There will be a lot of interested eyes peering into Las Vegas this weekend for the West Coast Conference Tournament. Three teams that are on the proverbial NCAA Tournament bubble will all be gunning for the league's title and its coveted at-large bid. And the results of this conference tournament could send some aftershocks throughout the rest of the country.
Gonzaga is a team that should be secure in its NCAA Tournament resume. But the Bulldogs' top two contenders, BYU and St. Mary's, are currently on the wrong side of the bubble. And if either can go to Vegas and take down Gonzaga they could steal a bid away from a team from a major conference that is hoping to earn an at-large ticket.
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The West Coast Conference Tournament begins on Friday, March 4, at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The championship game will be played on Tuesday, March 8. St. Mary's and Gonzaga tied for the regular-season title, but St. Mary's earned the top seed via tiebreaker.
Here is Doc's Sports West Coast Conference Tournament preview and predictions (with odds courtesy of Robert Ferringo):
The Favorite: Gonzaga (+200)
The Bulldogs have won the WCC Tournament in nine of the past 12 years, including three straight, and they are the prohibitive favorite. But the Bulldogs have not been their typical dominant selves in the WCC this season. They actually lost three of their four games against BYU and St. Mary's this season and nearly lost games to Pepperdine and Santa Clara. Gonzaga started the year in the Top 25, but their season took a drastic turn when they lost mammoth starting center Przemek Karnowski early in the season. They still have a pair of frontcourt dynamos in Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis. But Gonzaga's tournament will be determined by the play of their erratic backcourt.
The Contender: St. Mary's (+350)
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Randy Bennett's team after losing their top four players and five of their top six scorers from last year's team. Instead, Bennett tapped into his Australia pipeline to reload this group, which went 24-4 in the regular season and earned the top seed in the tournament. Their main strength is their offensive efficiency, which is in the Top 25 in the country. They don't have a true go-to guy (though Emmett Naar would get the last shot in a close game) and instead rely on balance and strong outside shooting to beat opponents.
The Sleeper: BYU (+350)
The Cougars boast one of the best guards in the country in senior Kyle Collinsworth. The 6-foot-7 point guard is a walking triple-double and the straw that stirs the drink for this group. He leads a balanced attack that features shooters Chase Fischer and Nick Emery and big men Kyle Davis and ZacSeljaas. The Cougars are always erratic - they beat St. Mary's by 11 points and won at Gonzaga but also lost outright at Portland and against Pacific despite being double-digit favorites. But they are also very talented and desperate. The Cougars lost in the WCC Championship Game each of the last two seasons against Gonzaga. They won't have that opportunity this year, as to win the title they will likely have to get past Gonzaga in the semifinals.
The Spoiler: Pepperdine (+1000)
The Waves were supposed to be in the mix for the league title this year, but that sleeper status never materialized. They were terrible to start the year, losing four of their first five against D-I competition, and they have been weak down the stretch, losing five of their last eight. But this is a savvy team that is stacked with upperclassmen. And they also swept St. Mary's, their potential semifinal opponent, in both regular season games and have beaten the Gaels in three of the last four meetings.
Early Round Matchup To Watch:
No. 1 St. Mary's vs. No. 8 LMU or 9 San Diego (6 p.m., Saturday, March 5)
The No. 1 seed has dominated in this tournament, and St. Mary's shouldn't have any problems with whomever they line up to play. The Gaels beat Loyola Marymount by 25 and by six and they swept San Diego by 33 and 17. St. Mary's actually has a tune-up game on Tuesday against Grand Canyon, and it will be interesting to see how much they play their starters in that one.
No. 2 Gonzaga (-14) vs. No. 7 Portland (8:30 p.m., Saturday, March 5)
The Bulldogs have actually struggled in their opening tournament game each of the past two seasons, winning by an average of just 5.5 points and not winning either game by more than nine. But they really shouldn't have any problems with Portland, a team they beat twice by an average of 18.5 points this year. And considering that a lot of people are still saying that Gonzaga is on the outside of the NCAA Tournament looking in, I would expect an inspired effort from Mark Few's charges here.
No. 3 BYU (-13.5) vs. No. 6 Santa Clara (8:30 p.m., Saturday, March 5)
The Cougars will have to shake off any potential letdown from last Saturday's big home loss to Gonzaga on Senior Night. They will also have to be wary of taking Santa Clara lightly, as BYU won the first meeting in Provo by 36 points and then won the rematch on the road by 34. By some Act of God, this Santa Clara team lost by Arizona by just two points back in November, and they also lost by just two points against Gonzaga on Dec. 31. The Cougars need to be careful.
No. 4 Pepperdine (-5) vs. No. 5 San Francisco (2:30 p.m., Saturday, March 5)
This game won't be a walk for the Waves. The teams split during the regular season, each winning on the other's home court, and San Francisco has a quirky offensive style that relies on four guards.
Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Predictions: I think that whoever wins the Gonzaga-BYU semifinal is going to take down St. Mary's in the championship game. I think if BYU makes it to the finals they won't lose three years in a row, and they beat up the Gaels when they played this season. I also don't think that St. Mary's is going to be able to beat Gonzaga three times in the same season. I have had a love-hate relationship with this team for the past several years, and they have burned me time and time again. But I'm going to stick with those wacky Mormons and I'll call for BYU in an upset.
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and he is about to extend his unmatched streak to 10 straight winning college basketball regular seasons. Robert's $100-per-Unit clients have banked $22,130 in profit with his sides and totals the last threeseasons and have taken home over $40,000 win winnings so far this decade. There is no better moneymaker in the nation and Robert is looking forward to another amazing March Madness. Click here to get two days of college basketball picks for free - no hassle and no credit card needed.
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