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West Coast Tournament bracket, preview and schedule: Gonzaga looks to continue making history

Gonzaga or the field?

NCAA Basketball: Santa Clara at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The West Coast Conference will tip off on March 4 with the Gonzaga Bulldogs as the clear favorites, but a couple teams are ready to take a chance and have some fun in Las Vegas.

The conference partnered with statistician Ken Pomeroy to determine the tournament seeding instead of using the standings at the end of conference play.

Bracket

Schedule

All times are Eastern.

First Round (Thursday, March 4) — Stadium

Game 1: No. 8 San Francisco vs. No. 9 San Diego, 9 p.m.

Game 2: No. 7 Santa Clara vs. No. 10 Portland, 12 a.m.

Second Round (Friday, March 5) — Stadium

Game 3: No. 5 LMU vs. Game 1 Winner, 9 p.m.

Game 4: No. 6 Pacific vs. Game 2 Winner, 12 a.m.

Quarterfinals (Saturday, March 6) — ESPNU & ESPN2

Game 5: No. 4 Saint Mary’s vs. Game 3 Winner, 9 p.m.

Game 6: No. 3 Pepperdine vs. Game 4 Winner, 12 a.m.

Semifinals (Sunday, March 8) — ESPN & ESPN2

Semifinal 1: No. 1 Gonzaga vs. Game 5 Winner, 9 p.m.

Semifinal 2: No. 2 BYU vs. Game 6 Winner, 12 a.m.

Finals (Tuesday, March 9) — ESPN

Championship Game, 9 p.m.

The Favorite

Gonzaga (24-0, 15-0 WCC): The Bulldogs got their first No. 1 preseason ranking in program history and still hold that spot today. Conference coach of the year Mark Few’s team has the best offense in the nation and can brag about being the last undefeated team. This is the first perfect regular season in program history.

The Zags have four players averaging double digits in conference play. Sophomore forward Drew Timme recorded 18.7 point per game, senior Corey Kispert 18.5 ppg, freshman Jalen Suggs 13.3 ppg and redshirt junior Joel Ayayi 11.2 ppg. But it’s not just those guys who are dangerous in the offense, any other player can step up on any given night.

The Zags can play fast, unselfish basketball. Few values basketball IQ, which is clear by the way the team executes game plans. Do the Bulldogs have weaknesses? Yes, but they push through. Gonzaga finished the regular season with games against LMU and Santa Clara. Both of those teams are big and physical, which led to the Bulldogs to struggle inside. When it comes to defense, Few admitted that one of the team’s “lack of strength” is not having great rim protectors.

Even before conference play Gonzaga was making sure they would get into the NCAA Tournament with a resume that includes wins against four AP Top 20 teams (Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa and Virginia).

If not Gonzaga then maybe...

No. 2 seed BYU (19-5, 10-3 WCC): The Cougars are No. 20 in NET rankings and receiving votes in the AP Top 25 Poll. BYU is second in the WCC in both scoring offense (78.4 ppg) and third in defense (67.2 ppg) through conference play. The team has the best three-point percentage (39.0%) and ranks third in threes made per game (7.9) in the conference.

Three players are averaging double figures with Alex Barcello as the most consistent scorer. He averaged 14.6 points during conference play.

The Cougars are on the opposite side of the bracket as Gonzaga, so it’s very possible that they battle each other in the championship game. The Zags are a tough team to beat, but BYU did it on Feb. 22, 2020 when Gonzaga was ranked No. 2 in the nation. The Cougars have shown potential to beat big teams this season too. They handed the then-no. 18 San Diego State Aztecs their first loss of their nonconference schedule on Dec. 18 at Viejas Arena.

No. 5 seed LMU (12-8, 7-5 WCC): This is Stan Johnson’s first season as the Loyola Marymount head coach but the program is already heading in the right direction. This is the first the year LMU has a winning conference record since the 2011-12 season.

The Lions were predicted to finish seventh in the WCC Preseason Coaches Poll. LMU was third in the standings but it got a lower seeding due to Ken Pomeroy statistics.

The Lions shouldn’t have too much difficulty getting past San Diego or San Francisco as they defeated both teams during conference play. LMU would then have to beat Saint Mary’s, a team that is usually one of the better ones in the WCC but hasn’t done as well this season.

Senior Eli Scott averaged 20.2 points during 12 games in conference play, this is the best average in the WCC.

Long shots

Saint Mary’s (13-8, 4-6 WCC): The Gaels aren’t at their best right now, but the program knows how to perform well in Las Vegas. Since the WCC Championship moved to the Orleans Arena in 2009, only Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga have lifted the conference championship trophy.

On paper, the Gaels have the best defense in the conference only allowing 64.4 points per game. Unfortunately for them they also have the worst scoring offense (60.5 ppg).

One of Saint Mary’s best offensive games came in December against Texas Southern. Not exactly an impressive team, but the Gaels still deserve credit for recording a total of 16 three-pointers. They also shot 54% overall and 47% from three. Maybe they can find that luck again in Vegas.

Santa Clara (10-7, 4-5 WCC): Santa Clara gave Gonzaga some trouble on Feb. 25 even without starter Keshawn Justice (concussion protocol). The Broncos lost that game 89-75 but they were able to lead the Zags by double digits for a good part of the night.

Santa Clara is one of the tallest teams in the country, which, as previously mentioned, can be a great tool to give even great teams like Gonzaga some serious struggles.

Senior forward Josip Vrankic is the team’s most consistent scorer with 16.1 points per game during conference games. He leads the WCC in rebounds with 9.3 per game.