Checking In On… the WCCPosted by rtmsf on February 23rd, 2012
Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.
The Final Week
It all comes down to this week, WCC fans: Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga, BYU and Loyola Marymount all have legitimate shots at the conference title and the one and two seeds for next week’s WCC Tournament. In an age where parity is the Holy Grail of organized sports, the WCC has it going on. And, although this season’s nine-team schedule caused some distortions in the first half of the season, no one could have planned a more compelling finale.
- Saint Mary’s can seize the regular season championship and a number one tournament seed by beating Portland tonight in Portland and San Francisco on Saturday in San Francisco. By beating Portland, the Gaels will guarantee at least their second consecutive share of the title. But there has to be a series of asterisks next to that hypothetical, as the Gaels are bucking several negative trends: they have lost at Portland for the last three years and they appear to stumbling toward the finish line as they did last year when they lost an unexpected league game (San Diego in San Diego), a home BracketBuster game against Utah State, then another home game against Gonzaga, before pulling out a season-ending victory over Portland to earn a share of the conference title.
- Last week the Gaels lost an unexpected home game to Loyola Marymount, 75-60, lost to Murray State on the road, 65-51, in another BracketBuster contest, and now face a young, talented Portland team with nothing to lose on its home court tonight. Combined with injuries to starting two-guard Stephen Holt, out indefinitely with a torn meniscus suffered in the LMU loss, starting post man Brad Waldow, nursing bruised ribs, and team leader Matthew Dellavedova, who turned his ankle in the LMU game, the Gaels are wobbling into Portland.
- Gonzaga and BYU square off tonight in a monumental battle (ESPN2, 8:00 PM Pacific) that could vault either of them into a tie with Saint Mary’s for first or, if the Gaels win, eliminate one of them from title contention heading into Saturday’s final games. LMU, which is smoking hot coming off its blistering of Saint Mary’s in Moraga, sits at home for very winnable games against San Diego tonight and Santa Clara on Saturday. With just a minimal effort, the Lions could finish with four losses and cash in on whatever misfortunes befall the three teams ahead of them.
- Not to be overlooked, San Francisco hopes to take continuing advantage of a scheduling gift that brought BYU, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s onto its home court in successive weeks. The Dons battled BYU right down to a potential game-winning three-point attempt by Angelo Coloiaro that rimmed out at the buzzer for a heart-breaking 85-84 loss last Thursday. Rather than be deflated, the Dons battled Gonzaga equally hard on Saturday, and triumphed 65-64 on a last-second runner in the lane by Rashad Green. The Dons are off tonight and can devote maximum preparation to ruining Saint Mary’s season on Saturday.
- Saint Mary’s (23-5, 12-2) might seem surprised to find itself still in first place considering the confidence-shattering losses to LMU and Murray State, which knocked it out of “lock” status for a favorable seeding in the NCAA tournament and leaves the Gaels needing a win tonight or Saturday to keep its NCAA hopes alive. Randy Bennett’s troops are wounded and have to be wondering why they continue to struggle late in the season. Even with these concerns, the Gaels still control their own fate.
- Gonzaga (21-5, 11-3) had a chance to capitalize on the Saint Mary’s loss to LMU, but stumbled against San Francisco for the third year in a row and stayed a game behind the Gaels. The Zags don’t want to contemplate what a loss to BYU might do to its WCC conference seeding or chances for a decent NCAA seeding, but it will probably be on their minds. The Zags are healthy and at home, two big plusses as they enter tonight’s showdown.
- BYU (23-6, 11-3) has no nagging losses or new injuries to deal with tonight, although the Cougars must have breathed a huge sigh of relief after escaping San Francisco’s upset bid. They beat Gonzaga 83-73 earlier this month and are hoping for a sweep plus a Saint Mary’s stumble to move into title contention. The Cougs close out the season with a favorable home date against Portlandon Saturday.
- Loyola Marymount (18-10, 10-4) is in excellent position entering this final week of play. They are brimming with confidence following the Saint Mary’s win and face only bottom-dwellers San Diego and Santa Clara at home. This is no time for Max Good to relax, but he must be feeling good about the Lions’ chances in the WCC tournament.
- San Francisco (18-11, 8-7) has one more chance to put its mark on the WCC season and will put it all on the line Saturday at home against Saint Mary’s. The Dons are playing their best basketball of the year, are getting solid senior leadership from Green and Coloiaro and see no reason why they can’t finish 9-7.
- San Diego (11-16, 6-8) is undoubtedly playing better lately, beating Portland 78-75 in overtime last Thursday for its third win in its last four conference games, but then lost a non-conference game to Cal State Bakersfield, 72-63, on Saturday. Can Bill Grier’s Toreros muddy up the WCC race with a win over LMU tonight and/or Gonzaga on Saturday?
- Portland (6-21, 3-11) specializes in upsetting Saint Mary’s in the Chiles Center, and tonight’s contest is as tantalizing as any the Pilots have savored in the last three seasons. Not much has gone right with Eric Reveno’s young team, but a win over the Gaels (ESPNU 7:00 p.m. Pacific) would salve a lot of wounds, especially considering the Pilots have to go to Provo to close out the year against BYU.
- Pepperdine (9-18, 3-12) showed it is still kicking with Saturday’s 70-65 win over Portland at home, and can shoot for a fourth win in its season-ending contest with winless Santa Clara on the road tonight.
- Santa Clara (8-19, 0-14) hopes to avoid the ignominy of an 0-16 WCC record with tonight’s matchup against Pepperdine, but then must go on the road to close against LMU in Los Angeles. Then, one can assume, Kerry Keating will immediately begin thinking about next October and a chance for redemption in 2012-13.
It’s hard to remember a more eagerly-awaited WCC Tournament than the one opening March 1 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. With only three seeds (all at the bottom) set going into tonight’s games, one can imagine a variety of scenarios for the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship games. All of the four top teams will be in contention for the automatic NCAA bid that comes with a championship, and San Francisco figures it should be able to cause some trouble, too. It will probably come down to Saturday’s games to settle the seedings, so a lot of attention will be paid to this weekend’s games.
A Look Back
USF earned its biggest win of the season when Rex Walter’s crew knocked off Gonzaga in a thrilling contest in The City. Here’s a video highlight of the contest: