-12, 8-8 vs. the Mountain West.
The takeaway? It could be a wilder ride than expected for Gonzaga and the WCC’s top tier over the next three months. Teams projected in the bottom half needed just one week to demonstrate they can knock off or challenge the upper half.