Friday, November 27, 2009

What is the best league on the West Coast? Not who you think...

Yesterday, was Thanksgiving. And as the tradition goes, if you are watching sports on Thanksgiving, you are probably watching football.

If you did happen to have basketball on the brain yesterday, our old friend tryptophan might have made it difficult to stay up for the fourth game of the 76 Classic out in Anaheim.

As you may or may not have heard, UCLA played Portland last night in a game that tipped at about 11:20 here on the east coast. The game, played all of 40 miles from the UCLA campus, pitted one of college basketball's blue bloods against a typical WCC also-ran.

The final score was 74-47.

If I gave you three guesses at who won, how long would it take you to say Portland?

And as the score would indicate, this one was never even close. Portland never trailed, shooting 57% from the field and 6-8 from deep in the first half to open up a 36-19 halftime lead. That hot-shooting continued in the second half, as they finished the game at 54% from the floor and 11-19 from deep. Jared Stohl led the way with 15 points on 5-5 shooting while Nik Raivio, a potential all-league performer, had 13 points and 5 assists.

It was painfully clear who the best team on the floor was tonight, and given that Portland could very well be the fourth best team in the WCC, it begs the question: is the WCC better than the Pac-10 this season?

Its much closer than you think.

For starters, the WCC is 4-2 against the Pac-10. Arizona State (104-65 over San Francisco) and the Bruins (71-52 over Pepperdine) have the lone wins. In addition to beating UCLA, Portland also owns a win over Oregon, San Diego beat Stanford in the opener for both teams, and USC lost to Loyola-Marymount.

Advantage: WCC.

Well, what about big wins?

Portland not only has beaten UCLA and Oregon, but they own a 17 point win over a good Seattle team that was won at Weber State and Utah and beaten Fresno State at home. San Diego whooped up on Oklahoma, taking a 23 point second half lead before the Sooners came back with Brandon Johnson out of the game. Gonzaga won the Maui Invitational with wins over Cinci and Wisconsin, but their most impressive performance was probably taking Michigan State to the buzzer at the Breslin Center. Even St. Mary's, who always seems to play a weak non-conference schedule, beat a good SDSU team by 22 at home.

The Pac-10? To be honest, its pretty embarrassing. As a league, they own just two wins over power conference teams - Arizona beat Colorado, the worst team in the Big XII that barely hung on the beat Chaminade, in overtime while Stanford knocked off Virginia, a team not expected to make much noise in the ACC. Their best performance of the season came in Stanford's OT loss to a Kentucky team that has been playing far from their best basketball.

Advantage: WCC.

Enough comparing of numbers.

Washington is the best team on the west coast. Even with Gonzaga's win out in Maui, Washington has to be given the edge, especially with way Quincy Pondexter is playing right now.

Having said that, is there another Pac-10 team that you think is better than any of the WCC's top four (Portland, Gonzaga, St. Mary's, San Diego)?

Maybe once Cal gets healthy, yes. But after seeing them struggle in their four CvC games, and knowing that Harper Kamp and Theo Robertson are still out of uniform, right now this does not look like a tournament team, let alone a top 25 team. Arizona State has some talented kids on their perimeter - Trent Lockett, Derek Glasser, Rihard Kuksiks - but unless Eric Boateng makes a big improvement or Victor Rudd turns into a Jeff Pendergraph or an Ike Diogu, I don't think this team has the interior play to make the dance.

Stanford? No one outside Landry Fields.

Washington State? Ditto for Klay Thompson.

Arizona? Too young.

Oregon? They lost to Montana.

UCLA, USC, Oregon State? Please.

I can legitimately see a scenario in which the Pac-10 gets just one team into the dance.

The WCC, on the other hand, has three or four teams that could play their way to an at-large bid. Gonzaga is going to be back in the top 25 after their Maui win, and deservedly so. They are tough, they are balanced inside, and they have a star in Matt Bouldin. Portland is your typical quality mid-major - senior laden team with capable-to-above average bigs and a slew of shooters. San Diego has a number of quality role players surrounding potential all-league player Brandon Johnson. St. Mary's has had the least non-conference success thus far, but they may actually be the best team in the conference - Ben Allen and Omar Samhan are both big, talented posts while Matthew Dellavadova and Mickey McConnelly are excellent shooters and creators in the back court.

The season is young, and there is still plenty of chances for the WCC kids to falter and the Pac-10 teams to turn it around. But on paper, right now, the WCC looks to be a better league, especially at the top.

And I know what you're going to say - the bottom of the WCC is much worse than the bottom of the Pac-10.

Remember this: Loyola Marymount, who is in the bottom of the WCC, has already beaten USC, who is in the bottom of the Pac-10.

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