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West Coast Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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In recent years the regular season champion of the West Coast Conference would arrive in Las Vegas feeling secure about its chances of landing an NCAA tournament bid even if they didn’t managed to grab the league’s automatic bid. Things aren’t as comfortable this time around for either Saint Mary’s or Gonzaga, as their non-conference slates either lacked the challenging games (Saint Mary’s) or quality wins (Gonzaga) needed to provide some breathing room. That, along with the presence of BYU and Pepperdine, should make for an intense “long weekend” at the Orleans Arena, where the WCC will hope that this event can produce two NCAA tournament teams.

The Bracket 

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When: March 4-8 (no games Sunday, March 6)

Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas

Final: March 8, 9:00 p.m. EST

Favorite: Saint Mary’s

The Gaels surprised many by winning a share of the regular season title, as they were picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll. They’ll be the top seed this week thanks to their season sweep of Gonzaga, and with guards Emmett Naar and WCC Newcomer of the Year Joe Rahon leading the way head coach Randy Bennett has the pieces needed to win the tournament. Forwards Calvin Hermansson and Dane Pineau shouldn’t be overlooked either, as they’re second and third on the team in scoring behind Naar and 6-foot-10 freshman center Evan Fitzner was productive in both wins over Gonzaga (16.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg).

And if they lose?: Gonzaga

Mark Few’s Bulldogs are led by one of the best front court tandems in the country in senior Kyle Wiltjer and sophomore Domantas Sabonis. Wiltjer’s a face-up four with range well beyond the three-point line, thus providing Sabonis with the room he needs to operate from 15 feet and in. The question mark throughout this season has been the development of their perimeter rotation, but there has been progress. Josh Perkins was named to the WCC’s all-freshman team, and Eric McClellan the conference’s best defender. How that group, which includes Silas Melson and Kyle Dranginis, performs will be key for Gonzaga as they look to win the WCC tournament for the fifth time in the last six years.

Other Contenders:

  • BYU: They’ve got the WCC Player of the Year in versatile guard Kyle Collinsworth, and fellow guards Chase Fischer and Nick Emery can fill it up scoring-wise. And even with their ability to put up points, BYU led the WCC in defensive efficiency in conference games per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers.
  • Pepperdine: The Waves can make a claim no other WCC team can make this season: they swept Saint Mary’s. Marty Wilson’s group, led by forward Stacy Davis and guard Jeremy Major, is capable of making a run in Vegas.

WCC Player of the Year: Kyle Collinsworth, BYU

The NCAA’s all-time leader in career triple-doubles (11), Collinsworth is the “straw that stirs the drink” for BYU. In WCC games he ranked in the top five in rebounds (third), assists (first) and steals (first), and at 15.6 points per game the senior ranked 13th in the conference in scoring. At 6-foot-6 he’s a tough matchup for opposing teams from a size standpoint, and his ability to find the likes of Chase Fischer and Nick Emery makes BYU a tough team to slow down offensively.

WCC Coach of the Year: Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s

Saint Mary’s exceeded expectations this season, going from a team pegged by many as the one likely to fall out of a top three slot to one that grabbed the top seed in the conference tournament. For that Bennett should be praised, as the backcourt of Emmett Naar and Joe Rahon has meshed well and the front court has accounted for the graduation of Brad Waldow as well.

First-Team All-WCC:

  • Kyle Collinsworth, BYU
  • Emmett Naar, Saint Mary’s
  • Stacy Davis, Pepperdine
  • Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
  • Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga

CBT Prediction: Saint Mary’s beats Gonzaga in a thriller.

WCC releases revised bracket for 2016 conference tournament

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With the Pacific men’s basketball program not eligible to compete in this year’s WCC tournament after the school self-imposed a postseason ban as a result of an ongoing NCAA investigation, the conference had to make a quick revision to its bracket for the event.

Friday the WCC released the updated bracket, with the first round scheduled for Friday, March 4 now consisting of just one game. The eight and nine-seeds will play that night, with the winner advancing to take on the top seed in Saturday’s quarterfinal round. All four quarterfinals will be played Saturday, March 5, with the semifinals scheduled for Monday, March 7 and the title game Tuesday, March 8.

All games will be played at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, which has hosted the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments every year since 2009.

West Coast Conference Catchup: Gonzaga has top 10 talent

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Half of the West Coast Conference qualified for a postseason play this past season with Gonzaga and BYU returning to the NCAA tournament field. Heading into next year, the focus will once again be on Gonzaga. The Bulldogs were one-victory shy of a 30-win season, though, a blowout loss in the Round of 32 and a lack of marquee wins gave critics more than enough ammunition to label the 2013-2014 season as a disappointment.

However, the Zags could find themselves in the top 10 when the preseason is poll is released. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. anchor a back court joined by USC graduate transfer Byron Wesley. Przemek Karnowski had a breakout sophomore season with newcomers such as Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer and Arvydas Sabonis’ son, Domantas, filling out the frontline.

RELATEDRead through all of our Conference Catchups here

Gonzaga has also beefed up its non-conference schedule with matchups on the road against Arizona and UCLA to go along with a highly-anticipated non-conference tilt with SMU, as part of the 24-hour marathon.

While Gonzaga is the clear-cut favorite, the rest of the conference is far less certain. BYU has questions to address, as the Cougars look to make a fourth tournament appearance in five seasons. San Francisco has plenty of returners, but will the loss of several top scorers keep the Dons from surpassing BYU in the standings? Saint Mary’s adds new pieces around its all-conference forward, Pepperdine has some talent and Portland could be the darkhorse with a long list of players coming back.

THREE UP

Gonzaga: The conference’s powerhouse is in for a big 2014-2015 season. Gonzaga has returning talent, adds two impact transfers and welcomes in a recruiting class that includes a pair of four-star commits. Even before Mark Few landed Wesley late last week, his team was projected as a top 20 team.

Portland: The Pilots lost five straight games to end this past season, but did pick up a huge conference win over Gonzaga a month prior to the losing skid. Portland is bringing back most of its rotation, including leading scorer Kevin Bailey and 6-foot-11 big man Thomas van der Mars.

San Francisco: Cole Dickerson, the team’s top scorer, exhausted his eligibility, and last month lost second leading scorer Avry Holmes to transfer. On paper that looks bad, but Rex Walters can combat those losses with core pieces left at his disposal. Kruize Pinkins, Mark Tollefson, Tim Derksen and Matt Glover all logged an average of more than 25 minutes per game last season. In the case of Derksen and Glover, they’ll have the opportunity to step up and fill a void as Holmes did when Cody Doolin left the program after four games.

THREE DOWN

BYU: Tyler Haws is back on campus, giving the Cougars one of the nation’s top scorers. However, guard Matt Carlino transferred to Marquette for his final season, center Eric Mika has left for his LDS mission and Kyle Collingsworth is recovering from an ACL tear he suffered in March. BYU brings in several transfers and adds Jordan Chatman, who has returned from his mission.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels could very well take a step back this upcoming season. Stephen Holt is gone, leaving the back court in the hands of Kerry Carter and two eligible transfers. Brad Waldow does return on the frontline for the Saint Mary’s.

Loyola Marymount: The Lions are coming off a last place finish, and despite the return of Evan Payne it likely won’t get much better in the first year under Mike Dunlap. Anthony Ireland has graduated, and Gabe Levin, who along with Payne made was named to All-WCC freshmen team, transferred out after the season. Also, four-star commit Elijah Stewart was released from his National Letter of Intent. Long-term, LMU is on the upswing, you just might not see it this season.

FIVE NEW FACES

Kyle Wiltjer and Byron Wesley, Gonzaga: The former Kentucky Wildcat joins Przemek Karnowski in the front court while the ex-USC Trojan gives the Zags a scoring option on the wing. Wiltjer is a former McDonald’s All American and a member of Kentucky’s National Title team. Wesley averaged 17.8 points per game as a junior.

Mike Dunlap, Loyola Marymount: Not a new face to LMU, as the alum is returning to the school he played at and served as assistant for five years. He last coached the Charlotte Bobcats during the 2012-2013 season, and was let go after one year . His previous stops as an assistant include Arizona, Oregon, Iowa and St. John’s.

Chase Fischer, BYU: During his sophomore season with Wake Forest in 2012-2013, he shot 42 percent from behind the arc. The transfer guard resumes his career this season in the back court with Tyler Haws. Jamal Aytes can be another impact transfer when he becomes eligible after the fall semester.

Aaron Bright, Saint Mary’s: The graduate transfer rule will allow the former Stanford guard to finish his career without interruption at Saint Mary’s. Bright was the 2012 postseason NIT MVP. He and former Golden Gopher Joe Coleman will be additions to the Gaels back court.

Domantas Sabonis and Josh Perkins, Gonzaga: The two four-star recruits headline a strong recruiting class to add to the returning talent Gonzaga has next season. Sabonis, son of the Hall of Famer Arvydas, is 6-foot-10 power forward who should make an impact on the offensive end. Perkins will add depth to a senior-laden perimeter.

Way-Too-Early Power Rankings

1. Gonzaga
2. San Francisco
3. BYU
4. Portland
5. Saint Mary’s
6. Pepperdine
7. Santa Clara
8. San Diego
9. Loyola Marymount
10. Pacific

Gonzaga upset by San Diego, first West Coast Conference losing streak since 2011

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In a three-day span, No. 25 Gonzaga dropped back-to-back road games, the first time the Zags have lost consecutive West Coast Conference games since January 2011.

BYU avenged a loss to the Bulldogs on Thursday night. On Saturday night, San Diego held on to a 69-66 upset win, the first time the Toreros had defeated the Zags since 2008.

Johnny Dee and Duda Sanadze combined for 31 points in the win. Gonzaga junior guard Kevin Pangos was held to 2-of-8 shooting for only four points, his lowest point total since he scored seven in a loss to No. 24 Memphis on Feb. 8.

“Both (the San Diego and BYU games) have been very similar,” Gonzaga head coach Few said during the postgame press conference, according to the Spokeman-Review. “It’s hard to pinpoint either one, offense or defense, because we’re not consistently getting stops (with the) way we started the game and the second half again. On offense, we find some success going one way and we just don’t keep doing that.”

Gonzaga has struggled on the road this season, coupling these back-to-back road losses to the Cougars and Toreros with a January road conference loss to Portland and a critical non-conference game at Memphis, in which the Zags gave up an 11-point second half lead.

To make matters worse, Gonzaga has two more games away from The Kennel before the start of the West Coast Conference tournament. Gonzaga wraps up February at Pacific, then traveling to Saint Mary’s three days later.

Moreover, Gonzaga won’t make a strong case on the selection committee given its resume. A upset loss to Dayton in their first game at the Maui Invitational limited the Zags opportunities to score wins over quality opponents. Then three weeks ago, as Pangos mentioned after the game the Bulldogs “blew a golden opportunity” inside the FedEx Forum. The best win Gonzaga holds right now is a win over West Virginia, which also serves as its best road performance as well.

Selection Sunday is three weeks away. Gonzaga is projected as a No. 8 seed in the latest edition of College Basketball Talk’s Bracketology. Right now, the Zags need to sort out its road woes.

West Coast Conference announces 2013-14 conference schedule

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The 2012-13 season was one of great accomplishment for the West Coast Conference. Sure many will remember the fact that Gonzaga was knocked off by Wichita State in the NCAA tournament, but the fact remains that the Bulldogs were at one point ranked number one in the country and also earned the first one-seed in program history.

Also of note were three other programs participating in postseason play: CBI champion Santa Clara, Postseason NIT semifinalist BYU and NCAA tournament participant Saint Mary’s. With Pacific, which represented the Big West in last year’s tournament, joining the fold the WCC will be a ten-team league this season. On Tuesday the WCC released its conference schedule for the 2013-14 season, with league play beginning on December 28.

Some games on the slate that stick out:

  • Saint Mary’s at Pacific (December 30): The Tigers, who were a member of the West Coast Athletic Conference (precursor to the WCC) until moving to the Pacific Coast Athletic Association (which eventually became the Big West) in 1969, play their first game as a member of the WCC. Bob Thomason may have retired but new head coach Ron Verlin takes over a team with seven seniors and three juniors. Hosting Saint Mary’s, which will be a contender despite the graduation of Matthew Dellavedova, is a good early test for Pacific.
  • Saint Mary’s at Gonzaga (January 2): Why’s the above game so important for the Gaels if they’re to have a shot at winning the WCC? They visit the defending champs a couple nights later. Gonzaga may have lost Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk in the front court but Mark Few’s team is loaded on the perimeter. The key to their long-term hopes (both within and outside of the WCC): the improvement of center Przemek Karnowski.
  • BYU at Santa Clara (January 18): Kerry Keating does have to account for the graduation of guard Kevin Foster and forward Marc Trasolini but senior guard Evan Roquemore is back to lead the way. BYU doesn’t lack for talent with guard Tyler Haws and center Nate Austin back in Provo, with the hope for head coach Dave Rose being that they’ll earn a return trip to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season.
  • Gonzaga at San Diego (February 22): Gonzaga survived last year’s meeting at Jenny Craig Pavilion, winning 65-63 despite USD getting 21 points from guard Johnny Dee. Dee and Christopher Anderson form one of the WCC’s best perimeter tandems, with Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. likely being the best.
  • Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s (March 1): The last time a school other than Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s won at least a share of the WCC regular season title: 2002, when Pepperdine finished tied atop the standings with Gonzaga (13-1). So looking at the recent history of the conference, not to mention how good this rivalry’s been, it’s obvious that a lot will be on the line in Moraga.

After wrapping up the regular season on March 1, the WCC tournament will once again be played at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas from March 6-11.

NCAA won’t sanction San Diego in Brandon Johnson game-fixing case

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The NCAA will not impose sanctions against the University of San Diego men’s basketball program following the organizations review of the game-fixing case involving star guard Brandon Johnson during the 2009-2010 season.

On Tuesday, the NCAA accepted San Diego’s submission to a secondary violation, the university announced. During the review, the NCAA found no improper conduct by any member of San Diego’s staff or any other players.

“We are happy with the NCAA’s conclusion of this matter and truly appreciate its review of this case in a thorough, efficient and timely manner,” school president Mary E. Lyons said in a statement.

Johnson starred for the Toreros from 2005-2010, and ended his redshirt senior season as the school’s all-time leading scorer. He was indicted in April 2011, and in March he was sentenced to a six-month prison sentence. He began serving his sentence on May 31.

Former assistant coach T.J. Brown was also indicted, and was sentenced to a year in federal prison.

The game-fixing scandal reportedly netted more than $120,000 according to the FBI. The University of San Diego announced it has sent letters to both Johnson and Brown disassociating them with the school and its athletic department.