The West Coast Conference lately should be known as the Gonzaga Bulldogs and others conference. Ever since the slipper fit in the 1999 NCAA Tournament, the WCC has belonged to Gonzaga. The Bulldogs rattled off 11 straight regular season championships and have been to the NCAA Tournament in 15 consecutive years.
What Gonzaga has done is remarkable, but also aided by the conference they play in. The WCC isn't full of many heavy hitting schools, only BYU has student enrollment over 10,000. It hasn't been until Saint Mary's recent growth under coach Randy Bennett that anyone has legitimately challenged Gonzaga's throne.
It has been steady growth in terms of quality for the WCC, and it got a nice jumpstart when the conference welcomed BYU in 2011. All conference titles still go through Spokane, Wash., but the gap between Gonzaga and the rest of the conference is shrinking.
The Best Team: After losing Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris to the NBA Draft, it seemed like for the first time in a long while the answer wouldn't be Gonzaga. Halfway through conference play, however, it is a familiar scene on top. Gonzaga currently holds a three-game lead over BYU and San Francisco with a 10-1 conference record. SB Nation's Chris Dobbertean slots the Bulldogs in as a seven-seed, but there is a chance for someone else to sneak in there. Gonzaga closes out conference play with four-straight road games.
The Contenders: Saint Mary's and BYU were supposed to give Gonzaga a run for their money this year. Both teams have fallen a little flat in the endeavor with losses that left them in the dust. BYU stands at 7-4 and Saint Mary's is at 6-4, but both teams are more than capable of making a big run in the conference tournament.
The Best Players: Let's ignore the conference for a second. BYU's Tyler Haws is one of the best scorers in the nation. He averages 24.6 points per game, good for third in the nation. Behind him, senior Gonzaga forward Sam Dower has shined in the spotlight. He averages 14.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, and does it all at a very effective clip. He is ninth in the nation with a 60.1 field goal percentage.
The Best Upcoming Games:
02/20 - Saint Mary's at San Francisco
03/01 - Gonzaga at Saint Mary's
San Francisco currently sits second in the conference standings, a bit surprising as this was expected to be Saint Mary's position. USF has one of the better scoring teams in the conference, but they lost on the road at Saint Mary's. To prove they belong near the top, they'll need to take care of business at home.
Any time Gonzaga and Saint Mary's play, it's required viewing for all college basketball fans. It was a lopsided affair in the first game in Spokane, which was played while the students were on winter break for reasons unknown to everyone. Saint Mary's needs a win over Gonzaga to right their ship, and the Bulldogs need another win over Saint Mary's to pad their shaky resume.
The Mascots: The mascots in the WCC range from top-notch to pretty ferociously lame.
San Francisco Dons -- Don harkens back to San Francisco's Italian-American heritage with a term hijacked by The Godfather films. It is pretty tough to beat out a mob boss.
San Diego Toreros -- Toreros stare at bulls while they charge at them with visions of stampedes and trampling. It is tough to beat that, unless you are a mob boss.
Saint Mary's Gaels -- Apparently being a Gael means to be an Irish person. It is up there for the infinite number of "What the hael is a Gael" signs that students constantly hold up.
Pacific Tigers -- In a conference full of big cats, the largest of the three reigns supreme, even over the lion.
Loyola Marymount Lions -- Lions may be kings of the jungle, but they are still smaller than tigers.
BYU Cougars -- No way a cougar wins out over either a tiger or lion.
Gonzaga Bulldogs -- To be a Bulldog is to be in good company. Just take a quick look at some other college bulldogs: Butler, Georgia, Georgetown...that is about it actually.
Santa Clara Broncos -- Props for the students to call themselves the "Ruff Riders", but Santa Clara, Calif. isn't exactly a rough area of town.
Portland Pilots -- Portland scores some points in that very few teams in college are also the Pilots by nickname. There is a good reason for that. A riverboat pilot -- chosen for a school overlooking the Willamette River -- although it fits with the motif, doesn't exactly instill fear in the opponent.
Pepperdine Waves -- Now, if Pepperdine had kept Roland the Wave, they would win. Unfortunately, Willie the Wave looks like someone you want to bash in the head with a surfboard.
How have WCC teams fared in the NCAA Tournament?
For Gonzaga, it all depends on how you look at it. They are riding a 15-year streak of playing in March, currently tied for the fourth longest active streak in the nation with Wisconsin (who oddly also started it off in 1999). Success in March has been tough to come by for Gonzaga. They haven't been to the Elite 8 since the original run in 1999. Saint Mary's has made the tournament the past two seasons but hasn't made it out of the second round. Of course, all of this doesn't matter because San Francisco won consecutive NCAA Championships in the 1950s led by some guy named Bill Russell.
Current NBA players from the WCC:
- Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics
Olynyk was taken with the 13th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and has had middling success with the Boston Celtics. He has occasionally showed some of the offensive flourish that got him chosen so high, but the minutes haven't been too available. He is averaging 6.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in 18.1 minutes per game his rookie season.
- Matthew Dellavedova, Cleveland Cavaliers
The Australian product went undrafted last year, but was able to hop on with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Jammed behind Kyrie Irving at point guard means there isn't a lot of room to move up.
- Brandon Davies, Philadelphia Sixers
Davies broke camp with the Philadelphia Sixers, but broke his finger mid-January and is expected to miss four-to-six weeks.
- Robert Sacre, Los Angeles Lakers
The big man from Gonzaga won over fans with his positive attitude and relentless pursuit to improve. These qualities have helped him maintain a spot barely at the end of the Lakers bench, where he has captured the hearts of the nation as the world's best cheerleader.
- Jimmer Fredette, Sacramento Kings
Fredette led the nation in scoring his senior year at BYU and he parlayed that achievement into a No. 10 pick in the 2011 draft. He has put up serviceable numbers as a backup on the Sacramento Kings over his three-year career, averaging seven points per game and a 40 percent shot from three point range.
- Austin Daye, Toronto Raptors
The lanky winger left Gonzaga after his sophomore year and was drafted by the Pistons in 2009 purely based off potential. At times it has appeared, but mostly it hasn't, and he has seen time with three different teams in the past five years.
- Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs
Sometimes, all it takes is playing for Greg Popovich to realize your potential. Mills spent the first two years of his career getting meaningless minutes for the TrailBlazers. This season, he is averaging a career high 17.4 minutes while scoring 8.4 points per game.
- Ronny Turiaf, Minnesota Timberwolves
Turiaf, one of the more beloved figures of Gonzaga's recent success, almost lost out on his NBA career before it even started. He was drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Lakers and a subsequent physical revealed he needed open heart surgery. He recovered and has played a backup role throughout much of his career, averaging 4.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 16.8 minutes per game.
-Steve Nash, Los Angeles Lakers
Nash was drafted with the 15th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft from some tiny school called Santa Clara. Nash is one of seven players to have his jersey retired by the school and still holds the record in assists.