While more recently seen as a one-horse race under the dominance of Mark Few’s Gonzaga, the West Coast Conference has built itself a solid group of programs that have come to compete with the Bulldogs for the conference crown.
Although Gonzaga sits as the No. 1 team in the nation and once again earned a WCC regular-season championship, this conference has the potential for several at-large bids into this season’s NCAA Tournament. Following Gonzaga is No. 19 St. Mary’s, who challenged the Bulldogs for that top spot in the WCC and even took a win from Few’s squad to round out conference play.
But even further than that, programs such as Santa Clara, San Francisco and Portland have all kept the conference competitive with big improvements from last season, while Mark Pope’s BYU team has been as consistent as ever in the WCC.
With this year’s WCC looking to be the most talented of the past few seasons, could this be the first time somebody takes down Gonzaga in the conference tournament since 2019?
Note: All matchups will be played at Orleans Arena in Paradise, Nev.
First Round (Thursday, March 3), WCC Network
Game 1: No. 9 Pacific vs. No. 8 Loyola Marymount (9 p.m. ET)
Game 2: No. 7 San Diego vs. No. 10 Pepperdine (11 p.m. ET)
Second Round (Friday, March 4), WCC Network
Game 3: Winner of Game 1 vs. No. 5 BYU (9 p.m. ET)
Game 4: Winner of Game 2 vs. No. 6 Portland (11 p.m. ET)
Quarterfinals (Saturday, March 5), ESPN2
Game 5: Winner of Game 3 vs. No. 4 San Francisco (10:30 p.m. ET)
Game 6: Winner of Game 4 vs. No. 3 Santa Clara (Sunday, 12:30 a.m. ET)
Semifinals (Monday, March 7), ESPN/ESPN2
Game 7: Winner of Game 5 vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (9 p.m. ET)
Game 8: Winner of Game 6 vs. No. 2 Saint Mary’s (11:30 p.m. ET)
Championship (Tuesday, March 8), ESPN
Game 9: Winner of Game 7 vs Winner of Game 8 (9 p.m. ET)
Gonzaga (24-3,13-1): This one probably doesn’t need much explaining but with just one loss in conference play and currently ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation, the Bulldogs will be the favorites heading into this year’s WCC tournament. Behind 2022 WCC Newcomer and Defensive POTY Chet Holmgren and 2022 WCC POTY Drew Timme, Gonzaga will be expected to handle the competition and pressure easily, especially given the team’s semifinal start in the tournament.
Saint Mary’s (24-6, 12-3): As the only team to manage a win over Gonzaga in conference play, the Gaels look to be the WCC's best shot at dethroning the reigning champions. And while that will be a tough task, Saint Mary’s will have the same benefits as Gonzaga in starting tournament play during the semifinals, which will be a huge advantage for both squads. While they struggled at times in conference play including losing to BYU in a conference opener and suffering losses to Santa Clara and Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s is coming in on somewhat of a hot streak following four wins to finish the regular season.
Santa Clara (20-10, 10-5): Stringing together a few consecutive winning seasons, the Broncos can be a real threat, and they’ve shown that this year taking down then-No. 22 Saint Mary’s 77-72. Santa Clara has really only struggled against Gonzaga and San Francisco this season who both beat the Broncos twice and have all the pieces to make a run, which includes the conference’s leading scorer in Jalen Williams (17.9 PPG). Primed to take on Portland in the quarterfinals, if the Broncos can advance they’ll get another shot at Saint Mary’s and perhaps could find themselves in a championship battle with Gonzaga.
San Francisco (23-8, 10-6): Early on this season, San Francisco looked to be one of the most improved teams in the nation and they continued that trend by demolishing most of the competition in non-conference play. From there the Dons have had some issues struggling against the WCC’s top teams and even some teams they were projected to beat, such as BYU and Portland. But as one of the highest volume three-point shooting teams in the country, it would be tough to count Todd Golden’s squad as really out of any matchup, especially if it can hit shots.
Players to Watch
Drew Timme, Gonzaga (17.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.7 APG)
Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga (14.4 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 1.9 APG)
Rasir Bolton, Gonzaga (11 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.5 APG)
Matthias Tass, Saint Mary’s (12.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2 APG)
Tommy Kuhse, Saint Mary’s (11.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.6 APG)
Jalen Williams, Santa Clara (17.9 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 4 APG)
Josip Varnkic, Santa Clara (15.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.2 APG)
Jamaree Bouyea, San Francisco (17 PPG, 5 RPG, 4.1 APG)
Yauhen Massalski, San Francisco (13.6 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.6 APG)
Alex Barcello, BYU (17 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.1 APG)
Te’Jon Lucas, BYU (10.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 4.7 APG)
Tyler Robertson, Portland (15.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.4 APG)
Moses Wood, Portland (14.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.7 APG)
Marcellus Earlington, San Diego (13.4 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.1 APG)
Jase Townsend, San Diego (11.1 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.9 APG)
Alphonso Anderson, Pacific (12 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.8 APG)
Jeremiah Bailey, Pacific (11.4 PPG, 6 RPG, 1.1 APG)
Eli Scott, Loyola Marymount (17 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 3 APG)
Joe Quintana, Loyola Marymount (12.4 PPG, 3 RPG, 1.7 APG)
Houston Mallette, Pepperdine (13.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.9 APG)
Jan Zidek, Pepperdine (13.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.3 APG)
While this is probably the most competitive and talent-loaded WCC we’ve seen of seasons past, it’s tough to see Gonzaga losing. For that reason, I think we’ll see the two nationally-ranked squads in Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s face off in the WCC Championship with the Bulldogs ultimately prevailing in a tough matchup. However, this won’t be the last that we’ll see for some of these teams as the WCC is shaping up to be a four-bid league with lots of interesting candidates vying for those limited spots.