- Matt Cox
- 'Death, Taxes and Gonzaga': Of the 10 WCC head coaches, only one picked Gonzaga to win the league this year - Randy Bennett, who ironically was the unanimous choice to claim the WCC regular season crown by his peers (note - Few and Bennett voted for each other because coaches cannot vote for their own team). While the Zags WCC dominance doesn't quite stack up with the mind-boggling run of Kansas in the Big-12, this year will mark the 20th - yes, 20th - straight NCAA tournament appearance for the Spokane-based Bulldogs. Shame on anyone who picks against Bill Self or Mark Few to win their respective leagues, even with the presence of a worthy adversary in Saint Mary's.
- 'Mind the Gap': We all knew the WCC would be a two-horse race this year, but many thought BYU, San Francisco and even Santa Clara had the chops to make some noise in the upper half of the standings. The Dons showed a few doses of upside, most notably in their home upset of crosstown foe Saint Mary's, but inconsistency plagued USF for much of the conference slate en route to a pedestrian 9-9 finish in the league. Herb Sendek-led Santa Clara tumbled over 150 spots in kenpom's overall rankings since the start of the season and BYU finished with their lowest conference win total since 2013 (when the WCC had only 8 teams). The Gaels and Zags separated themselves by 5 games in the final standings, yet another indication that the rich will continue to get richer in the WCC.
I hold a special place in my heart for the west coast leagues that host their conference championships in America's playground - while the WCC holds their tournament in a much less prominent venue (apologies to any Orleans superfans out there), Las Vegas remains a sacred destination for any and all basketball-related events.
What to Watch:
- Saint Mary's has slowly, but surely played their way on the right side of the bubble thanks to a near-flawless WCC performance (headlined by an ENORMOUS win at the Kennel), but bracketmatrix.com still projects the Gaels as a double-digit seed (currently on the 10-seed line) - A win over BYU in the semis would essentially secure an at-large berth for the fighting Aussies, and give us the highly lucrative rubber match showdown against Gonzaga.
Who will win:
- Gonzaga: A major reason why the Zags were somewhat disrespected in the preseason WCC coaches poll was simply the uncertainty and unfamiliarity with Mark Few's newcomers. While returners Killian Tillie, Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Jonathan Williams have all seamlessly stepped into more featured roles, the rise of the young guns has been the key factor in why the Zags are a serious threat to get back to the Final 4. Zach Norvell blossomed into one of the more versatile weapons in the conference, earning him Newcomer of the Year honors, while Rui Hachimura took the league by storm with his jaw-dropping combination of skill and athleticism.
If not them, then...
- Saint Mary's: The Zags made all the right adjustments in their rematch with St. Mary's in Moraga, as Jock Landale - who was unguardable in the initial tilt in Spokane - was stymied to the tune of 4-points, despite playing 37 minutes. Few basically forced Saint Mary's to beat them from deep and stunned Landale with constant double teams and an array of low-post defensive schemes to make the Big Aussie uncomfortable every time he touched the rock. If the Gaels & Zags both take care of business in the early rounds, it will become Bennett's move on the chess board as he must find a way to counter Few's approach to shutting down big Jock.