Conference play got underway last week. Or rather, it tried.
Seven games were scheduled, but only two were played. Five of the league’s 10 teams went on a coronavirus pause. So far this week three of the nine originally scheduled games have been postponed as well.
As a result, these rankings look almost the exact same as they did a week ago. Only one change, and that change brought my top-four back into the same order as it was to start the season.
Last week I wrote a story trying to make sense of this season as it rapidly falls apart, so go read that if you want a deep dive into how cancellations and postponements might mess up conference play in a big way. I also wrote something of a state of the teams in the league piece, taking a look at the good and bad for each of the ten teams as they entered conference play. Give that a read if you want, especially if your team is currently paused. There’s not much to be said about those teams this week.
And with that, let’s get into this week’s rankings.
(A note, as always: This season is messed up. I try my best to keep track of the schedules, the cancellations and the games that get added, but it’s impossible. When listing games played and games upcoming, there may be a cancellation that falls through the cracks or a game that gets added after these rankings are written. Keep that in mind as we go through the week. Check teams’ official schedules daily to ensure you don’t miss any of the action.)
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Record: 10–0 (1–0)
AP: 1st (no change)
KenPom: 1st (no change)
Last week: W 88–58 vs. Northern Arizona, W 112–67 vs. Dixie State, W 85–62 vs. San Francisco
This week: 1/7 vs. Santa Clara, 1/9 at Portland
The Zags slapped around Northern Arizona and Dixie State to wrap up non-conference play. Against Northern Arizona the team came out red hot and led 22–5 at the first TV timeout. To that point Gonzaga had scored 2 points per possession compared to just 0.5 for NAU.
By the game’s end Gonzaga had scored 1.29 points per possession. The next night against Dixie State, a surprisingly game newcomer to D1, the Zags put up 1.38 points per possession — second best on the season, behind only the Zags’ game against Virginia, of all teams. Over the two games the team dished out 41 assists.
All that without starting point guard Jalen Suggs, who was held out of both due to a minor leg injury. Suggs returned for the conference opener against San Francisco, but was limited with three first half fouls (five total) and held to just five points. It didn’t matter then, either. The Zags dished out helpers on 50% of their makes for the game.
Suggs is getting legitimate buzz as a potential №1 pick in next year’s NBA Draft. He’s been largely irrelevant for three games in a row and it hasn’t hampered Gonzaga in any way. This team is too good, too talented and way too deep.
And now for the bad news. Gonzaga’s next opponent is Santa Clara, a team currently on a COVID-19 pause. For now, the game is still on the schedule. For now. The Broncos haven’t put out any statement since announcing their final non-conference game of the season would be canceled.
2. BYU Cougars
Record: 9–2 (0–0)
AP: Receiving Votes (33rd) [+2]
KenPom: 66th (no change)
Last week: POSTPONED at Pepperdine, POSTPONED at San Diego
This week: POSTPONED vs. Pacific
Former head coach Dave Rose suffered a stroke on December 31, the team announced over the weekend.
Coach Rose was not only an incredibly accomplished coach during his 14 seasons with BYU, but he was universally admired by fans, players and coaches, his own and those he coached against. Rose has a track record of overcoming medical emergencies. He survived pancreatic cancer and then, months after retiring, a heart attack. Strokes are different, obviously, but if anyone can make a full recovery from one it’s the 63-year-old Rose.
He’s truly one of the great people in college basketball. A quintessential, ideal coach. He won games, developed young men and did everything the right way, on and off the court. Keep him and his family in your thoughts until he’s able to get back around the program, which he no doubt continues to influence in a positive way even in retirement.
As for the team itself, there’s not much to say.
The Cougars haven’t played since December 23 and they don’t have a game scheduled, that hasn’t been postponed, until January 14. That’s a 22 day break all because teams on their schedule have had issues with coronavirus, even though the Cougars themselves have thus far steered clear of the virus.
3. San Francisco Dons
Record: 7–5 (1–1)
KenPom: 78th (-4)
Last week: W 70–62 vs. San Diego, L 85–62 at Gonzaga
This week: POSTPONED vs. Pepperdine, 1/7 vs. Portland, 1/9 at LMU
San Francisco needed to complete a comeback against San Diego, at home, in order to avoid an upset in their conference opener. Then they fell by 23 points to Gonzaga. I’ve moved them up a spot anyway, though that has more to do with how I feel about the team they’ve jumped.
Still, the Dons were impressive in their loss in Spokane. For the first 20 minutes, at least, and that’s more than any team that’s faced Gonzaga can say, other than maybe West Virginia.
Gonzaga’s defensive game plan worked wonderfully and the Zags took away the Dons’ main weapon: the three ball. The Dons set screens on the perimeter for Jamaree Bouyea and Khalil Shabazz, but they weren’t able to get open looks as the Zags fought through and over top of every single screen the Dons set. The Dons kept it close though, with Bouyea recognizing what the defense was taking away, and exploiting the driving lanes that opened up as a result. He scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half. It was a seven-point game entering the break until Corey Kispert’s half-court heave beat the buzzer to move the Dons’ deficit to ten. From there, it was over.
Defensively there’s really nothing to take away from that game. Nobody is going to look good on that end against Gonzaga. The impressive offensive performance in the first half is certainly worth noting, though. The Dons are well coached, and even though they rely on the three ball they’re not dependent on it. Gonzaga took it away and San Francisco found ways to stay competitive. This is a team that will be a nightmare in the conference tournament and in the NCAA Tournament, if they can pull off a few upsets in Vegas.
4. Saint Mary’s Gaels
Record: 9–2 (0–0)
KenPom: 63rd (+5)
Last week: W 63–45 vs. Sacramento State, POSTPONED vs. Pepperdine
This week: 1/7 at San Diego. 1/9 at Santa Clara
Alex Ducas has been out since early in the game against Colorado State on December 19. Leemet Bockler hasn’t played since the game prior, on December 15. I wrote in last week’s power rankings about how their absence has changed Saint Mary’s offense for the worse, so I won’t get into that again this week. Instead, let’s focus on Tommy Kuhse, who was playing at first team all-WCC level prior to losing those two.
Kuhse was shooting 51.4% from the field in the eight games prior to the Ducas and Bockler injuries. He’s gone 3–11, 4–11 and 5–14 in the three games since (33.3%). Remember, Kuhse was a walk-on until this season. He’s proven to be a phenomenal game manager style of point guard. Which was exactly what the Gaels’ needed for the past two seasons alongside Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts.
Ducas and Bockler and Ford and Fitts, not even close at this point in their careers at least, but Ducas is a guy who can create offense for himself and Bockler will knock down shots when you get him the ball. Without them the Gaels can’t space the floor nearly as well and they don’t have a guy who can go get a bucket when they need one. So, that role falls on Kuhse’s shoulders. He’s had some phenomenal games this season including a 24 point and a 34 point performance. But without a fully healthy roster, he’s forced to take tough shots far too often.
Even when fully healthy this is the least talented Saint Mary’s roster since … honestly, probably Randy Bennett’s first season. Even the lean years after Delly left had guys like Stephen Holt, Brad Waldow and a trio of impactful high-major transfers. The program is better than it was back then, and no longer hampered by NCAA sanctions, which I figured would be enough to keep a roster this thin in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament berth, or decent seed in the NIT at worst. I still think that’s the case, though I’m leaning more towards the latter because I simply don’t see this team as currently constructed as being capable of upsetting Gonzaga or BYU this season. Even San Francisco should be able to sweep Saint Mary’s this year.
5. LMU Lions
Record: 5–3 (0–0)
KenPom: 125th (+3)
Last week: CANCELED at USC, POSTPONED at Santa Clara
This week: POSTPONED at Portland, 1/9 vs. San Francisco
The Lions haven’t played since December 19. They’ve been on a COVID-19 pause since December 26. They had to scratch their conference opener last week and already announced that what was supposed to be game number two, this upcoming Thursday, is off as well.
6. Pacific Tigers
Record: 3–1 (0–0)
KenPom: 138th (-2)
Last week: CANCELED vs. William Jessup, POSTPONED vs. Portland
This week: POSTPONED at BYU, 1/9 vs. San Diego
November 25, November 30 and December 2, those were the only normal games of the season for Pacific. They went from the 2nd to the 20th without a game, then played a true road game against a Non-D1 opponent, and haven’t played since. Their second coronavirus pause of the season caused their conference opener to get scratched, and today they announced the game against BYU scheduled for Thursday was off as well. Saturday they’re scheduled to face a San Diego team on its third pause of the season, so we’ll see if that one winds up happening.
7. Santa Clara Broncos
Record: 6–1 (0–0)
KenPom: 122nd (no change)
Last week: L 86–63 at USC, CANCELED vs. New Mexico State, POSTPONED vs. LMU
This week: 1/7 at Gonzaga, 1/9 vs. Saint Mary’s
The Broncos went on a coronavirus pause on December 30, one day after playing USC. So, unlike many of the teams in the league the Broncos haven’t been sidelined for weeks on end, at least not yet. As of now, they’re still set to travel to Spokane on Thursday to take on Gonzaga and then “host” Saint Mary’s Saturday in Santa Cruz (because they’re not allowed to play in Santa Clara County).
8. Pepperdine Waves
Record: 4–5 (0–0)
KenPom: 144th (no change)
Last week: POSTPONED vs. BYU
This week: POSTPONED at Saint Mary’s, POSTPONED at San Francisco
I haven’t said much about these teams on pauses because, frankly, there’s not much to say. Pepperdine though presents an interesting case. Last Wednesday the Waves announced they would be going on a pause, and that their conference opener against BYU was off as a result. Today they extended that to both of their week two games, against Saint Mary’s and San Francisco.
The Waves, in the span of a week and a half, will lose games against the teams I and everyone else have, in some order, as the second, third and fourth best teams in the WCC.
At the rate things are going, I don’t think it’s going to be possible for every one of these games to be made up. We’ve already lost the bulk of the first week and now the second week is starting to fall apart. At some point there will be too many games and not enough time. We might even be there already. So, what do you do about Pepperdine?
This is a team that was expected to compete for an NCAA Tournament berth this season (that’s not going to happen, but suspend disbelief for a moment). To do that, they’d need to do what they were unable to do a year ago and pick up wins against the best teams they play. Well, they just lost the opportunity to play three of the four best teams in the West Coast Conference.
Moreover, three of the four best teams in the West Coast Conference just lost the opportunity to pick up a win against a team that currently sits 8th in my power rankings and 8th among WCC teams in the NET. If these games aren’t made up, the Waves’ schedule just got a lot easier and Saint Mary’s, BYU and San Francisco’s all got slightly more difficult by comparison. What happens if these games aren’t made up, Pepperdine gets its act together, and winds up picking up the three seed in the conference tournament, ahead of two of the teams they weren’t able to play?
Yeah, beating Pepperdine doesn’t do anything for a tournament resume, but it still counts as one-sixteenth of a conference season and that could have huge implications for the conference tournament. It’s not quite Ohio State football being placed into the Big Ten Championship Game despite playing like two games, but it’s similar. That said, the Waves might just put up an 0-fer in the win column the rest of the way and none of this will matter.
9. Portland Pilots
Record: 6–3 (0–0)
KenPom: 284th (-18)
Last week: L 84–68 at Seattle, POSTPONED at Pacific
This week: POSTPONED vs. LMU, 1/7 at San Francisco, 1/9 vs. Gonzaga
The Pilots have lost to Seattle by double-digits twice this season. I like Jim Hayford, thought he did a great job at Eastern Washington and think he’s doing a good job, all things considered, at Seattle. That said, a WCC team should not be getting blown out by Seattle under any circumstances.
Portland’s first two conference games have been scratched due to Pacific and LMU being paused. But they won’t lose two-straight game days.
With both Portland and San Francisco finding themselves with an open date on Thursday, the WCC basically moved the scheduled meeting between the two up from February 11 to January 7.
10. San Diego Toreros
Record: 1–4 (0–1)
KenPom: 188th (+3)
Last week: L 70–62 at San Francisco, POSTPONED vs. BYU
This week: 1/7 vs. Saint Mary’s, 1/9 at Pacific
San Diego, I’m sorry. You don’t deserve what’s happening to you.
A day after giving up a lead on the road against San Francisco, the Toreros had to pause basketball activities. Again. For the third time this season. As of now, both games this week are set to take place as scheduled. Again, that’s as of now.