It's August. Months have past since the last college basketball game was played, and months remain before the next. But we can finally start getting excited about the upcoming season, because we know when it will be!
The WCC announced Tuesday that it's ten teams will participate in a traditional double round-robin schedule over ten weeks, from Dec. 21, 2015 through Feb. 27, 2016.
Orleans Arena in Las Vegas will once again host the WCC Tournament, with this season's event taking place March 3 through March 8, 2016.
As has been the case in the past WCC teams will face off, for the most part, on Thursdays and Saturdays. The opening week proves to be the exception this year, as eight teams take to the hardwood on Monday, Dec. 21. Two days later the same eight teams will face off on Wednesday, Dec. 23.
BYU and San Diego are the two teams not taking part in the first week of the season. Those schools, travel partners in the current WCC set up, will open their conference seasons against each other at a yet to be determined, mutually agreed upon date. According to the release this is because of San Diego's final exams and BYU's participation in the Diamond Head Classic, which runs from the 23rd through 25th.
Now that the schedule has been released it's time to get out your calendars and circle some dates. Here is a selection of heavyweight battles and potentially critical games you won't want to miss.
Dec. 21: Pepperdine at Gonzaga
In the late '90s and early 2000s the Waves and Zags were the two best teams in the WCC — in 2000 and 2002 both teams made the NCAA Tournament. It's fitting that this is the marquee game of the opening night, because this year could well be a throwback to those days of old.
Marty Wilson's Waves have been on the rise in the WCC, improving in each of his four years as head coach. Last season, after over ten years in the shadows, Pepperdine burst back onto the scene with a season sweep of BYU, fourth place finish in the conference and their first postseason berth since 2002. With all five starters returning the Waves look to be even better this season.
Gonzaga's raucous student section, the Kennel Club, should be subdued by their standards for this one as many students will be out of town for Christmas break. Could that slight but of help be enough for the Waves?
Dec. 31: BYU at Saint Mary's
BYU opened their first WCC campaign, back in 2012, with a 98-82 loss at McKeon Pavilion. The Cougars have won just once in Moraga as members of the WCC. When BYU entered the conference the Gaels were the only team with legitimate hopes of dethroning Gonzaga — which is exactly what they did in BYU's first season. But over the past two years the Cougars have jumped the Gaels in the standings. These are two teams with championship aspirations that have been stuck in a battle for second fiddle. This early-season tilt will likely knock one team off the path to a title.
Jan. 14: BYU at Gonzaga
Gonzaga was 17-0 in WCC play and on track for a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament when the Cougars came to town for the regular season finale on Feb. 28, 2015. BYU took down Gonzaga 73-70, spoiled a perfect season and knocked the Zags down to the two-seed line. Anybody want a bit of revenge to go with what has become the conference's best rivalry?
Jan. 21 and Feb. 20: Gonzaga at Saint Mary's and Saint Mary's at Gonzaga
It felt strange to call BYU and Gonzaga the WCC's best rivalry. For the better part of the past decade the Gaels and Zags had the best rivalry out West, not just in the WCC, and one of the best in all of college basketball. But, since taking the regular season and tournament championships from Gonzaga in 2012 Randy Bennett's Gaels lost eight straight to the Zags.
If Saint Mary's wants to jump back up the standings, after a fourth and third place finish in 2014 and 2015 respectively, these games are critical.
Jan. 23 and Jan. 30: BYU at Pepperdine and Pepperdine at BYU
Pepperdine is 3-1 against BYU over the past two seasons, with two wins in Malibu and one in Provo. With the Waves looking to keep climbing and BYU hoping to finally win a conference title, these two games are key for both squads. But with the added incentive of revenge for the Cougars, who were swept by the Waves last year, this becomes the most intriguing series of the season. It is a treat that it will play out over just eight days.
Feb. 27: Gonzaga at BYU
The season wraps up with a reversal of last year's finale. This is more than just the top two teams in the conference playing a game with potentially massive conference tournament implications. It's also a chance for Gonzaga to return the favor and spoil BYU's senior night, just as the Cougars did last season in Spokane.