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Preview: Gonzaga and Saint Mary's meet in WCC Tournament Championship

These two, again.

Gonzaga's Eric McClellan drives on Saint Mary's Emmett Naar on February 20 in Spokane. Saint Mary's won 63-58.
Gonzaga's Eric McClellan drives on Saint Mary's Emmett Naar on February 20 in Spokane. Saint Mary's won 63-58.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

No. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs (25-7, 15-3) vs. No. 1 Saint Mary's Gaels (27-4, 15-3)

When: Tuesday, March 8 at 6 p.m. Pacific
Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
Watch: ESPN

Gonzaga and Saint Mary's split the regular season title but they can't split this one.

For the eighth time (all since 2004) these two teams, these arch-rivals, will meet in the West Coast Conference Tournament Championship Game. It was a wild and sometimes wacky season in the WCC but the tournament has gone 100% chalk. And that's alright since this is the result.

Saint Mary's boasts the nation's best shooting offense (50.9%) as they have for pretty much the entire season. Gonzaga boasts the nation's best three point percentage defense (28.6%), which is shocking for a Mark Few coached team. Saint Mary's is in the top-ten nationally in three point percentage and Gonzaga is in the top 25 nationally in FG% defense.

But this isn't just an offense vs. defense match up.

The Gaels give up a paltry 60 points per game, the fourth fewest in the nation. Gonzaga is averaging 80.8 points per game since the start of February. This is a match up of two teams that are extraordinarily good on both sides of the ball. It's also a match up of two teams that, somehow, might miss the NCAA Tournament if they don't win tomorrow.

Scouting the Zags

All season long Gonzaga has been a team that runs its offense through its bigs. That's still the case today, with Kyle Wiltjer (20.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Domantas Sabonis (17.5 ppg, 11.6 rpg) comprising maybe the best starting frontcourt in all of college basketball. Those two have had to shoulder an even greater load since former starter Przemek Karnowski went down with a season ending back injury in early December. Now they face another challenge: no rest. The Zags' lone reserve big man, Ryan Edwards, suffered a sprained knee in the quarterfinals and is doubtful for Tuesday's Final. He didn't play in the Semis, and all Wiltjer and Sabonis did was combine for 47 points while picking up only two fouls and sitting for just four minutes.

They're the story night-in, night-out but, the backcourt has been huge down the stretch.

Last week senior guard Eric McClellan (10.1 ppg) was named WCC Defensive Player of the Year. He's led the defensive renaissance that has turned Gonzaga into an elite unit on that end of the floor. It took a while for the otherwise young backcourt to develop — Kyle Dranginis (6.3 ppg, 3.3 apg) is the only other upperclassman in the unit — but they've finally put it all together.

Gonzaga scores points, but they don't do so at a blistering pace. Though, compared to Saint Mary's they look like Usain Bolt.

Scouting the Gaels

Saint Mary's offense is methodical. The ball moves from player to player, from good shot to great shot, in a way that could make San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich smile. That methodical offense results in staggering efficiency (59.2% eFG%) but also long possessions (19.9 seconds, on average). Per KenPom, those numbers are the best, and fourth longest in the nation, respectively.

The offense is dictated by two point guards who spend almost the entire game on the floor together, Emmett Naar (13.9 ppg, 6.2 apg) and Joe Rahon (10.3 ppg, 5.8 apg).

They're surrounded by a stable of big men, almost all of whom can and do shoot it lights out from three.

Calvin Hermanson (11.6 ppg), a former two-time Oregon 6A Player of the Year, shoots 40.7% from distance. Evan Fitzner (9.0 ppg) shoots 43.1% and Kyle Clark (4.8 ppg) shoots 35.3%. The bigs who don't shoot the ball from outside are hyper-efficient inside. Jock Landale (8.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg) puts up huge numbers for a guy averaging just over 15 minutes a game and Dane Pineau (11.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg) is the ultimate under the radar performer.

Pineau ranks first in the WCC in effective field goal percentage and second in offensive rating and true shooting percentage as well as both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Despite that, the junior forward didn't even get an honorable mention when the WCC released it's end of season honors last week.


I'm not going to predict a score or a winner. There is so little separating these teams that doing so on a neutral court is a fool's errand. All I can tell you is that one of these teams will pick up the WCC title and accompanying berth in the NCAA Tournament.

And also, that we'll get an absolute gem of a March basketball game.