WCC Tournament Preview: Can Anybody Take Out Gonzaga or St. Mary’s?
© James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
The WCC tournament tips off tonight in Las Vegas. All 10 teams in the conference make the postseason tournament, with the top six seeds receiving a first round bye.
2018 WCC Tournament Overview
Gonzaga and St. Mary’s are clearly the class of the league. The tourney favorite Zags actually haven’t lost in the WCC tournament since St. Mary’s knocked them off in an OT classic in 2012. Not only has Gonzaga won five straight WCC tourneys, but it has won 15 of the last 19 since 1999. During that span, San Diego and St. Mary’s each won two.
Let’s take a closer look at the bracket to determine if any team can legitimately upset Gonzaga (-192) or St. Mary’s (+225).
Can BYU (13-1) Upset St. Mary’s?
BYU is the only team outside of the Zags and Gaels to reach the WCC Final in the past decade. This is a bizarre BYU team. It’s the worst offensive team Dave Rose has had in Provo since 2011-12, but it’s also his best defensive team since that same season. It’s not a coincidence that the Cougars’ defense has improved significantly since defensive mastermind Heath Schroyer returned to Rose’s staff. Schroyer is one of the best matchup zone schemers in midmajor basketball. His defenses also always rebound at an elite level.
Offensively, BYU relies on Yoeli Childs in the post and Elijah Bryant in pick and roll. Both have had excellent years in each respective area. BYU blew a late lead in Provo vs St. Mary’s, before folding in OT. Childs and St. Mary’s star big Jock Landale essentially just traded shots at the rim all day.
BYU will first have to get by No. 6 seed San Diego, which has seen a promising season get doused with gasoline and go up in flames. USD’s head coach Lamont Smith was arrested at the Oakland airport on a domestic violence charge, and has naturally been suspended for the rest of the season. USD plays an extremely aggressive perimeter defense, extending well past the three point line in the half court. The Torreros split with BYU in the regular season, with each team holding serve at home. That aggressive defense disrupted SMC’s outstanding on-ball offense in two close regular season losses. It remains to be seen how USD responds to interim head coach Sam Scholl and the disturbing off-court situation surrounding them.
St. Mary’s will first have the winner of No. 7 seed Santa Clara and No. 10 seed Pepperdine. It’s been a long year for the Broncos and the Waves, both of whom dealt with injuries all season. Pepperdine somewhat surprisingly relieved head coach Marty Wilson of his duties. Santa Clara point guard KJ Feagin is questionable for tonight’s game, although it sounds like he will play. Both are exceptionally poor shooting teams, and the Waves will likely be without their most prolific perimeter shooter in Eric Cooper. Pepperdine has actually played with a bit of a spark since the announcement of Wilson’s dismissal. Perhaps that can carry them to a quarterfinal matchup with the Gaels, where they would have no real chance.
We should see a BYU-St. Mary’s semifinals. While BYU can compete, the Gaels should find their way through to the Final.
Can San Francisco (50-1) Threaten Gonzaga?
Gonzaga’s biggest threat in its half of the bracket is certainly No. 4 seed San Francisco. The Dons knocked off St. Mary’s this year, and were tied with the Zags in the second half at the Kennel. The Dons finished the year strong once they started shooting better from the perimeter. They have capable outside shooters, but were mired in a team-wide shooting slump for most of the season. If not for some late awful officiating in the season finale against USD and an epic collapse at BYU, the Dons would have a current 7-game winning streak.
USF will face No. 5 seed Pacific, which the Dons swept in the regular season. Head coach Damon Stoudamire’s Tigers run a spread pick and roll heavy offense, which plays into the strength of the Dons’ defense. USF features interchangeable pieces at virtually every position. I would be stunned if the Dons didn’t end up in the semis vs Gonzaga.
Gonzaga will start with the winner of the 8/9 game between Loyola Marymount and Portland, neither of which pose any threat to the Zags. LMU finished the year strong despite losing senior forward Steve Haney. Freshman forward Eli Scott and guard James Batemon really picked up the scoring slack in Haney’s absence. LMU can be a tricky matchup since it will bust out a zone press to slow down the game. That press helped the Lions lead the WCC in defensive turnover rate and steal rate.
Portland struggled in head coach Terry Porter’s second season, but the Pilots did sweep the Lions in the regular season, forcing Mike Dunlap out of the zone press with potent perimeter shooting. Although, I will say that LMU has played significantly better defense with Haney out. These two teams are also headed in opposite directions. I think LMU gets it revenge tonight in Sin City.
Ultimately, Gonzaga should make it back to the WCC title. San Fran can give them a scare for a while, but the WCC tourney should play out just how everyone expects…until the Final of course. I ultimately think the Zags win the rubber match to win their sixth consecutive WCC title.
Saturday ATS Predictions
LMU -3.5 (top ATS prediction)
Gonzaga over St. Mary’s
Photo via James Snook-USA TODAY Sports