Welcome to Week 2 of the LA Eight, SBNation's Power Rankings for the eight Division I College basketball teams in Southern California (and just as a reminder, by that I mean LA and Orange County).
Surveying the landscape this week, one can't help but feel a little sad. There's a proud tradition of NCAA basketball success in the Southland and I'm not referring exclusively to UCLA's 11 national titles, 18 Final Fours and 44 tournament appearances. Let's not forget that Jim Harrick led Pepperdine into the NCAA tournament many, many times before he won a title in Westwood; that Jerry Tarkanian and Lute Olson were highly successful coaches at Long Beach State; that Leon Wood once led Fullerton to the Elite Eight; that Paul Westhead's Loyola Marymount led the nation in scoring while Bo Kimble carried the Lions to an emotional Regional Final after Hank Gathers' death. There have been some great and exciting college teams all around LA over the years.
This year? Meh. Three weeks into the season, only one of the eight area teams has a record above .500 against Division I competition. There's not a serious candidate for top 25 contention in the bunch, but there are at least two that would receive votes if there were a bottom 25. There have been some bright spots, to be sure. But so far the lows have outpaced the highs for these teams as a group. Still, it's a long season, and there's plenty of time to turn things around.
The LA Eight Rankings (through games of November 29)
1. Long Beach St. 3-3 (Last week: 1)
The 49ers remain the class of the region, but their absurdly difficult early season schedule is catching up with them. After a huge win at Pitt in the second game of the year, Long Beach has dropped road games at San Diego State, at Montana, and last night at #6 Louisville. None of these are bad losses, but coach Dan Monson's is going to also need some good wins come March if they hope to get a decent seed in the tournament (that is assuming they actually get in). It doesn't get any easier - after a tune up against D-II BYU Hawaii on Friday, Long Beach is back on the road against a storied program, this time the Kansas Jayhawks.
This week: BYU Hawaii Friday; @ #14 Kansas (3-2) Tuesday.
2. Loyola Marymount 4-2 (2)
One local team that has exceeded expectations so far is LMU. A season opening win over UCLA is somewhat devalued by the Bruins' subsequent struggles, but the Lions have continued to play surprisingly good basketball - still without last season's leading scorer, Drew Viney, who could be back in a week or so. Last night in Westchester they handed the 25th ranked St. Louis Billikens (heh heh, Billikens) their first loss of the season. When the Lions looked at Middle Tennessee, Harvard and St. Louis on their home schedule before the season, they probably liked their chances - little did they know the Crimson, Blue Raiders and Billikens (heh heh Billikens) would be among the surprise teams of the early season. One win against those three isn't what they'd hoped for, but it ain't bad. It's beginning to look like the Lions could actually compete with Gonzaga, BYU and St. Mary's in the WCC this season - particularly if Viney makes a strong return to the lineup. Hosting a three day tournament this weekend against some patsies, LMU should be 7-2 by this time next week.
This week: Columba (2-4) Friday, La Sierra Saturday, North Texas (1-4) Sunday.
3. CS Fullerton 3-2 (3)
Perhaps we should include CS Bakersfield in these power rankings - we'd have a few more wins to write about. The Roadrunners already had a win over Pepperdine, and then they went into Titan Gym on Saturday and beat Fullerton. Fullerton remains a bit of a mystery on the young season - they've been competitive in all of their games, but they're a lackluster 2-2 against D-I opponents, none of them particularly good. I don't expect the Titans to remain in the top 3 of these rankings much longer.
This week: @ Wichita St. Thursday, @ SIU-Edwardsville (0-4) Saturday.
4. USC 3-4 (5)
USC had the same week as formerly top ranked North Carolina - they beat South Carolina and lost to UNLV (now ranked 20th). The Trojans have been competitive in every game this season, which is probably better than coach Kevin O'Neill expected from his inexperienced squad, but they continue to struggle mightily on the offensive end. Leading scorer Maurice Jones is shooting just 37% on the season, but when he's on (7 for 10 against Morgan St., 9 for 15 against South Carolina) they tend to win. Unfortunately, the paper thin Trojans got some bad news this week when they found out that starting center Dewayne Dedmon would miss up to six weeks with a stress fracture in his foot.
This week: @ UC Riverside (2-4) Wednesday, @ Minnesota (6-1) Saturday.
5. UCLA 2-4 (6)
As we feared last week, the Bruins did indeed begin the season 0-4 against D-I opponents after a loss to Michigan in Maui. But UCLA finally got a D-I win Monday night, beating up on Pepperdine 62-39. I was at the game, and UCLA's defense was definitely impressive during a 28-11 first half - but Pepperdine's offense was pretty terrible too. I'm just saying, let's not declare an end to UCLA's hoops problems based on a win (however impressive) over a deeply flawed Waves team. Texas on Saturday will be a much bigger test - if Monday's win marked a turnaround, Saturday can confirm it. Even with the win, the Bruins have a big ongoing problem in the total lack of production from Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith. Nelson's discipline and Smith's weight are currently holding them back, but UCLA needs them to be the players they once were if they hope to compete in the Pac-12.
This week: Texas (4-2) Saturday
6. Pepperdine 3-3 (4)
Did I mention that Pepperdine is a deeply flawed team? The Waves have scratched out wins at Arizona State and at UT San Antonio this year, but based on what I've seen of this team, I'm hard-pressed to imagine how they did it. Marty Wilson's charges work hard on defense and play with a lot of discipline, but they Waves just don't have any players who can score the ball. I mean, seriously, even one above average scorer would make a difference, but they don't have one. Freshman Jordan Baker could develop into a decent scorer, but for now it's a puzzlement wondering where Pepperdine's next basket will come from (as evidenced by their 11 point first half against UCLA Monday).
This week: Hawaii (2-2) Saturday.
7. CS Northridge 1-4 (8)
After losing to Drake on Saturday 73-49, the Matadors are now 0-4 against Division I competition. More telling, the average final score in those four games has been 82-59. Winless by an average margin of 23 points is not a good thing.
This week: CS Bakersfield (3-1) Wednesday, @ Santa Clara (4-2) Saturday.
8. UC Irvine 0-6 (7)
Irvine has been much more competitive in their losses than has Northridge, staying within 10 points of four of their opponents. But a last-place finish in the Great Alaska Shootout capped by a loss to Alaska-Anchorage, the D-II hosts of the tournament, cements the Anteaters in the bottom spot of this week's rankings. The way things are going right now, Irvine and Northridge could both be winless when they meet in the first game of the Big West season Dec. 29. Fingers crossed.
This week: San Diego (4-2) Saturday.
If you go to only one college basketball game in the Southland this week, make it:
UCLA versus Texas at the Sports Arena Saturday, 1:30. I'd love to recommend an LMU game at Gersten Pavilion, but the quality of the opponents this weekend is pretty suspect. Instead check out the afternoon contest between the Bruins and the Longhorns. Unfortunately for UCLA, Texas' ultra-quick backcourt of J'Covan Brown and Myck Kabongo may give the Bruins' defense fits based on the first few games of the season.