Believing their third year in the West Coast Conference might not give them the kind of schedule that would draw the attention of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, the BYU Cougars went out and put together one of the most difficult nonconference basketball schedules in their history — stocking it with Oregon, Texas, Utah, UMass, Stanford, Utah State, Iowa State and Wichita State.
But look at the WCC now.
West Coast Conference
Predicted order of finish
2. Saint Mary’s
5. San Diego
7. San Francisco
9. Loyola Marymount
10. Santa Clara
Team on the rise
Pacific. The Tigers have served notice that they plan on making an impact in their first year in the league, going 9-1 and defeating the likes of Utah State and Nevada on the road and Fresno State and UC Irvine at home.
Team on the decline
San Francisco. Coach Rex Walters’ San Francisco Dons played well at the end of last season, surprising BYU and other teams, and were seemingly on the rise. But the in-season departure of star guard Cody Doolin leaves a big hole on the roster, and USF once again looks mediocre, or worse.
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga. BYU’s Tyler Haws leads the league in scoring at 22.3 points per game, nearly three points per game better than USF’s Cole Dickerson, but Pangos, a guard, has been the most impressive all-around player. He also happens to play for the league’s best team.
Saint Mary’s. After losing star point guard Matthew Dellavedova to the NBA and getting slapped with some NCAA sanctions, Saint Mary’s was supposed to tumble a bit in the WCC pecking order. Guess again. The Gaels won their first nine games, including a big 82-74 win at Boise State on Dec. 14.
Projected NCAA Tournament bids
Little did the Cougars know that the so-called church league would be this good in 2013-14. As of last Friday, every team in the league had a nonconference record above .500, and the WCC’s combined record was 73-33 (68.8 percent).
It is not a power conference, and never will be. But it is getting better, top to bottom.
"We are off to a historic start," WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich said. "Not only are we highly successful at this point, we are playing an exciting brand of basketball."
Zaninovich pointed out in a conference call heading into last weekend that the league had four teams in the top 25 of the national Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) ratings: No. 11 Saint Mary’s, No. 17 Gonzaga, No. 22 BYU and No. 25 Pacific.
Around the middle of last week, the WCC was second among conferences in Division I basketball in combined scoring average (79.8) and second nationally in field-goal percentage (47.3). At one point in December, the WCC led the nation in 3-point percentage (37.1). The top five teams were a combined 43-10 after SMC’s win over American University.
"It might be even better than we thought it was going to be," BYU coach Dave Rose said in early December.
Pacific joins the league this season, and the Tigers have already served notice that they will be a factor, winning eight of their first nine games, including 78-68 at Utah State. Their only loss in that stretch was at No. 13 Oregon.
Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary’s were picked in October to finish 1-2-3 in the league, but the undefeated Gaels (9-0) have shown they might not experience the drop-off many predicted with the departure to the NBA of point guard Matthew Dellavedova. Again, SMC’s nonconference schedule hasn’t been much, but it did down Boise State 82-74 in Boise.
Gonzaga has won 12 of the last 13 WCC championships, and doesn’t seem interested in giving up the title as the league’s best team anytime soon. Kelly Olynyk is gone, but Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr., David Stockton and Przemek Karnowski have kept the Zags in the national rankings.
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