The most obvious difference between this year and years prior comes thanks to Pacific. With the addition of the Tigers, the WCC is now a ten team league, up from eight just three years ago.
Since BYU joined in 2011, the WCC Tournament featured a play-in game of sorts between the eight and nine seeds. This year the league is able to adopt a more traditional format.
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs, 25-6 (15-3)
2. BYU Cougars, 21-10 (13-5)
3. San Francisco Dons, 20-10 (13-5)
4. Saint Mary's Gaels, 21-10 (11-7)
5. Pepperdine Waves, 15-15 (8-10)
6. San Diego Toreros, 16-15 (7-11)
7. Portland Pilots, 15-15 (7-11)
8. Pacific Tigers, 15-14 (6-12)
9. Santa Clara Broncos, 13-18 (6-12)
10. Loyola Marymount Lions 12-18 (4-14)
Seeds one through six receive a bye to Saturday's quarterfinals while seeds seven through ten will play in the opening round. The Tigers and Broncos face off for the chance to play Gonzaga then the Pilots and Lions will fight for the right to play BYU.
While the addition of BYU necessitated an additional game, the conference opted not to radically change the bracket. Since 2003, the top two seeds received a double-bye to the semifinals. Back then the league was not nearly as deep as it is now, and at the top sat the Zags and the Zags alone. Saint Mary's won just 15 games and BYU was in the Mountain West.
So, if Gonzaga got knocked out of the conference tournament and missed out on an at-large bid, a thud was likely the only noise the WCC would be making in March. Better to over-protect the top seeds, in that case.
No longer is that the case. With the at-large worthy teams at the top, and depth enough to rank ninth in conference RPI, a traditional tournament makes sense.
The top seeds still get a bye, but only one. After the opening round it becomes a regular eight team set-up. Quarterfinals, semis and finals. Makes sense, easy enough.
Game days are Thursday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday.
Catch the Action
The West Coast Conference has one of the best TV deals in the country, not just among mid-majors. Gonzaga and Saint Mary's built a rivalry so compelling that ESPN took notice. Then, when the Cougars joined ESPN started drooling - and BYU's network, BYUtv, got in on the action as well.
As a result, every men's game will be televised. In addition, we'll be streaming the opening round games and select quarterfinal match-ups right here on Mid-Major Madness. Refer to the schedule I linked to above for full details.
Gonzaga and Saint Mary's have done battle in the tournament final for the past five seasons. Not this year, as the two teams are set to collide in the semifinals.
BYU, for the first time since joining the WCC, won't have to go through Gonzaga to make the tournament final. After spending the past two seasons as the three seed, the Cougars finally made it to second place. Also, they won't open against San Diego, like they have the past two times.
Portland limped its way across the finish line. That's not just a figure of speech, either, two starters have been out with leg injuries. Point guard Alec Wintering and leading scorer Kevin Bailey are both day-to-day for the tournament, and unlikely to play tonight. But, if the Pilots win, they have a day off before the quarterfinals. With Wintering and Bailey in the line-up, Portland has defeated both Gonzaga and BYU.
LMU was the nine seed last season, dead last in the conference, but improbably ran to the semifinals. This year the Lions are tenth, and even more injured than usual. But Max Good has his guys playing very well. With just six Lions seeing minutes in the conference finale, LMU was within one possession of San Francisco in the final minute before falling 61-65.