Crumpacker: What We Think - 2/21/18
Making the most out of the muddle in the middle
By John Crumpacker, #WCChoops Columnist
In the Olympic Games, to finish in fourth place or below is to finish off the podium and into agony. Everyone wants a podium finish at the Olympics, meaning first, second or third.
However, it’s a little different in college basketball, specifically the West Coast Conference. In the WCC, a podium finish needs to be expanded to the top six. On the men’s side of the upcoming conference tournament in Las Vegas, the top six teams do not have to play in the first round on Friday, March 2, as they earn byes.
Friday is reserved for the bottom four teams in the conference, playing in the 7 vs. 10 and 8 vs. 9 games.
With one week to go in the regular season, the top four teams are Gonzaga (15-1), Saint Mary’s (14-2), BYU (10-6) and Pacific (9-7). This is where it gets interesting. San Diego, Santa Clara and San Francisco are in a three-way tie for fifth at 8-8. One of these three is likely going to end up in seventh place with a tip-off against the 10th seed, probably Pepperdine, on March 2.
The exact order of finish will not be determined until the final game this Saturday night, when the Toreros play the Dons in San Francisco. USF opened WCC play against USD on Dec. 28 and came away with a 73-63 victory. On Thursday, USF plays at Pacific; the first meeting, on Jan. 25, went to the Dons 69-67.
By beating USF and Loyola Marymount, Pacific would finish conference play 11-7, a big improvement over last year’s 4-14. In a battle of big cats on Dec. 30, the Tigers defeated the Lions 88-82 in overtime.
What all this means is the middle of the conference standings is very much in flux, with three teams trying to finish fifth or sixth – and on the podium – and another, Pacific, trying to nail down fourth place. And don’t forget about BYU. If the Cougars, in third at 10-6, have a 1-1 week, winning at Portland and losing at home to Gonzaga, while the Tigers go 2-0, they will be tied for third at 11-7.
If that happens, the tie is broken by head-to-head meetings (they split), results vs. other WCC teams in descending order (still evolving) and NCAA RPI numbers (currently, BYU 81, Pacific 151).
All this uncertainty, this muddle in the middle, makes for an entertaining final week of the WCC’s regular season, a season in which two teams proved dominant, three took their lumps, one has a leg up on third place and the remaining four are within a game of each other.
Top six make the podium here. Who wants 5th and 6th?
What We Think
- In a conference often dominated by guards, it’s nice to see some big men other than Saint Mary’s Jock Landale asserting themselves as the regular season winds down. Emmanuel Ndumanya put together two strong games for Santa Clara last week and as a result the Broncos went 2-0 in beating Portland and Pacific. Jimbo Lull, USF’s 7-foot-1 surfer, is a bigger contributor now than he was at the start of the season. Mattias Markusson, the tallest player in the WCC at 7-3, has five double-doubles for Loyola Marymount this season and is averaging 8.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, with 28 blocks.
- Gonzaga might be 25-4 overall, ranked No. 6 nationally and in first place in the WCC at 15-1, but the Zags have the toughest schedule in the conference in this, the final week of the regular season. Gonzaga is at San Diego on Thursday night and at BYU on Saturday night. In San Diego (17-11, 8-8), Gonzaga is facing a team keen on finishing in the top half of the conference, or at least the top six (see above). BYU will not be an easy out, either, playing in front of a sold-out crowd at the Marriott Center in the last game of the season before the WCC Tournament.
- The WCC has developed into a proving ground for young, first-time head coaches. Remember, Mark Few and Randy Bennett were once young coaches; they are now institutions at their, well, institutions. Who’s next? Damon Stoudamire has made significant progress in his second year at Pacific. Same with Lamont Smith in his third year at San Diego. Terry Porter might be next at Portland as he finishes off his second season. He loses two seniors, Philipp Hartwich and D’Marques Tyson, and will have everyone else back for 2018-19. One recruiting service rated Porter’s class of incoming players for next season as the 10th best in the country. In the last seven games, the Pilots started three freshmen, a sophomore and a senior.
Game of the Week
Pacific is at LMU on Saturday afternoon at 1 in the WCC Game of the Week. A perfect week to finish the regular season could solidify fourth place for the Tigers. The season has been a disappointment for the Lions at 8-19 and 3-13 but there are some positive signs for coach Mike Dunlap going forward, namely the play of freshman forward Eli Scott, sophomore center Markusson and junior guard James Batemon. That’s a nice trio to build around for 2018-19.
Follow the three dots…
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, revered by many ardent college hoops fans, has Gonzaga as a 5 seed and Saint Mary’s as a 9. … Landale is one of three Division I players averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. … San Diego’s Olin Carter III became the 25th Torero to score 1,000 career points. In the same vein, Portland’s Tyson needs eight points to reach 1,000 for his career.
John Crumpacker spent more than three decades working at the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. During his career he has covered the full gamut of sports from prep to professionals. Most recently, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for Cal through the end of the 2013-14 season. In addition to covering 10 Olympic Games, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for the San Francisco 49ers. He is a two-time winner of the Track & Field Writers of America annual writing award and has several APSE Top 10 writing awards. Crumpacker has been covering #WCChoops since the 2014-15 season.