WCC Basketball Tournament Betting Preview, Bracket & Odds: Will Any Team Stun Gonzaga?
Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Julian Strawther (Gonzaga)
With the culmination of the West Coast Conference’s regular season on Saturday, postseason play begins for one of the most intriguing basketball conferences west of the Mississippi River.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs notably cruised through the WCC for much of the season. But that was until they came across the brick wall that is Saint Mary’s. The Gaels put together a stout defensive performance to round out the season, defeating Gonzaga by 10 at home.
Still, Gonzaga comes into the conference tournament as the heavy favorite.
With the layout of the tournament (pictured below), fans can see why. The Zags only have one game before the championship.
The same goes for Saint Mary’s, however. The Gaels surprised the best team in the country on Saturday, but in order to do it again, they would have to beat the Bulldogs at a neutral site in Las Vegas.
WCC Tournament Bracket
2022 WCC Tournament Odds
Gonzaga is still the best team in the country. However, given the tilted odds for the Bulldogs in this event, it’s hard to bet on them.
Not going into this tournament undefeated may factor into the Bulldogs’ performance, though.
They maintain the second-best offense and sixth-best defense in the country, per KenPom.
Neither of these numbers have changed much since that loss to Saint Mary’s, and with good reason. The Gaels are a strong team, and that let-down spot for the Zags does not alter their championship likelihood or aspirations.
This Zags team can hit and guard 3s. Julian Strawther, Rasir Bolton, Andrew Nembhard and Chet Holmgren have launched at least 89 3s on the season. Nembhard is the least efficient of the four, and he’s still hitting outside shots at a 35.2% clip.
The team just shot poorly against Saint Mary’s, but the Gaels held the Zags’ best two players — Drew Timme and Holmgren — to six points each.
This is obviously the key to defeating Gonzaga. To beat it, the opponent must eliminate its bigs and the mismatches it can create. That ultimately hinders the Bulldogs’ entire offensive approach.
That’s easier said than done against a veteran in Timme and a unique talent in Holmgren, but that will be every team’s blueprint in both this event and the NCAA Tournament.
The Gaels are riding high after their victory on Saturday. They won thanks to their defense, which is the key to them also capturing the conference-tournament title
I placed a small bet on the Gaels because they can play as many games as the Bulldogs and still win the event.
With the WCC Tournament layout, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s have an immense advantage. They have, at most, two games in the tournament, and have all week to prepare for games that will happen next Monday and (possibly) next Tuesday.
Even if the Gaels are a trendy pick — considering the recency bias in the market — +500 is mispriced. Yes, Gonzaga is the best team in the country and should be heavy favorites in this tournament, but Saint Mary’s held the Bulldogs in check and deserve credit for it.
The first time these two matched up in Spokane, the Gaels only struggled with Gonzaga for the latter part of the first half. Otherwise, they only lost the second half by three points.
Saint Mary’s can’t be caught looking ahead to Gonzaga, though. The Gaels dropped a game to Santa Clara on the road by five points in early February. They also only defeated the Broncos by eight at home in January, so the potential matchup in the semifinals could be close.
That said, Santa Clara had to shoot 61% on 2-pointers and 40% on 3s to beat the Gaels, which will not happen again. Saint Mary’s has held opponents to 46.8% inside the arc and 33.8% on the outside this season.
Saint Mary’s has the defensive weapons to squeak into the title game and run the same defensive patterns against Gonzaga that worked so well for it this past Saturday.
Santa Clara is the No. 3 seed after it edged out the San Francisco Dons.
The Broncos’ only distinguished win took place against BYU on a buzzer-beater from Jalen Williams, but otherwise, they were consistent and won the games they were supposed to win.
Jalen Williams gets the GAME WINNING floater with 0.7 seconds left for Santa Clara to beat BYU 77-76 pic.twitter.com/RIlzdzAoFV
— 🇺🇦NCAA Buzzer Beaters & Game Winners (@NCAABuzzerBters) January 28, 2022
The Broncos tout a top-30 offensive efficiency, per KenPom. They do so by making 3-pointers and with wings who can successfully attack the basket. They shoot 38.3% from distance and 54.2% inside the arc.
The Broncos’ main weakness lies on defense, as they struggle to contain 3-point shooters. Opponents are shooting 34.7% from deep and 47.4% inside the arc against Santa Clara this season.
SC allows plenty of 3-point attempts, so it will likely be eliminated when matched with a team that can get hot like Saint Mary’s.
The reason the Dons have such long-shot odds is they unfortunately landed in Gonzaga’s part of the bracket. Had they ended up where Santa Clara was, their road would be through Saint Mary’s (which they actually lost to twice this season by a combined seven points).
Outside of the Bulldogs, the Dons have the most balanced team in the WCC. They rank 21st on defense and 51st on offense, per KenPom.
Their strength lies with their guards — Khalil Shabazz and Jamaree Bouyea — but they also have Yauhen Massalski on the block.
The good news for the Dons is they could have a favorable matchup before potentially playing Gonzaga. Last time out, they beat BYU by 14 on the road. Even if they dropped a game in mid-January to the Cougars, BYU has been trending downward.
As a look-ahead line, if San Francisco lines up with BYU in its opening WCC Tournament game, it might be wise to take the Dons.
Also, the Dons have played one half of solid basketball against Gonzaga. So, while they will be a big underdog in that potential matchup, they do have a fighting chance if they put a full game together.
Loyola Marymount vs. Pacific
Neither of these teams will make much of a run in this tournament. This opening matchup is intriguing due to how the market has poorly judged both squads.
Loyola Marymount comes into this game at 10-15-1 ATS, while Pacific is even worse at 5-21-1.
This line will open somewhere around -4.5 for the LMU Lions, but the total might be something to target. The Lions play at the 269th-slowest pace, per KenPom. They also utilize much of their shot clock (18.6 seconds per possession on offense).
If the total opens above 140.5, the under may be the play.
As a fair warning, these two teams played neck-and-neck last time out, so overtime would not be off the table. After all, it is March!
San Diego vs. Pepperdine
This game is a bit more interesting, considering the ranks of both of these offenses.
USD has potential with offensive weapons like Marcellus Earlington and Jase Townsend. It could be down both Terrell Brown and Bryce Monroe, though.
Although he is a reserve, Monroe still can give a boost to the lineup, as he averages 6.3 points and 2.2 assists per game. Meanwhile, Brown is one of the only bigs on San Diego. Even if he’s hobbled and slightly limited, his impact is massive.
Otherwise, Yavuz Gultekin is the tallest Torero player at 6-foot-7.
Still, Pepperdine is without at least Maxwell Lewis, who averages 11.0 points and 3.2 rebounds a night while shooting over 36% from 3. Jan Zidek, Darryl Polk, Jr. and Keith Fisher III could all be sidelined, too.
Pepperdine is already 13-17 ATS on the year. And with all this information above, backing the opener at -4 or better on San Diego is the right call.
After they defeated San Francisco down the stretch, the Portland Pilots are a team to keep an eye on.
If they survive against San Diego or Pepperdine, they could be a tough cookie to crack for the Broncos. Santa Clara just beat Portland by 13 this past Saturday, but a neutral court could usher in a totally different result.
The Pilots have won five of their last six matchups, so if they can get past their opening-round game, beating Santa Clara is not out of the question.
Conclusion & Best Bets
The WCC could very well get four bids into the NCAA Tournament. The league has two locks at the moment — Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s — but San Francisco is on the bubble and BYU and Santa Clara have the potential to make noise in this event.
Gonzaga is the heavy favorite for a reason, but Saint Mary’s poses a serious threat, especially after its recent showing vs. the Zags. The Gaels’ slow pace and defensive strategy to contain Timme and Holmgren paid off, and they could replicate it once again.
It will be an exciting opening week of conference tournaments, but all eyes should look west to see if someone can topple the Goliath Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Pick: Saint Mary’s +500 to win title | San Diego -4 or better vs. Pepperdine