December 11, 2020 

WCC check-in: What’s in a mid-major upset?

Gonzaga falls in Brookings, Ioanna Krimili is still the real deal and much more from around the West Coast Conference

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12/4/19: San Francisco’s Ioanna Krimili drives to the basket against Cal State Fullerton at War Memorial Gym in San Francisco, Calif. (Courtesy of USF Athletics/Christina Leung)

One December night in 2008, I attended a Gonzaga women’s basketball game with the pep band expecting an easy non-conference win, just like all the ones before had been. Instead, I witnessed a double-digit loss at the hands of South Dakota State, a team on the rise despite being relatively new to Division I.

The Jackrabbits have been Gonzaga’s Achilles heel ever since. Unlike, say, Stanford, a nationally-recognized top-tier program and consistent Gonzaga rival which it’s now beaten twice, the Bulldogs have never defeated the Jackrabbits in three chances. That includes Sunday’s overtime loss in Brookings, S.D., the teams’ first meeting since 2009 (also in Brookings, also an overtime loss, by almost exactly the same score).

On Monday, South Dakota State was propelled into the AP Poll for the first time since the 2008-09 season — the season they first beat the Zags — and Gonzaga plummeted from No. 18 to No. 25, essentially one more bad loss away from dropping out.

At this point, I can’t help but think for approximately the thousandth time in my life that the national polls weren’t really made for mid-majors, were they? It’s as if there are only a few spots reserved for them to sneak in between the much fewer number of Power 5 schools (and, well, UConn) who have places reserved for them year in and year out. One mistake — so for most mid-majors, a loss to a team that perhaps should have had a shot at the top 25 anyway — can become a death sentence, poll-wise. When conference play begins, and those teams are out of “good” non-conference wins to rack up, getting back into the poll can be near impossible.

I’m not going to get too much more in the weeds with this poll stuff — it is what it always has been — but I do truly think a lot about things like the nuances of mid-major upsets! Is it considered an upset if it’s the No. 3 mid-major conference tournament seed taking down No. 1, or is it only an upset worth mentioning when the team that loses is nationally ranked? Is South Dakota State beating ranked Gonzaga an upset when you look past the poll, or is it the result of a hard-fought game between two extremely equal teams, one of which got to play at home? What does being ranked even mean, man?

Maybe 11, 12 years ago, this one was an upset. Now? It’s just another win for a top program from South Dakota — and one of Gonzaga’s latest notches in its always-difficult non-conference schedule that makes it so tough to beat during West Coast Conference play.

Around the WCC

  • For her 27-point performance last week at Oregon State, San Francisco’s Ioanna Krimili was named WCC Freshman of the Week. The Dons built upon their strong showing against Pac-12 competition with a win at Cal on Thursday night, during which Krimili scored a game-high 26 points and Leilah Vigil pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds.

  • Although Loyola Marymount was handily defeated by Grand Canyon in its last game, there was still a major bright spot: redshirt senior Meghan Mandel grabbed 18 rebounds, narrowly edging out Portland’s Alex Fowler’s opening-day mark of 17 for the conference’s best so far. Eighteen rebounds is also good for third all-time at LMU.

  • Despite that particular early mark being surpassed, Fowler still represented Portland as the conference’s Player of the Week. The Pilots’ sophomore leader is picking up right where she left off last season, now averaging a team-high 16.3 points and nine rebounds per game.

  • Gonzaga senior Abby O’Connor, a transfer from Loyola Chicago, was granted immediate eligibility this week. She has since appeared in two games, averaging nine minutes in each. O’Connor joins the likes of BYU junior Kayla Belles-Lee, a Michigan State transfer whose waiver was previously approved but who has yet to appear in a game.

See complete results from the WCC’s recent games here.

And … unpause!

  • Pacific aimed to begin its season against San José State over the weekend, followed by a trip to Weber State; both games have been canceled due to a positive test and “current travel advisements and incongruent COVID testing protocols,” respectively. Now, the Tigers look ahead to hopefully hosting No. 1 Stanford next week (more info below).

  • Despite dealing with a 14-day quarantine followed by a county-wide public health order barring contact sports, Santa Clara finally has some games on its schedule — all away, of course. The Broncos will take on Cal State Bakersfield on Friday night to open their season, followed by a pair of two-game series against Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara.

Upcoming notable games

Subject to change. The complete schedule can be found here.

  • Sunday, Dec. 13: San Diego at Arizona State (1 p.m. PT, live stream)

  • Tuesday, Dec. 15: Pacific vs. No. 1 Stanford (6 p.m. PT, ESPN2)

Speaking as a longtime proponent of a hypothetical WCC/Pac-12 Challenge — the Pac-12 has no Power 5 pairing for something like this, it basically takes place every year anyway so why not legitimize it, etc. — these are must-watch games. The possibility for an upset is always very much there, and between San Diego’s lockdown defense and Pacific’s ability to play to the level of any opponent, things could get fun.

  • Saturday, Dec. 12: BYU vs. Boise State (12 p.m. MT, live stream)

The Cougars have already strung together some impressive wins, including against LSU and Montana State, as they strive toward recapturing WCC glory. In their second home game of the season, they’ll welcome a young but similarly impressive Broncos team that has won all three of its games so far by an average of 31 points.

  • Sunday, Dec. 13: No. 25 Gonzaga vs. Montana (2 p.m. PT, live stream)

After a tough stretch on the road, the Bulldogs finally get a home game. Gonzaga carries a seven-game series winning streak against the Lady Griz, a matchup it’s won comfortably in the last several meetings. But will playing without 5,000-plus fans in the stands have a negative impact on the Zags’ output, or will Jill Townsend and Co. be able to build off the energy they established in a big win at Wyoming this week? And, most important of all, will a loss banish them from the hallowed top 25?

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