CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on March 6th, 2013

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

WCC Tournament Preview

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Is there anything else to the WCC Tournament this week (March 6-11) in Las Vegas besides the official coronation of Gonzaga as absolute masters of the league and lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament?

Maybe, maybe not.

No doubt the format of the WCC tourney favors the Zags, as they won’t play until Saturday and will most likely face the winner of a Santa Clara/San Francisco tussle on Friday. The Zags fared better against Santa Clara than they did against San Francisco in the conference season, holding off a spirited upset bid in Santa Clara before winning 81-74, then demolishing the Broncos at home last week, 85-42.

Against San Francisco, the Zags won by “only” 14 at home (66-52), then ended a three-year history of losing in San Francisco by topping the Dons 71-61 on their home court. Whichever team survives the quarterfinals will be a heavy underdog against Gonzaga, as the Zags have been gaining momentum and can’t wait for the NCAA Tournament to begin to cement the #1 national ranking accorded them this week by both the AP and the USA Today/Coaches polls. Pencil Gonzaga in for the tournament championship game on Monday before a nationwide ESPN audience at 6:00 PM Pacific time.

The play of Kelly Olynk and Matthew Dellavedova will be key in deciding the eventual WCC tournament champion

The play of Kelly Olynyk and Matthew Dellavedova will be key in deciding the WCC tournament champ

But who will they face in that game, and will it be a meaningful contest?The most likely opponent is Saint Mary’s, but the Gaels have a more difficult road to their fifth straight WCC championship game against the Zags (the teams have split the previous four). Unless a lower-tier team such as San Diego comes up big in the tournament, BYU will probably emerge to face Saint Mary’s in the semifinal round on Saturday. That would be a monumental battle, as the Gaels topped BYU twice in the regular season by excruciatingly small margins. The first win featured the buzzer-beater by Matthew Dellavedova that shocked everyone in Utah, most of whom seemed to be in the Marriott Center. After BYU scored what looked to be the knock-out punch, a 15-footer in the lane by the deadly Tyler Haws to put them up 69-67, Dellavedova took the in-bounds pass with 2.6 seconds left and launched a 35-footer that gave Saint Mary’s an improbable 70-69 win.

The re-match in Moraga on February 21 was equally tight, and the Gaels’ 64-57 win was closer than the score indicates. Gaels’ coach Randy Bennett has had many reasons for nightmares in the past week, including the heavy NCAA sanctions handed his program for recruiting violations, but one of them must be about the BYU zone. Applied effectively against the Gaels in Moraga and against Gonzaga in Provo a week later, the zone has changed the character of BYU’s characteristically free-wheeling approach. It almost guarantees a close, grind-it-out game, which is the last thing Saint Mary’s wants in its warm-up for Gonzaga. Still, on the basis of the Gaels’ 4-0 record against BYU the past two seasons, look for Saint Mary’s to survive.

Sports logic dictates that it is especially difficult to beat a team three times in the same season, and there is some basis to that. In applying it to the WCC championship game, however, you have to overlook the fact that each team in the finals has frequently defeated its semifinal opponent twice before – as Gonzaga did to the Gaels. Saint Mary’s can’t rely too heavily on the “three times a season” sentiment to get past Gonzaga, but it does have history on its side. When the Gaels defeated Gonzaga in the 2010 championship game they had also suffered two conference losses to the Zags, including an 80-61 pasting in Spokane less than a month before the WCC tournament. In that third-time rematch, the Gaels hung a pasting of their own on the Zags, running away for an 81-62 win. It could happen, and the Gaels are sporting an especially large chip on their shoulders these days as a result of the NCAA sanctions. Whether that chip is big enough to get them by the No. 1 team in the country makes the potential Monday night showdown interesting.

Reader’s Take

 

Rest of the Pack

What about the other tournament teams? Do any of them have a realistic chance of springing an upset over Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s? Other than the previously-mentioned BYU-Saint Mary’s matchup in the semis, the answer is no. There could be some interesting games between San Francisco and Santa Clara and between San Diego and BYU in Friday’s quarterfinals, but the winners must then face well-rested Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s teams which have feasted on the double-bye format for the last four years. This doesn’t look like Cinderella’s year in the WCC tourney.

Final WCC 2012-13 Regular Season Standings

  1. Gonzaga (16-0, 29-2)
  2. Saint Mary’s (14-2, 26-5)
  3. Brigham Young (10-6, 21-10)
  4. Santa Clara (9-7, 21-10)
  5. San Francisco (7-9, 14-15)
  6. San Diego (7-9, 14-17)
  7. Pepperdine (4-12, 12-17)
  8. Portland (4-12, 11-20)
  9. Loyola Marymount (1-15, 8-22)
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