For the first time since the 2011-12 season, the West Coast Conference looks like a three-bid league.
And this won’t happen because a team made a miraculous run in the WCC Tournament.
The WCC’s “big three” of Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary’s have all but solidified their NCAA Tournament bids going into this year’s WCC Tournament, held at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas from March 5-10. Boasting over 24 wins apiece with a combined 24 Quadrant I wins, all three teams have at least a 99.7% chance of making the field, per Bart Torvik’s TourneyCast.
Aside from the usual suspects, the WCC is deeper than it’s ever been. Fourth-place Pacific has eclipsed the 20-win mark for the first time since the Big West days, fifth-place San Francisco has 20 wins (including one over BYU) and seven of the 10 teams are ranked in the top 200 in KenPom. If 7 seed Santa Clara wins its first-round game against 10 seed Portland, then the WCC will make history:
WCC teams with 20+ wins, by year since 1990:— Will Maupin (@willmaup) March 1, 2020
5, 5, 5, 4, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 3, 2, 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 3, 3, 1, 1, 1, 2, 3, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1.
If 19-win Santa Clara takes down 10th place Portland in the WCC Tournament opening round, the number goes from 5 to 6 and becomes a record.
Like last year, the WCC Tournament gives quadruple-byes to the top two teams, so
Gonzaga wouldn’t bail for the Mountain West this tournament will take a while. Top-seeded Gonzaga gets the benefit of 2 seed BYU and 3 seed Saint Mary’s beating each other up on the opposite side of the bracket, whereas a 4 seed Pacific squad is the best team the Bulldogs can face in the semifinals.
First Round (Thursday, March 5) — WCC Network
Game 1: No. 8 Loyola Marymount vs. No. 9 San Diego, 9 p.m. ET
Game 2: No. 7 Santa Clara vs. No. 10 Portland, 11 p.m. ET
Second Round (Friday, March 6) — WCC Network
Game 3: No. 5 San Francisco vs. Game 1 winner, 9 p.m. ET
Game 4: No. 6 Pepperdine vs. Game 2 winner, 11 p.m. ET
Quarterfinals (Saturday, March 7) — ESPN2
Game 5: No. 4 Pacific vs. Game 3 winner, 10 p.m. ET
Game 6: No. 3 Saint Mary’s vs. Game 4 winner, 11:59 p.m. ET
Semifinals (Monday, March 9) — ESPN/ESPN2
Game 7: No. 1 Gonzaga vs. Game 5 winner, 9 p.m. ET
Game 8: No. 2 BYU vs. Game 6 winner, 11:30 p.m. ET
Championship (Tuesday, March 10) — ESPN
Game 9: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 9 p.m. ET
Gonzaga: Could it be anyone else? Mark Few sustained losing freshman Brock Ravet, Anton Watson’s season-ending shoulder injury, Killian Tillie’s sporadic play and replacing the Bulldogs’ entire frontcourt to the first round of the NBA Draft.
Yet the Bulldogs are still third in the NET, second on KenPom and third in the AP Poll. Oh, and the Bulldogs broke a decades-old record for consecutive WCC regular-season wins (40). That sound you hear is every casual basketball fan clamoring, “How do they keep doing this??”
The Bulldogs’ modus operandi is feeding the ball to Filip Petrusev, Killian Tillie and Drew Timme so much that it wears down opposing bigs, then throwing their offense into hyperdrive in the second half en route to blowing out opponents by obscene margins of victory. Gonzaga has wins of 20 points or more against the following WCC teams: BYU, Saint Mary’s, Pacific, Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount and San Diego (twice).
BYU: First-year head coach Mark Pope has brought BYU out of NIT exile and into the NCAA Tournament’s promised land. For the first time since the final 2010-11 AP Poll, BYU is a nationally ranked team — all thanks to its top-10 offense, inside-out combo of Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws, plus two of the nation’s most effective transfers in Alex Barcello (Arizona) and Jake Toolson (Utah Valley). BYU is also the only WCC team to beat Gonzaga, which makes it the most likely non-Gonzaga team to win.
Saint Mary’s: When Saint Mary’s offense is on, the Gaels are damn-near unstoppable — just ask Arizona State, Cal or San Diego. When it’s not, the Gaels grind out slow-paced slogs, barely break 60 points and lose to teams like Winthrop or Santa Clara. But the Gaels are never truly out of it with Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts on the roster, both of whom have bailed out the Gaels on several occasions. In short, SMC is one of the most volatile teams in the conference.
File this under “predictable:” Saint Mary’s is 4-4 when the team shoots worse than 32% from three, and 20-3 when it eclipses that mark. The Gaels live and die by the three like few other teams in the league.
The Dark Horse
San Francisco: First-year head coach Todd Golden has retained former head coach Kyle Smith’s nerd-ball strategy, uses basically everyone on the roster and put together a game plan that had Gonzaga on the ropes for 38 minutes on Feb. 1.
(Ah, forget it. Everyone knows the winner is going to be one of the WCC’s “big three.”)
Players to Watch
- Sure, let’s go with Gonzaga’s starting five of Ryan Woolridge, Joel Ayayi, Corey Kispert, Killian Tillie and Filip Petrusev. Then throw in Admon Gilder for good measure.
- BYU has some guys, too. There’s sharpshooter Jake Toolson (47.3 3FG%), plus T.J. Haws, who has been incredibly clutch this year. Yoeli Childs has also been on a warpath ever since the NCAA suspended him nine games for a paperwork error.
- Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts are quite a one-two punch for Saint Mary’s. The former is one of the craftiest guards in the country, while the latter is a mismatch nightmare.
- Colbey Ross is Pepperdine’s star point guard, and quite possibly the best player in program history. He’ll dish out the bulk of his conference-leading 7.0 APG to brothers Kameron Edwards and Kessler Edwards.
- San Francisco has the deepest rotation of the conference, so it’s hard to choose one standout player. Redshirt junior Charles Minlend is a big guard who likes getting most of his points by backing down defenders and getting to the rack.
- Standing at 6’5, Pacific’s Jahlil Tripp is the league’s leading rebounder at 8.6 RPG. The senior also averages 15.6 PPG.
- LMU’s Eli Scott is the Lions’ guiding light. Most of the 6’6 junior’s work is done from the elbows inward, but he’s a tough assignment on defense and a tenacious rebounder.
Although BYU spoiled Gonzaga’s perfect conference record, the Bulldogs are the clear favorite in the WCC Tournament. The Zags’ run in Las Vegas is absurd. With exception of last year’s hiccup, Gonzaga has won six of the past seven conference tournament championships, and the Bulldogs are a whopping 21-3 in the WCC Tournament over the past decade. New Mexico State’s 25-2 record in the past 10 WAC Tournaments is the only better conference tournament run.
Throw in the Bulldogs’ experience, coaching and talent, and they should win another this year. But it won’t be easy.