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West Coast Conference Tournament Primer: Two top-25 juggernauts on collision course in Vegas

Ten christian colleges spend a weekend in Sin City...

NCAA Basketball: Pacific at Gonzaga
WCC Player of the Year (and Newcomer of the Year) Nigel Williams-Goss shoots a free throw against Pacific earlier this season.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s spent this entire season ranked in the AP Top-25. In WCC play those two went a combined 33-3. Saint Mary’s lost twice to Gonzaga, and Gonzaga lost once to BYU.

The Zags and Gaels, once lovable March Cinderellas, turned into ruthless monsters in 2016-17. These former Davids became Goliath, and Goliath slaughtered David over-and-over all season long, and in dominating fashion. The WCC had more blowouts (29 of 90 games were decided by 20+ points) than any league in the nation.

Gonzaga, already assured of a 19th consecutive trip to the big dance is looking for a fifth straight WCC Tournament title. The Gaels, who haven’t cut down the nets since 2012, are also locks for an at-large berth. No other team in the league is remotely close.

And, looking back over the season, only three seed BYU has a reasonable chance at stealing the auto-bid.

Tournament Format

All 10 teams from the WCC head to Orleans Arena in Las Vegas this weekend. The top six teams get a bye into Saturday’s quarterfinal rounds, while seeds seven through 10 play in the opening round on Friday evening.

How to Watch

Both opening round games and the first two quarterfinals will be streaming live on Twitter. They will also be televised nationally on BYUtv, in addition to regional networks around the West. If you need help finding BYUtv, this link is for you. All games televised on BYUtv will also stream live on BYUtv.org.

(all times Pacific)

Opening Round: Friday, March 3

8 Pepperdine Waves vs. 9 Pacific Tigers, 6 p.m., BYUtv
7 San Diego Toreros vs. 10 Portland Pilots, 8 p.m., BYUtv

Quarterfinals: Saturday, March 4

3 BYU Cougars vs. 6 Loyola Marymount Lions, 1 p.m., BYUtv/Spectrum SportsNet/CSN Bay Area
4 Santa Clara Broncos vs. 5 San Francisco Dons, 3 p.m., BYUtv/Spectrum SportsNet/CSN Bay Area/ROOT Rocky Mountain
1 Gonzaga vs. 8/9 winner, 7 p.m., ESPN2
2 Saint Mary’s vs. 7/10 winner, 9 p.m., ESPN2

Semifinals: Monday, March 5

Semifinal 1, 6 p.m., ESPN or ESPN2
Semifinal 2, 8:30 p.m., ESPN or ESPN2

Final: Tuesday, March 6

Championship game, 6 p.m., ESPN

Bracket

Three Things to Watch

1. Can the Cougars carry momentum with them?

BYU’s shocking upset of then-No. 1 Gonzaga last weekend in Spokane shook the college basketball world. But it did absolutely nothing to shake up the seeding in the WCC Tournament. The Cougars were locked into the three seed and assured of a spot on Saint Mary’s side of the bracket. The Cougars have been a less-than-inspiring 7-6 away from home this season. Making the NCAA Tournament will require improving that mark to 10-6.

2. How will Gonzaga recover?

The Zags are 29-1 and people are talking about them needing to win all three of their games in Vegas to stay on the one-seed line in the NCAA Tournament. And so it goes for the Zags after their home loss on senior night to BYU. Gonzaga’s been in worse situations before though. Last season they needed to win their three games in Vegas just to make the Dance. All that’s in play now is seeding on Selection Sunday.

3. Will a fourth team ever step up?

2016: Gonzaga over Saint Mary’s (85-75)
2015: Gonzaga over BYU (91-75)
2014: Gonzaga over BYU (75-64)
2013: Gonzaga over Saint Mary’s (65-51)
2012: Saint Mary’s over Gonzaga (78-74)
2011: Gonzaga over Saint Mary’s (75-63)
2010: Saint Mary’s over Gonzaga (81-62)
2009: Gonzaga over Saint Mary’s (83-58)

San Diego’s win over Gonzaga in 2008 was the last time a team not named Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s or BYU played in the tournament final. It’s been a while.

Prediction

Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s both coast into the final, the Zags open the game up in the second half and win by 10+ points.

The Zags’ toughest games of the conference season both came against BYU, a team they won’t have to face until the title game. But Saint Mary’s, which is on track to meet the Cougars in the semis, had no problem with BYU in either match-up this season and won both by 13 points.

Yep, it will be the seventh Zags vs. Gaels tournament final in nine seasons.