There are a lot of stats that you can point to as evidence of Gonzaga's sheer and utter dominance this year. And not just dominance over the West Coast Conference. But the Bulldogs, who are 29-1, dominated college basketball. Some of the luster was lost after the Bulldogs lost their final home game of the season to BYU. But on the whole this team put forward one of the best regular seasons we've seen in college basketball this century.
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Consider: Prior to that loss to the Cougars, only one team - Pac-12 regular season champion and No. 7 ranked Arizona - had stayed within 10 points of the Bulldogs since November. And only three teams - Florida and Iowa State being the others - have played Gonzaga within 10 points all season long. The Bulldogs' average margin of victory this year was 23.8 points per game and their average margin in WCC play was an unreal 26.1 points per game. That is domination on par with the great UNLV teams of the early 90s, considered the Gold Standard of mid-major powerhouses.
Suffice to say, Gonzaga is the overwhelming favorites to win the WCC Tournament, which begins on Friday, March 3 at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The championship game will be played on Tuesday, March 8. Gonzaga has won the WCC tournament in 10 of the past 13 years, including four straight, and is once again the overwhelming favorite.
Here is Doc's Sports West Coast Conference Tournament preview and predictions (with odds courtesy of Robert Ferringo):
The Favorite: Gonzaga (-500)
I've had a lot of friends ask me lately, "Is Gonzaga really that good?" And the answer is yes. Absolutely, positively yes. The Gonzaga frontcourt, with massive Przemek Karnowski, amazing freshman Zach Collins, and Missouri transfer John Williams, is one of the best in the nation on its own. But the when you add in Nigel Williams-Goss and Jordan Matthews, two all-league players in the Pac-12, with the returning backcourt of Josh Perkins and Silas Melson you see a team that truly has no weakness. The Bulldogs are physically too much for just about everyone in the WCC. Add in their talent and experience and you can see why this group only lost one game this year.
The Contender: St. Mary's (+350)
The Gaels picked an odd year to field one of their best teams in a decade. St. Mary's was an NCAA Tournament snub last season despite a 27-5 record. But that clearly motivated this group, which brought back everyone from last year's WCC regular season champs. The Gaels couldn't get over the hump against Gonzaga this season, losing by 23 on the road and by 10 at home. And St. Mary's hasn't beaten the Zags in the league tournament since 2012, dropping the last three postseason matchups by an average of 12 points per game. The Gaels simply don't have the heft in the post to slow down the Bulldogs. But St. Mary's slow pace (second-slowest in the nation, trailing only Virginia) and raw offensive efficiency means that they could have a shot at an upset if they get a third opportunity.
The Sleeper: BYU (+350)
"He's cut! The Russian's cut!" That famous line from Rocky IV is perfectly fitting when discussion the implications of BYU's stunning upset at Gonzaga to close the regular season. BYU was a 20-point underdog in that game and won by eight, proving that Gonzaga is not a machine, but a group of men. Can the Cougars parlay that huge win into some momentum? I doubt it. BYU's problem is always consistency. This is one of Dave Rose's youngest teams (as much as BYU, which routinely boasts 20-year-old freshmen, can be) and they start two freshmen and two sophomores. The Cougars are a year or two away from making a serious run at the two top teams.
Early Round Matchup To Watch:
No. 8 Pepperdine (+3)vs.No. 9 Pacific (9 p.m., Friday, March 3)
Pepperdine had the worst scoring differential in the WCC this year, getting outscored in league play by 13.8 points per game. They have somehow been worse in their last five, falling by an average of 21.4 points per game. As such, they are the underdog in this game despite being the higher seeded team. The teams split their two regular season meetings. But Pepperdine has had Pacific's number, going 6-1 straight up in the last seven meetings and 10-4 against the spread in the last 14.
No. 7San Diego (-2.5) vs. No. 10 Portland (11 p.m., Friday, March 3)
Portland's season started with some promise, as rookie head coach Terry Porter led them to a 9-5 overall and 2-0 league start. But since then things have gone off the rails. Portland is 1-16 since Jan. 1 and the lone win was over D-II Walla Walla. The Pilots lost star senior point guard Alec Wintering in early January and they haven't even been close since then. San Diego just beat the Pilots in Portland last Saturday and have won five straight in the series. The underdog, however, is 12-2 ATS when these two face off.
No. 3 BYU (-8.5) vs. No. 6 Loyola Marymount (4 p.m., Saturday, March 4)
The biggest factor in this game will be how BYU responds to their win over Gonzaga. If that gives this team some confidence - and how could it not - they should handle Loyola Marymount. BYU has beaten LMU eight straight times. But the two games this year were competitive, with the Lions losing by five at home and by eight in Provo. Loyola has a very experienced team, with four senior starters. They will lean on transfer big man Stefan Jovanovic, who led Hawaii to the NCAA Tournament last year, and do-it-all point guard Brandon Brown. I expect this one to be competitive.
No. 4 Santa Clara (+2) vs. No. 5 San Francisco (6 p.m., Saturday, March 4)
I think that either of these teams would've had a chance to make some noise if they had ended up in the No. 6 slot in this tournament. But with Gonzaga lurking this will likely be the final win for someone. Santa Clara senior Jared Brownridge will end his career as one of the best players in school history. But San Francisco, who has come out of the dark pall of former coach Rex Walter, has a bit more depth and versatility, especially on offense. If San Francisco can limit turnovers, which has been an issue, they share the ball pretty well and should be able hold off Brownridge and Co.
West Coast Conference Tournament Predictions: On one hand, Gonzaga's loss to BYU showed that they were beatable and give everyone heading to Vegas a glimmer of hope. But the reality is that all that that lone loss did was piss the Bulldogs off. St. Mary's has a prayer of beating Gonzaga. But they are the only team that should stay within 15 of them. I expect Gonzaga to win a fifth straight conference championship and to lock up a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
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 had an unmatched streak of 10 straight winning college basketball regular seasons. Robert's $100-per-Unit clients 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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