In 1890, Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act to authorize the federal government to disrupt and dissolve monopolies and trusts. It spelled the demise of many large companies that controlled an entire industry, such as Standard Oil, but there’s one that has slipped mostly through the cracks.
Mark Few and Gonzaga have won, at least, a share of 22 of the past 23 West Coast Conference regular season titles — as well as 18 of the past 23 tournament titles.
This year, Saint Mary’s and Randy Bennett have broken through to create a duopoly, with only two losses between them and Gonzaga (outside of their matchups). The Zags and the Gaels are the teams that everybody talks about in this league, and for good reason, but there are eight others that place a target firmly on the backs of both the red and blue-wearing schools.
2023 University Credit Union #WCChoops Men's Basketball Tournament bracket is set!— West Coast Conference (@WCCsports) February 26, 2023
SEE YOU IN LAS VEGAS!
: https://t.co/NESDpbfQJY pic.twitter.com/niOvPmmCns
*The WCC funnels their best teams straight to the semifinals, which is an advantage greater than that given to most mid-major conference leaders. The unique format has made for a distinct lack of parity in the conference tournament but aims to ensure that the team represent the WCC is the best the league can offer.
All games at Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada,
All times are listed as eastern.
First Round (Thursday, March 2), WCC Network
Game 1: (9) San Diego vs (8) Portland, 9:00 p.m.
Game 2: (10) Pepperdine vs (7) Pacific, 11:30 p.m.
Second Round (Friday, March 3), WCC Network
Game 3: Game 1 Winner vs (5) BYU, 9:00 p.m.
Game 4: Game 2 Winner vs (6) San Francisco, 11:30 p.m.
Quarterfinals (Saturday, March 4), ESPN2
Game 5: Game 3 Winner vs (4) LMU, 10:00 p.m.
Game 6: Game 4 Winner vs (3) Santa Clara, 12:30 a.m.
Semifinals (Monday, March 6)
Game 7: Game 5 Winner vs (1) Saint Mary’s, 9:00 p.m., ESPN
Game 8: Game 6 Winner vs (2) Gonzaga, 11:30 p.m., ESPN2
Championship (Tuesday, March 7), ESPN
Game 9: Game 7 Winner vs Game 8 Winner, 9:00 p.m.
Gonzaga (26-5, 14-2): The Zags have never needed an introduction. Since losing to Saint Mary’s in overtime on Feb. 4, Gonzaga has played better offense than anybody else in college basketball by a wide margin. A 134.1 offensive rating in their last six conference games, along with a 60.3 eFG%, the Zags are playing their best ball at the right time.
Drew Timme is still there, and is still trying to prove all of the narratives about this program wrong. Julian Strawther has taken a step, and is one of the most underrated players in the entire country. He’s an extremely efficient, 6-foot-7 wing with athleticism, providing a spark for the Zags offensively.
Anton Watson has turned a corner, turning into a player that can protect the rim adequately, which was a major struggle for this Zags team for much of the year. Rasir Bolton and Nolan Hickman are still there in the backcourt, and Chattanooga transfer Malachi Smith has been one of the best shooters in the country.
Few is looking to cut down the nets in not only Las Vegas, but also in Houston, and while this team isn’t quite as good as their most recent ones, it’s hard to beat them playing at their best.
Saint Mary’s (25-6, 14-2): Tired of just being “Gonzaga’s best opponent,” the Gaels made their own name this past season. They entered the KenPom top 10 in January, and haven’t left it.
Freshman guard Aidan Mahaney stole the hearts of college basketball fans during his stellar performance to lead the Gaels’ comeback over Gonzaga. He’s been playing at an elite level all season, with 14.6 PPG on 40.9% from distance.
Mahaney’s backcourt mate, Logan Johnson, is just as valuable for this Gaels team, averaging 14.7 PPG, 3.7 APG, and spearheading their perimeter defense. Alex Ducas and Mitchell Saxen are also averaging double digits, and returned from last year’s team that got a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
While they have the offensive firepower like much of this league does, Saint Mary’s prides itself on defense, which is the seventh-best in all of college basketball metrics wise. The Gaels control the tempo in a league that likes to run, making them a mismatch for most teams.
Santa Clara (23-8, 11-5): Illinois transfer Brandin Podziemski has broken out and has become a mid-major superstar, averaging 20 points per game for Herb Sendek’s Broncos. Santa Clara won 20 games for the third consecutive full season, and finished the season with seven consecutive wins, scoring above 80 points in six of them.
Santa Clara has one of the tallest mid-major basketball teams in the country, starting two players at 6-foot-10 in Jaden Bediako and Parker Braun, as well as giving 7-foot freshman Christoph Tilly more minutes as the season has continued. The size in the frontcourt allows the Broncos to have the second-best block rate and second-best 2P% defense in the WCC.
Loyola Marymount (19-11, 9-7): The only team to beat either Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s (aside from each other) — the Lions actually beat both of them. On Jan. 19, Cam Shelton’s game-winner ended Gonzaga’s 76-game winning streak at the vaunted Kennel in Spokane.
Shelton is another mid-major superstar, leading the conference with 21.2 PPG, and finishing third with 4.2 APG. Shelton has many different ways to score, and his role for LMU allows him plenty of freedom to do so.
BYU (17-14, 7-9): In their 12th and final year in the WCC before heading off to the Big 12, BYU had its first losing season in the league. Despite the 7-9 mark, Mark Pope’s Cougars can still dominate the interior.
With a deep frontcourt that includes Jaxson Robinson, Fousseyni Traore, Gideon George, Atiki Ally Atiki, and Noah Waterman, BYU ranked in the top 15 nationally in defensive rebounding, and the top 100 nationally in offensive rebounding, 2P% (offense and defense), and block rate (offense and defense).
San Francisco (18-13, 7-9): After getting an at-large bid last year, San Francisco started a new era under head coach Chris Gerlufsen, but under the same principles as former head coach Todd Golden. With an emphasis on making 3s and stopping 3s, Khalil Shabazz and Tyrell Roberts each have attempted over 200 long balls this year while the defense focuses on the perimeter.
Marcus Williams, Zane Meeks, Isaiah Hawthrone, and Josh Kunen are also three-point threats for the Dons, making them one of the better shotmaking teams in one of the very best shotmaking leagues.
Pacific (14-17, 7-9): Leonard Perry’s Tigers finished as the best 3-point shooting team in the WCC behind Keylan Boone, Tyler Beard, Judson Martindale, and Luke Avdalovic. Pacific plays an extremely deep rotation, but has consistently struggled to generate and convert high-quality shots on the interior. Despite shooting 39.4% from deep, Pacific finished with the ninth-ranked offense in the WCC, which is another testament to how much offensive talent there is in this league.
Portland (13-18, 5-11): Portland’s impressive performance in the Phil Knight Invitational didn’t carry over into WCC play. Tyler Robertson is a 6-foot-6 primary ball handler who can post up and run the pick and roll. Moses Wood showed off his two-way skillset by leading the WCC in true shooting% and finishing top 10 in the league in block rate.
San Diego (11-19, 4-12): Steve Lavin’s zone and press haven’t been successful for the Toreros, as they allow the highest 3P% in all of college basketball, and rank 339th in defense.
Offensively, it’s a different story entirely, as Marcellus Earlington has become a true star in the league, averaging 17 points and 7 rebounds per game, while leading the Toreros to the 76th-ranked offense in college basketball. Jase Townsend has also chipped in 15 points per game for San Diego.
Pepperdine (9-21, 2-14): Maxwell Lewis has played his way onto NBA Draft boards, but WCC teams seemed to have answers for him and this Pepperdine team. The Waves play as fast as anybody in the country, but the emphasis on playing fast left them behind on the boards far too often.
Players to Watch
Drew Timme, Gonzaga (21.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.2 APG)
Julian Strawther, Gonzaga (15.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG)
Rasir Bolton, Gonzaga (10.7 PPG, 2.6 APG)
Anton Watson, Gonzaga (11.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG)
Aidan Mahaney, Saint Mary’s (14.6 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 2.0 APG)
Logan Johnson, Saint Mary’s (14.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.7 APG)
Alex Ducas, Saint Mary’s (12.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG)
Mitchell Saxen, Saint Mary’s (11.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG)
Brandin Podziemski, Santa Clara (19.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 3.4 APG)
Carlos Stewart, Santa Clara (15.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG)
Fousseyni Traore, BYU (13.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG)
Rudi Williams, BYU (12.7 PPG, 2.8 APG)
Khalil Shabazz, San Francisco (17.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.9 APG)
Tyrell Roberts, San Francisco (15.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG)
Cam Shelton, Loyola Marymount (21.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG)
Keli Leaupepe, Loyola Marymount (13.3 PPG, 6.9 RPG)
Keylan Boone, Pacific (13.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG)
Moses Wood, Portland (15.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG)
Tyler Robertson, Portland (14.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.2 APG)
Marcellus Earlington, San Diego (17.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG)
Jase Townsend, San Diego (15.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.5 APG)
Maxwell Lewis, Pepperdine (17.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.8 APG)
Houston Mallette, Pepperdine (13.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.5 APG)
The One Matchup That I’m Praying For
Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s: The clash of the best defense in mid-major basketball, and the best offense in all of college basketball, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s has already given us two incredible games this year, and many more in previous years.
“Reports of Gonzaga’s demise had been greatly exaggerated,” said Mark Few (editor’s note he didn’t actually say this but it would be funny if he did), after the Zags plucked Saint Mary’s at the Kennel last weekend, continuing their extremely hot stretch of offense over the last month. While Saint Mary’s has plateaued, the Zags are peaking at the right time and will win the league as is tradition.