Everything you need to know about the top-heavy West Coast Conference tournament, which starts Wednesday night outside of Las Vegas.
What, Who, When
The West Coast Conference tournament begins Wednesday night at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas and wraps up Monday night on ESPN. All nine conference teams are involved in the bracket, though the deck is stacked in favor of the top teams.
The format is interesting; the West Coast was one of the first conferences to alter their format in an attempt to make it more difficult for underdogs to win the tournament (and therefore send a less worthy WCC team to the NCAA Tournament). The nine teams will get whittled down over the course of five days, almost in ladder style. The top two seeds won't play until Saturday's semifinals, while the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds get two byes and won't play until Friday's quarterfinals. If No. 8 Portland or No. 9 Santa Clara are to pull a miracle, they will need to win five games (versus each other, then No. 5 San Francisco, then No. 4 Loyola Marymount, then No. 1 Saint Mary's, then the semifinal winner) in six days. Good luck with that.
Wednesday: No. 8 Portland vs. No. 9 Santa Clara
Thursday: No. 5 San Francisco vs. Portland/Santa Clara (BYUtv); No. 6 San Diego vs. No. 7 Pepperdine (BYUtv)
Friday: No. 4 Loyola Marymount vs. USF/Portland/Santa Clara (ESPNU); No. 3 BYU vs. USD/Pepperdine (ESPNU)
Saturday: No. 1 Saint Mary's vs. Loyola/USF/Portland/Santa Clara (ESPN2); No. 2 Gonzaga vs. BYU/USD/Pepperdine (ESPN2)
Monday: FINALS (ESPN)
Who The Numbers Like
Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are well-rounded, placing in the Top 50 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They draw fouls like nobody's business, they play clean defense, and they are deep.
As a whole, the conference is, to say the least, top-heavy. Gonzaga (33rd in Ken Pomeroy's rankings), BYU (37th) and Saint Mary's (41st) all grade out very well in the advanced stats, but there is a significant drop off to the second tier (No. 142 Loyola Marymount, No. 150 San Francisco), and another chasm to the bottom half of the conference.
Or, to put it another way, the No. 3 team (according to Pomeroy) in the conference, St. Mary's, ranks 41st, the No. 5 team, San Francisco, ranks 150th, and the No. 7 team, Santa Clara, ranks 261st. That is quite the spread. Anybody other than the top three winning the conference would be an absolute shock, and not only because of the top-heavy bracket.
More: BYU Blog Vanquish The Foe's team-by-team preview.
Who The Eyeballs Like
Saint Mary's. The Gaels won the conference, in part because of their 3-1 record versus Gonzaga and BYU. The Gaels have plenty of star power, led by scraggly Matthew Dellavedova. The 6-foot-4 Australian was named WCC Player of the Year, averaging 15.4 points on 45 percent shooting and dishing 6.5 assists per game. He has averaged a crazy 37.0 minutes per game this season, which might have taken its toll late in the season along with a gimpy ankle. Dellavedova averaged 20.8 points per game on 55 percent shooting over a five-game span in mid-January, but over his last four games, his averages dipped to 13.3 points and 40 percent while committing 13 turnovers in those four games. Beefy Rob Jones makes for a nice target for Dellavedova; the 6-foot-6, 240-pounder from San Francisco averaged a double-double and cleans up the defensive glass better than almost anybody in the country. The Gaels miss injured guard Stephen Holt, but they have rallied from a cold spell that saw them lose three of four between February 9-18.
The Dark Horse
Loyola Marymount. The 4-seed has barely been at full strength in 2011-12 -- Drew Viney missed 10 games, Ashley Hamilton 12 and Jarred DuBois five. But as the Lions have gotten healthy, they have racked up some wins. They whipped Saint Mary's by 15 points in mid-February, then took out Horizon League heavyweight Valparaiso two days later. They are still hit-or-miss (they followed these two wins with a home loss versus lowly San Diego), but their upside is interesting, and they certainly won't be cowed if they get a chance at Saint Mary's in the semifinals, BYU (whom they beat on January 19) or Gonzaga (to whom they lost by four at home) in the finals.
Best Possible Title Game
It has to be Saint Mary's-Gonzaga, right? Allow me to quote my colleague Mike Rutherford:
One of the best rivalries in the sport left the college basketball world a bit unsatisfied this season as each blew the other out when it was their turn to host. A rubber match on a neutral court in Las Vegas would be an obvious highlight of the first week of the postseason.
Who Might/Will Get In Anyway
Saint Mary's. The Gaels' stock was damaged by their mid-February slump following Holt's injury, but SBN's Chris Dobbertean still had them safe as a 7-seed in this week's Bracketology update. They shouldn't see their stock fall much, especially considering they probably won't have a chance to lose to someone worse than Loyola Marymount. Seeding is at play here, but they are safe.
Gonzaga. With just one iffy loss all season (at San Francsico), the Zags are probably even safer than the Gaels. Dobbertean gives them a 6-seed right now, and they could solidify that with a win over (presumably) BYU in the semifinals.
BYU. The Cougars have some work to do, but if they were to knock off Gonzaga on Saturday, they might find themselves on the right side of the bubble. They too possess mostly good losses, but according to Ken Pomeroy's ratings their five best wins came against No. 33 Gonzaga, No. 72 Oregon, No. 77 Virginia Tech, No. 104 Nevada and No. 113 Buffalo. They may need to knock off both the Zags and Gaels to get in, but getting to the finals will give them a shot.
Interesting Players To Watch
1. Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary's. For all of the reasons listed above. He never leaves the court, he's the best assists man in the conference, he makes open 3-pointers, and by the end of a game, his hair makes it look like he's perpetually running full-speed, even when he's sitting on the bench (which he never does).
2. Robert Sacre, Gonzaga. Gonzaga gets to the free throw line better than almost anybody in the country, and almost nobody draws fouls better than this 7-foot senior. Sacre and Elias Harris have combined to average 25 points and 15 rebounds per game, and they give the Zags a well-defined size advantage over almost everybody else in the WCC (though Rob Jones and Brad Waldow of Saint Mary's might beg to differ with that).
3. Brandon Davies, BYU. The center whose suspension changed the tenor of BYU's 2010-11 season has had an up-and-down junior year in Provo, but he seems to be peaking. In the Cougars' last three games, Davies averaged 22.7 points per game on 63 percent shooting. He is a well-rounded offensive player, and he can be a best on the defensive end as well -- he managed seven double-doubles this season, he blocked at least two shots in a game 14 times, and twice in the last month he had at least six steals. He is active, if foul-prone, and his potential battle with Sacre, Harris and company in the semifinals could determine BYU's chance of making The Dance.
4. Anthony Ireland, Loyola Marymount. A mainstay while the rest of the team battled injuries, the 5-foot-10 sophomore plays a nice drive-and-kick game and has done a nice job of carrying the scoring burden (15.5 points per game) but still keeping the assists flowing (4.8 per game) despite the rotating cast of characters around him. With Ireland and Drew Viney, the Lions can take out anybody in the conference; the question is, can they take out more than one in a weekend?
5. Angelo Caloiaro, San Francisco. USF is all offense, no defense, and the 6-foot-8 Caloiaro is their most efficient overall offensive player. He makes about 40 percent of his four 3-point attempts per game, and he has been hot as of late. In his last five games, he has averaged 16.0 points on 55 percent shooting (50 percent from long range). He is an awkward matchup and he almost carried the Dons to an upset of BYU a couple of weeks ago.