As crazy as it may seem seeing as the current No. 1 team in the country resides in the WCC, there’s a pretty good chance that this conference could end up being just a one-bid league this year.
Gonzaga has been fantastic, and while they may not actually be the best team or the national title favorite, they are every bit deserving of their current spot atop both polls. The problem, however, is that the two other powerhouse programs in the league are both struggling through a bit of a down year. BYU whiffed on their four shots at quality non-conference wins, got swept by both St. Mary’s and BYU, and then lost four of their last seven league games, including dates with San Diego and San Francisco. St. Mary’s had the bad luck of losing to plucky Pacific in the Anaheim Classic and seeing Utah State, Drexel and Harvard struggle this season, which crushed their non-conference schedule strength.
The Gaels caught a break, however, when they picked up a win over a then-struggling, now-thriving Creighton in BracketBusters, which may be the win that gets them an at-large bid if they can get to the WCC finals and lose to the Zags.
Ironically enough, Gonzaga has plenty to play for right now as well. A loss could cost them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
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Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
When: March 6-11
Final: March 11th, 9:00 p.m ET (ESPN)
Obviously. The Zags rolled through WCC play undefeated. Outside of a fluky loss at Butler in January, Gonzaga hasn’t lost since Brandon Paul did Brandon Paul things to them in Spokane in early December. Kelly Olynyk has come out of no where to be a National Player of the Year candidate, making Elias Harris a forgotten man in the front court and the talented back court of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell suddenly vastly underrated.
And if they lose?: St. Mary’s and BYU are the two teams with enough firepower to give the Zags a scare on a neutral court. The Gaels are led by phenomenal senior point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who may be the nation’s best ball-handler in pick-and-roll actions, while the Cougars have a pair of all-conference players in Brandon Davies and Tyler Haws. St. Mary’s may be the better team, but BYU’s size makes them a better matchup with Gonzaga. If chalk holds, those two will meet in the semifinals.
Sleeper: Santa Clara is the team to keep an eye on. Kevin Foster is a volume shooter capable of dropping 40 if he gets into a rhythm. Marc Trasolini is a stretch four that can draw Gonzaga’s big men away from the basket and Evan Roquemore may be the league’s most underrated player. While the Broncos were manhandled in Spokane a few weeks ago, they gave Gonzaga all they could handle at home back in January.
– Kevin Foster, Santa Clara: Foster put 30 on St. Louis in November, gave Duke 29 in Cameron in December and dropped 29 on the Zags in their first matchup.
– Anthony Ireland, Loyola Marymount: It’s a shame that the Lions aren’t better, because Ireland is the real deal.
– Johnny Dee, San Diego: The 6-foot-0 sophomore is San Diego’s leading scorer and has a name straight out of a Happy Days episode.
CBT Prediction: I’m going to pick an upset. I’ll take St. Mary’s getting revenge in the third matchup of the season with Gonzaga. Mostly, I just want to see Dellavedova in the tournament one last time.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.