Back in November when UCLA was playing so poorly, it looked pretty bleak for college hoops in Southern California. Among the schools in LA and Orange County (the LA Eight as we have come to know them), on Long Beach St. looked like a solid team, and even they were losing plenty during their insanely difficult non-conference schedule.
UCLA has turned things around a bit though, and now have a winning record in the Pac-12. Even their two losses in league - on the road to the two teams sitting atop the conference standings - don't look so bad at this point.
Meanwhile, the Beach has easily handled the early part of their Big West Conference schedule, as we suspected they would. But now it gets real for the 49ers, as they face tough road games in their next three games.
In addition to Long Beach St. and Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount has played well at times this season, and got a big win against Pepperdine this week. But aside from those three, it's pretty dismal out there.
The LA Eight Rankings (through games of January 16):
1. Long Beach State 49ers 12-6 (Last week: 1)
Home wins over Davis and Pacific this week were a given. Upcoming road games at Cal Poly and Santa Barbara could be a different matter. The Beach is currently alone at the top of the Big West standings - they can put a stranglehold on the conference with two wins this week.
This week: @ Cal Poly (11-7) Jan 19, @ Santa Barbara (8-6) Jan 21
2. UCLA Bruins 10-7 (2)
The Bruins dominated their cross town rivals in their only game this week, beating USC at the Galen Center 66-47. Road games to play the Oregon schools will determine if the Bruins can actually challenge for the Pac-12 regular season title or not.
This week: @ Oregon St. (11-7) Jan 19, @ Oregon (13-5) Jan 21
3. Loyola Marymount Lions 10-8 (4)
Loyola Marymount had not beaten Pepperdine in Malibu in 14 years, since January 1998. But last Thursday that changed with a 68-58 road win over their long time rivals. It marked the return to the lineup of Ashley Hamilton, and the first time this season that both Hamilton and Drew Viney have played for LMU. Two nights later they put up a good fight against #23 Gonzaga before losing by four.
This week: @ BYU (15-4) Jan 19; @ Santa Clara (8-9) Jan 23
4. Cal State Fullerton Titans 10-6 (3)
Fullerton lost their third straight road game on Saturday, a non-conference contest against Cal State Bakersfield. A cushy non-conference schedule combined with a couple of patsies on the opening weekend of Big West play had allowed the Titans to build a 10-3 overall record before reality set in. A home game against Riverside is a chance to get back to winning basketball games.
This week: UC Riverside (10-8) Jan 18; @ UC Irvine (6-12) Jan 21
5. Pepperdine Waves 7-10 (5)
After a surprisingly strong non-conference performance and a win in their first WCC game, Pepperdine has now lost five straight and are looking like the rebuilding team they are. Things don't get any easier, with two games against conference powerhouses this week. The game at St. Mary's could be particularly dicey, given that the Gaels beat the Waves by 29 in Malibu.
This week: @ St. Mary's (17-2) Jan 19; BYU (15-4) Jan 21
6. UC Irvine Anteaters 6-12 (7)
Irvine played two of the tougher teams in the Big West last week, and not surprisingly lost both games. They host Fullerton on Saturday for the unofficial championship of Orange County.
This week: Fullerton (10-6) Jan 21
7. USC Trojans 5-11 (6)
It just keeps getting worse for USC. A win over UCLA might have helped them salvage something on the season, but instead they got blown out at home. They've lost six straight, are winless in conference play, and have been held in the 40s in five of their last six games.
This week: @ Oregon (13-5) Jan 19; @ Oregon St. (11-7) Jan 21
8. Cal State Northridge Matadors 5-10 (8)
Northridge got a win this week, which is pretty good. But then again, beating UC Davis at home by only four points is a bit like a loss, given that Davis has yet to beat a Division I opponent this season.
This week: @ Santa Barbara (8-6) Jan 19; @ Cal Poly (11-7) Jan 21
If you go to only one college basketball game in the Southland this week, make it:
Well, it's pretty slim pickings this week, with several teams on the road. I guess your best bet is the unofficial championship of Orange County, Fullerton at Irvine at the Bren Center on Saturday. Or you could opt for BYU visiting the Waves in Malibu Saturday, where at least you'll see one good team.