Conference Reset: BYU, Gonzaga, Saint Mary's give WCC 3 threats

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Blogger
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The Zags need Robert Sacre to step up his game to match its potential. (Getty Images)  
The Zags need Robert Sacre to step up his game to match its potential. (Getty Images)  

Outside of the six BCS-affiliated conferences, the No. 7 spot in league rankings is up for grabs. Why not the West Coast Conference? With three legitimate threats to win a game in the NCAA tournament, the WCC has as good of an argument as anyone. Moreover, with some of the non-conference wins the bottom half of the league picked up in November, the quality victories are there as well.

The WCC should also feature a heated race for the title. BYU, Saint Mary's and Gonzaga are all capable of winning the conference, with each having ups and downs during the first two months. Gonzaga has won 11 straight conference championships. Will that run end this season?

Maximum Teams Capable of Making the NCAAs (And We're Very Serious About This): Gonzaga, Brigham Young, Saint Mary's

The League's Most Memorable Moment So Far: Santa Clara went to Anaheim for the 76 Classic, expecting to get maybe one good win on the trip. The Broncos came home with a third-place finish, including wins over New Mexico and Villanova. Those two victories skyrocketed the WCC into "best non-BCS league" talk.

Conference resets
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The Storyline You Were Too Busy to Notice: San Francisco is quietly sitting at 9-4. The Dons don't have the wins of Santa Clara or Loyola Marymount, or the clout of Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary's, but they have no losses by more than 10 points and nearly beat Murray State on a neutral court.

Coach feeling the heat: Bill Grier. Since San Diego received a No. 13 seed in 2008, the Toreros have struggled. They were 6-24 last year, and are only 5-7 this season, with two of those wins coming against non-Division-I schools. Grier needs to turn it around quickly in order to keep his job.

Still unproven: BYU. How good are the Cougars this season? They have great efficiency numbers, but they lost to Wisconsin, Utah State and Baylor, and their best win is over Buffalo. Guard Matt Carlino only became eligible recently, so they will need some time to reach their full potential.

Player of the Year and All-League Team: Noah Hartsock, BYU (POY); Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary's; Evan Roquemore, Santa Clara; Elias Harris, Gonzaga; Rob Jones, Saint Mary's.

What I loved: Big wins from teams outside the Big Three. We mentioned Santa Clara's big wins, but Loyola Marymount also defeated UCLA and Saint Louis in November. Pepperdine beat Arizona State on the road as well. All of these victories bode well for the league come March.

What I hated: Inconsistency of non-Big Three teams. Neither Santa Clara nor Loyola Marymount has been able to capitalize on their big wins. Santa Clara is 2-2 in D-I wins since the 76 Classic, including a loss last week to Houston Baptist. Loyola Marymount is 1-4 in D-I games since beating Saint Louis.

1. Brigham Young

What's Gone Quite Right: The Cougars are playing well at both ends of the floor, and the arrival of UCLA transfer Matt Carlino has been a huge boost. Noah Hartsock and Charles Abouo have been fantastic up front for BYU.

New Year's Resolution(s): Defend the arc better. Teams are shooting nearly 35 percent from 3-point range against the Cougars. BYU can rebound and defend the rim, but the perimeter defense has been somewhat soft in the losses.

MVP: Noah Hartsock. The senior forward was something of an unsung hero last season, but he's taken his game to a new level. He's averaging 17.3 points and 6.2 rebounds and leads the league in blocked shots.

Step Your Game Up: Brandon Davies provided great balance for Jimmer last season, but he's been very inconsistent this season. He's been alternating double-digit scoring games with struggling performances for weeks.

2. Gonzaga

What's Gone Quite Right: The perennial champs have a nice collection of wins (Arizona, Notre Dame, Washington State, Oral Roberts and Butler). The Zags can score with anyone, and Kevin Pangos has been a freshman surprise.

New Year's Resolution(s): Get tougher defensively. Against good teams, Gonzaga struggles to defend the rim and rebound. Moreover, the Bulldogs lack the perimeter quickness to stifle opposing guards on a consistent basis.

MVP: Elias Harris. Pangos has been great, but Harris is the go-to guy. He's rebounding better than ever and has expanded his offense to the perimeter. The only thing he's missing is a killer instinct but has shown flashes.

Step Your Game Up: Robert Sacre. The 7-footer started off the season with vengeance, but he's disappeared lately. In the past four games, Sacre is averaging 5.3 points and 5.8 rebounds, including two points total in the past two.

3. St. Mary's

What's Gone Quite Right: The Gaels have one of the best duos in the conference in Matthew Dellavedova and Rob Jones, who have carried the team at times. Saint Mary's obliterated MVC contenders Missouri State and Northern Iowa.

New Year's Resolution(s): Focus on the arc at both ends. Saint Mary's -- especially Dellavedova, whose 3-point numbers continue to dip -- has struggled shooting. The Gaels have also been prone to defensive lapses along the perimeter.

MVP: Rob Jones. The 6-foot-6 forward contributes everywhere. He's averaging a double-double, defends multiple positions effectively, distributes well, and also strokes the 3 consistently. There's not much more he can do.

Step Your Game Up: Jorden Page. Considering he takes a higher percentage of shots than Dellavedova when he's on the floor, he needs to shoot better than 36.7 percent. With that said, he's been improving in recent games.

4. Santa Clara

What's Gone Quite Right: The wins over Villanova and New Mexico still highlight the docket. Kevin Foster and Evan Roquemore are an explosive perimeter duo, and Niyi Harrison has been pretty solid down low.

New Year's Resolution(s): Defend better. Kerry Keating's troops can score, but they've also allowed at least one point per possession in all but two games. The Broncos won't be a league contender if they don't improve at that end.

MVP: Evan Roquemore. Foster might lead the league in scoring, but Roquemore is a more effective scorer and is the team's best playmaker. He dishes out six assists a game and also knocks down 42 percent of his 3-point shots.

Step Your Game Up: Niyi Harrison. The 6-foot-7 forward came up with 19 points and seven rebounds against New Mexico, but he's struggled as we enter conference play. Last time out, Harrison was scoreless and had four fouls in 12 minutes.

5. Loyola Marymount

What's Gone Quite Right: The Lions put everyone on notice when they beat UCLA in the first week and defeated Saint Louis two weeks later. Max Good has received varying contributions from a long list of players.

New Year's Resolution(s): Get healthy. Arguably the team's top two players, Ashley Hamilton and Drew Viney, are expected to return in January from injury. The two have been together for only five games this season. They need to get back.

MVP: Anthony Ireland. With Hamilton and Viney out, Ireland has kept the team together. He had 21 points and five assists against UCLA, and 17 points against Saint Louis. He's been one of the better all-around point guards in the conference.

Step Your Game Up: Jarred DuBois has been hampered by a foot injury but he needs to be a consistent offensive factor until everyone returns. Two points on 1-of-12 shooting in the past two losses won't cut it.

6. San Francisco

What's Gone Quite Right: Rex Walters has the Dons off to a 9-4 start, including a five-game winning streak. Four double-figure scorers provide balance, with Angelo Caloiaro leading the way on the inside.

New Year's Resolution(s): Get a hand up defensively. The Dons are one of the worst teams in the league on the defensive end. Teams are shooting nearly 50 percent inside the arc and better than 36 percent from 3-point range.

MVP: Angelo Caloairo. The 6-foot-8 forward leads the team in scoring and rebounding, and he also gets to the free-throw line. Has notched three double-doubles, is knocking down 3s and picking up steals.

Step Your Game Up: Michael Williams' scoring numbers are way down from last season as he struggles from the field. He also missed three games because of academics, and has scored only nine points since coming back.

7. Pepperdine

What's Gone Quite Right: Marty Wilson has slowed things down for the Waves and there have been some highlights. They beat Arizona State and Hawaii and are 3-2 in true road games. Taylor Darby and Corbin Moore have been good inside.

New Year's Resolution(s): Score some points. The Waves used to light up the scoreboard under Vance Walberg, but they've only topped the 60-point mark four times this season. Shooting below 40 percent on 2-pointers is a problem.

MVP: Corbin Moore leads the team in rebounding and blocks and is starting to score consistently. Over the last five games, the 6-foot-10 big man is averaging 13.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.

Step Your Game Up: Joshua Lowery. The 6-foot-3 junior has taken the second most shots on the team and leads the team in minutes. But he shoots only 29.8 percent and is 13 of 42 in Pepperdine's five losses.

8. Portland

What's Gone Quite Right: Well, the Pilots beat Florida Atlantic and Georgia State to open the season but have lost 10 straight Division I games since. Forward Ryan Nicholas has been one of the bright spots.

New Year's Resolution(s): Get back in the win column. The Pilots were able to beat a very good Georgia State team; they do have some pieces. But the defense has disappeared -- teams are shooting 52 percent against them inside the arc.

MVP: Ryan Nicholas hasn't been able to get the Pilots another win but is leading the team in scoring and rebounding. Nicholas is also becoming a more dangerous player, shooting 30 of 52 in his past six games.

Step Your Game Up: Nemanja Mitrovic needs to become more efficient offensively. He leads the team in shots but ranks third in scoring and shoots 35 percent. He's averaging only 6.4 points in his past seven games.

9. San Diego

What's Gone Quite Right: A win over Maine highlights the docket, while freshman Johnny Dee has been a surprise. Games against BYU and Saint Mary's to start the WCC season will throw young players into the fire immediately.

New Year's Resolution(s): Build for next season. The Toreros don't have a ton of hope for this season, but there's only one senior on the roster. With Dee and Chris Manresa coming back, Bill Grier's troops might be able to move up.

MVP: Johnny Dee. The freshman is one of the better 3-point shooters on the West coast, hitting 44 percent from beyond the arc. Dee already has three performances of at least 20 points and is playing within himself.

Step Your Game Up: Ken Rancifer. On a team with limited offensive options, Rancifer needs to provide more. He's more experienced than most of the roster and has shown the ability to score double-figure points.

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