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2016 West Coast Conference Tournament preview

The 2016 WCC Tournament tips off on Friday night from Las Vegas. Here's what you need to know about the tournament and the teams in the best position to win it.

A shot of Orleans Arena from Gonzaga's 79-61 win over Pepperdine in last year's semifinals.
A shot of Orleans Arena from Gonzaga's 79-61 win over Pepperdine in last year's semifinals.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

It's anathema to Las Vegas but there's really no way for college basketball fans to lose with this one.

On the final day of the regular season there was the potential for a three way tie atop the standings. The team that would have earned the one seed in that scenario ended up falling into third place while Saint Mary's and Gonzaga split the crown. The regular season gave us no clear-cut favorite. The hottest teams heading into Vegas might just be the two lowest seeded teams, and one of them is guaranteed to lose their first game because they play each other. The only thing we know for certain is that Pacific can't win the tournament since a self-imposed postseason ban is keeping the Tigers at home.

In such a wide open year there is amazing potential for complete chaos over the next week. If that doesn't happen and the top four seeds make the semifinals then we will be treated to some highly compelling games. Orleans Arena has been hosting this thing since 2009 but even with all those years of practice I don't think anybody is prepared for what's on tap.

If you're looking for the tournament schedule, game times and TV coverage information, we've got you covered.

The tournament opens Friday night with No. 9 San Diego taking on No. 8 Loyola Marymount. Quarterfinal action Saturday starts with No. 3 BYU taking on No. 6 Santa Clara, then No. 4 Pepperdine vs. No. 5 San Francisco. Top seeded Saint Mary's gets the winner of Friday's game before No. 2 Gonzaga faces No. 7 Portland in the nightcap. Monday's semifinals, broadcast on ESPN and ESPN2, will be ordered after the quarterfinal round is complete. And it all wraps up Tuesday night on ESPN when one of those nine teams punches their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

Storylines

Gonzaga and Saint Mary's are back on opposite sides of the bracket, so if history is any indication those two arch-rivals are set for a meeting in the tournament championship game. The top two seeds have met in the final for the past seven years. BYU took the two seed in the previous two tournaments, but Saint Mary's did in four of the previous six. The other two of those six saw the Gaels earn the top seed.

The ten team WCC will be back to the nine team tournament format used for two seasons between the additions of BYU and Pacific. That's because Pacific, after just two appearances in the tournament, isn't going to be making the trip to Sin City this year. The Tigers were bad, they cheated and got caught. In an attempt to make good they've self-imposed a postseason ban.

For the first time in recent memory no team in the WCC can feel reasonably safe about their NCAA Tournament chances. The league's three perennial at-large contenders either under-scheduled or underwhelmed this season. That sets up a do-or-die tournament for Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary's. Which, in turn, should set up a better tournament for everybody.

The Contenders

No. 1 Saint Mary's Gaels (25-4, 15-3)

Randy Bennett's Gaels earned the top seed one a tie-breaker after splitting the regular season crown with Gonzaga (that tie-breaker was a season sweep of the Zags). Don't be fooled by their low-scoring, slow style of play. The Gaels, and their best in the nation shooting offense (50.9% FG) are legit.

Leading the charge are two all-WCC first team point guards Emmett Naar (13.9 ppg, 6.2 apg) and WCC Newcomer of the Year Joe Rahon (10.3 ppg, 5.9 apg). With those two steady-hands leading the attack the Gaels will probe for the best possible shot for an average of 19.6 seconds, the eighth longest average possession length in the nation.

The Gaels control the game with ruthless efficiency.

No 2. Gonzaga Bulldogs (23-7, 15-3)

It wouldn't be the WCC Tournament without Gonzaga in the hunt, right? The Zags have made the tournament championship game in each of the past 18 seasons. Anything short of that this time around might just knock them onto the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Led by all-WCC first teamers Kyle Wiltjer (20.8 ppg) and Domantas Sabonis (17.2 ppg, 11.9 rpg) up front the Zags boast by far the best front court in this traditionally guard-oriented conference. Not to fear, though, as Gonzaga's perimeter players have stepped up of late. Josh Perkins was named to the WCC all-Freshman team and Silas Melson averaged 11 points per game during February. They've become a good offensive unit but are an elite defensive one.

Senior Eric McClellan leads that defensive effort, and was rewarded for it with WCC Defensive Player of the Year honors. Gonzaga boasts the nation's best three point percentage defense (28.5%).

No. 3 BYU Cougars (22-9, 13-5)

Can BYU win its first WCC title? The Cougars have yet to claim a WCC regular season or tournament title since joining the league back in 2011-12. With their NCAA Tournament hopes firmly auto-bid or bust at this point a first title in Vegas would come at just the right time.

They're led by NCAA career triple-double leader, and freshly minted WCC Player of the Year, Kyle Collinsworth. The six-foot-six senior point guard is BYU's all time leader in both assists and rebounds. He's surrounded at all times by an array of shooters. All-WCC first teamer Chase Fischer (18.1 ppg) and second teamer Nick Emery (15.9 ppg).

Averaging 83.9 points per game the Cougars rank seventh in the nation in scoring.

The Dark Horse

No. 4 Pepperdine Waves (17-12, 10-8)

They weren't supposed to be a dark horse this year. In the preseason coaches' poll the Waves were picked to finish third, ahead of top seeded Saint Mary's. But an up and down season has kept the Waves from really breaking up the WCC's big three.

They can break them up though, it just depends on which team shows up in Vegas.

If the Pepperdine team that lost to San Francisco, Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount and Portland (twice) shows up, then they've got no chance. Especially since the Waves open on Saturday against San Francisco. But if the Waves' squad that has won three straight against Saint Mary's and four of six against BYU comes to play then watch out.

Should the quarterfinals break along seed lines the Waves will face the Gaels, who they swept this year, in the semis.

Marty Wilson's Waves are led by three time all-WCC first team senior forward Stacy Davis (15.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg) and all-WCC second teamer, junior guard/forward Lamond Murray Jr. (16.2 ppg). A veteran-laden team that controls the tempo and plays stingy defense, the Waves are a disciplined unit that is hard to break apart when they're on their game.