WCC Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 5th, 2010

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

Final Standings (through games of 2/27/10)

  1. Gonzaga                      12-2 (24-5)
  2. Saint Mary’s                11-3 (24-5)
  3. Portland                      9-4 (18-9)
  4. San Francisco              7-7 (12-17)
  5. Loyola Marymount     7-7 (16-14)
  6. Santa Clara                  3-11 (11-20)
  7. San Diego                   3-11 (10-20)
  8. Pepperdine                  3-11 (7-23)

Eyes on the Prize

Although one could reasonably forecast a WCC tournament championship game featuring no. 1 seed Gonzaga battling no. 2 seed Saint Mary’s for the automatic NCAA bid, a lot of interesting basketball will be played before that final matchup on Monday night, March 8 (ESPN, 6 p.m. Pacific) in Las Vegas. The last week of conference play settled the torrid battle for fourth place between San Francisco and Loyola Marymount (San Francisco got the nod and a first-round tournament bye because of a better conference record than LMU, including beating the Lions twice), and also set the stage for the most intriguing tournament contest. Before discussing that, however, here’s a look at the overall tournament schedule:

First Round – Friday, March 5 (all times Pacific)

  • #5 Loyola Marymount vs. #8 Pepperdine – 6:00 PM
  • #6 San Diego vs. #7 Santa Clara – 8:30 PM

Quarterfinal Round – Saturday, March 6

  • #5 LMU/#8 PEP vs. #4 San Francisco – 6:00 PM
  • #6 USD/#7 SCU vs. #3 Portland – 8:30 PM

Semifinal Round – Sunday, March 7

  • #5 LMU/#8 PEP/#4 USF vs. #1 Gonzaga – 5:30 PM (ESPN 2)
  • #6 USD/#7 SCU/#3 POR vs. #2 Saint Mary’s – 8:00 PM (ESPN 2)

Championship Game – Monday, March 8

  • Semifinal #1 winner vs. Semifinal #2 winner – 6:00 PM (ESPN)

The first game of note takes place at 6 pm (PT) on Saturday, when LMU and San Francisco should face off in a battle royale to move to the semis. LMU must survive a first-round game on Friday against Pepperdine, which beat them earlier this year in Malibu, to earn the right to face San Francisco, but the Lions are now far superior to the bedraggled Pepperdine squad that limped to the conference finish line with 11 straight losses.  Max Good has a healthy team entering the tournament after struggling through numerous patchwork lineups as guards Larry Davis and Jerrod DuBois, forward Drew Viney and center Ashley Hamilton nursed injuries. With all those players healthy, LMU beat USC and Notre Dame on the road and Gonzaga and Portland at home to get everyone’s attention. The Lions took a three-game winning streak – including those victories over the Zags and Portland – into Moraga last Saturday (2/27) with a chance of knocking off Saint Mary’s and winning fourth place outright, but the Gaels prevailed 88-80 behind a dominating performance by center Omar Samhan. Samhan’s line for the night – 33 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots – gave him the single-season scoring record (623 points) and career blocked shot record (243) for Saint Mary’s, but wasn’t enough to move him past Gonzaga guard Matt Bouldin for the conference’s Player of the Year award. Bouldin got the nod because his accomplishments helped the Zags to a no. 15 ESPN/USA Today and no. 18 AP ranking and a 10th straight WCC championship.

LMU and San Francisco share a common victim – the usually-dominating Zags – and San Francisco almost added a shocking sweep of  Gonzaga on the season’s final night, losing a hard-fought 75-69 battle. With that swagger-enhancing accomplishment shared by each team, they should produce a memorable showdown on the tournament’s second day. Whichever team emerges will face Gonzaga again in the semis on Sunday night, with the goal being another upset of the perennial league powerhouse and a shot at the championship and NCAA bid before a national ESPN television audience on Monday. The Orleans Arena, site of the WCC tournament as it was last year, should be rocking for that epic battle. Saint Mary’s will take the floor for the first time following the Gonzaga game Sunday, probably facing Portland in the semis for the second straight year.

Saint Mary’s-Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s-USF/LMU or Portland vs. either Gonzaga, LMU or San Francisco will take the stage for all the marbles on Monday. As was predicted before the season began, this is the most competitive WCC conference race in recent years, even though Gonzaga held off Saint Mary’s and Portland to win the regular-season title. The LMU and San Francisco victories over Gonzaga, plus San Francisco’s near upset of the Zags in the final game, give hope to all the top four contenders. If someone does knock off Gonzaga for the automatic NCAA bid, the Zags will almost certainly earn an at-large bid, giving the conference two teams in the field of 65.

rtmsf (3954 Posts)

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