- Ky McKeon
(Check out the preseason preview here)
3MW’s All Conference Team:
1. Gonzaga Crushed Everyone (well except that last game)
The Zags ate every team they faced for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 29 straight games to start the year. Gonzaga won 26 of its 29 games by double digits this season; the only teams they beat by single digits: Florida, Arizona, and Iowa State. Before the BYU game, the Zags’ average margin of victory in the WCC was about 350 points (give or take). Look, everyone knew the Zags would be good this year, but the magnitude by which the Bulldogs dominated its competition exceeded all expectations. I was one of the doubters. I thought it would take time to mesh together three new star transfers (Nigel Williams-Goss, Johnathan Williams III, Jordan Mathews) and a big man coming back from injury (Przemek Karnowski). I was dead wrong. Gonzaga’s pieces gelled so perfectly; Williams-Goss became the Player of the Year, JW3 resurrected his career, and Karnowski gave little kids nightmares. Not to mention that Zach Collins was an absolute F-ing stud as a freshman. So what happened against BYU on February 25th? How did the Zags’ sure-fire perfect season end so abruptly? Should we panic? Is this team not a 1-seed now?? They had an off night guys; BYU is good; they’ll be fine; yes, they should be a 1-seed.
2. Dons Dazzle; Waves Wack
Here’s an example of two teams flip-flopping their expectations on their heads. The San Francisco Dons lost a ton of production from last year’s squad and were picked to finish 9th in the pre-season. USF quickly shat on that expectation by going 20-11 (10-8) and improving their preseason KenPom rank of 262 to a respectable 107. The Dons did it with defense under the leadership of senior Ronnie Boyce and the tutelage of rookie Head Coach Kyle Smith. Plus they have a kid named Frankie Ferrari on their team.
The Pepperdine Waves headed in the opposite direction this season, as their preseason 4th place expectations (139 KenPom rank) turned sour like year-old milk (9-21; 5-13; 294 KenPom Rank). I really can’t explain this one. I mean, I know Amadi Udenyi’s season was cut short after a promising start, but the Waves had Lamond Murray, Jr., a bona fide WCC star, back from a 18-12 (10-8) squad that lost two contributors. Head scratcher.
3. Not (Jock)ing Around
The most shocking player emergence in the country this season was that of Saint Mary’s forward Jock Landale. Here’s how ridiculous this breakout was:
Landale was a returning junior reserve forward on a team that started the same five guys every single game in 2015-16. He took the starting spot Day One.
He averaged 14.5 minutes per game as a sophomore. He averaged 27.5 minutes per game this year.
He averaged 7.9ppg (yes that is good for 14.5mpg), 3.9rpg, and 0.3bpg as a sophomore. He averaged 16.8ppg, 9.3rpg, and 1.2bpg this year.
The guy was an Australian Superman this season. He ranked #1 in the WCC in usage, 7th in O-rating, 4th in effective FG%, 1st in offensive rebounding %, 2nd in defensive rebounding %, 24th in assist rate(!), and 7th in block %. If Gonzaga hadn’t Hulk-smashed the conference this year, he would have been Player of the Year.
The tournament tips off on Friday, March 3rd, and concludes on March 7th. All games will be played at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas (sounds nice!).
Best Team and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed
Gonzaga is obviously the team everyone will be watching in this Tourney. The Zags’ resume is absolutely deserving of a 1-seed. They are #11 in the RPI, #1 in KenPom (by a healthy margin), are 4-0 against the RPI Top 25, 5-0 vs the RPI Top 50, and 10-1 vs. the RPI Top 100. The only way the Zags fall off the top line (in my opinion) is if they go down prior to the championship.
Saint Mary’s is Gonzaga’s biggest challenger. The Gaels quietly put together a great year, finishing 26-3 (16-2). They currently rank #18 in the RPI, #14 in KenPom, and are 2-3 vs. the RPI Top 50, and 7-3 vs. the RPI Top 100. The RPI records will water down their seed a bit. Right now, the Gaels are looking at around a 5 or 6-seed. If they lose early, they’ll likely earn a 7-seed. A championship appearance gets them to a 6-seed. A WCC belt gets them a 5 or even 4-seed.
Dark Horse Team
It would be truly spectacular if any team outside of Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, and BYU won this tournament. Like “oh my God, the world is ending” spectacular. Like “oh my God, there’s a shark in that tornado” spectacular. Keeping this in mind, the dark horse has to be BYU. The Cougars had a relatively disappointing season in many people’s eyes, losing some real odd games including Utah Valley at home, San Diego, and Pepperdine. The good news is that BYU is one of the least-experienced teams in the country (watch out for them next year), the bad news is this inconsistency will make it tough to come away with the postseason crown.
(9) Pacific defeats (8) Pepperdine
(7) San Diego defeats (10) Portland
(3) BYU defeats (6) Loyola Marymount
(4) Santa Clara defeats (5) San Francisco
(1) Gonzaga defeats (9) Pacific
(2) Saint Mary’s defeats (7) San Diego
(1) Gonzaga defeats (4) Santa Clara
(2) Saint Mary’s defeats (3) BYU
(1) Gonzaga defeats (2) Saint Mary’s
Gonzaga is going to win this thing. Nobody in this league can match up with the Zags, BYU game aside. Ironically (or not), the Gaels match up great with BYU, but struggle with the Zags’ athleticism both on the perimeter and on the interior.
Santa Clara is an intriguing wild horse option (if they weren’t on Gonzaga’s side). The Broncos have the best player in the league no one has heard about (Jared Brownridge), play respectable defense, and can get hot from outside. Considering the Zags handled them by 30 in both meetings this year, I’m not expecting miracles.
LMU is another team that’s intriguing on paper due to their defense and lead dog (Brandon Brown), but one that will ultimately fall short, as they went 0-6 against the top three teams in the league this year (2-8 against the top five).