By Jerry Hopkins
If you are super busy and don’t have time to read this whole article, this tweet by Nicole Auerback is a great summary of what this tournament is.
— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) March 1, 2021
Now if you decided to stay with me, the West Coast Conference has the number one team in the nation in Gonzaga, and the weird tournament format makes it where Gonzaga has a very high chance of winning the tournament. Still, the West Coast Conference has some very good players and teams that have an opportunity to make a case in this weird COVID season, so let’s dive together into the WCC tournament.
🗣 #WCChoops @UCU_LA Tournament Time 🗣
Men’s Final Standings:
— WCC Basketball (@WCChoops) February 28, 2021
Personally, I don’t think this is the best tournament format, but it’s March, and weird things just happen.
The Team(s) to Watch: Gonzaga Bulldogs/ San Francisco Dons
The obvious answer team to watch is the Gonzaga Bulldogs, and you can throw plenty of reasons there. They are the number one team in the country, they have a Top 5 NBA prospect in Jalen Suggs, Mark Few is the WCC coach of the year, and, for the first time in a while, this feels like a Gonzaga team that can truly make the run for a title. The Zags are legit. This season, the consensus top teams have been Gonzaga, then Baylor, then everyone else. With Baylor losing to Kansas on Saturday, that level of distinction is what has made them the number one team in the country.
But, let’s have some fun, and talk about one of my favorite teams in the WCC, the San Francisco Dons. The Dons are currently the 8th seed and have a record of 10-13 prior the tournament, which leaves them having to play everyday to try and win the tournament. But the Dons are the perfect team made to wreak havoc in the tournament. If we can go back to 2020 (begrudgingly), the Dons had one of the biggest upsets of the early college season, beating the Virginia Cavaliers 61-60 in “bubbleville.” The Dons are currently on a six game losing streak, but five of those games were under ten point losses.
So why watch the Dons? Jamaree Bouyee. The senior guard is averaging 17.5 points for the Dons, and is shooting 49.8% from the field, and was named to the All-WCC First Team. Combine him with Junior guard Kalil Shabazz, the undersized guard duo has the ability to win the Dons close games.
The issue with the Dons is depth, as the Dons as of recent have ran a 7 or 8 man rotation. If they were a 1 or 2 seed in this tournament, that wouldn’t affect them as much because they would only be playing two games. For the Dons to win the tournament, however, they would have to win five games, and that becomes harder when you don’t have pauses because of the tournament format. The Dons have one job in this tournament, and that is to be a tough out, which they have proven they will be.
Sleeper Team: Pacific Tigers
One of my gripes about the WCC is that this is the ultimate anti-sleeper tournament format, but I like the Pacific Tigers to make some noise and turn a head or two. I am going to steal this quote from Seth Davis about head coach Damon Stoudamire: “It speaks volumes about how difficult a job Pacific is that Stoudamire is winning plaudits for guiding the Tigers to a 5-7 record in the WCC (8-8 overall) this season, after winning 23 games a year ago.” Stoudamire has built this team that has had an above .500 in the conference (9-8) without a true superstar, but instead a team that has multiple solid scorers.
Daniss Jenkins leads the team in scoring at 11.9 ppg, and while it may not be a high scoring average, he is one of the three players on the team to be scoring over 10 ppg. There is not one true scorer on the team, but everyone on the starting five plays an important role. Sophomore guard Pierre Crockrell II is a perfect example of this. He only averages 9.8 ppg, but also leads the team in assists with 4.1 per game. The Pacific Tigers have weapons, but also have the great ability to share and let people score when need be.
The downfall of the Tigers is a 67.3% team free throw percentage and a lower 30.1% team three point percentage. The Tigers have their work cut out for them to make a run, but that run will require better free throwing shooting and a hot hand from someone (I’m looking at Broc Finstuen) to space the floor and pull games out for the Tigers.
Player to Watch: Jalen Suggs
There are many amazing players in the WCC, some that we have spotlighted already, but Suggs is something special. I am going to be glued to my TV watching Suggs because he is what a team like Gonzaga needs to take the next step. One of the big gripes about the Bulldogs is their failure to capitalize in the big dance, and not having players like Suggs is one of the reasons. The reason I am so high on Suggs is because he elevates Gonzaga to that level of legitimacy because of his talent. Guys like Corey Kispert and Drew Timme are fantastic players as well, but Suggs has that “it” factor.
Suggs is a top 5 draft prospect because of his ability to score in the paint, his ability to make great reads on the floor, and overall athleticism. Suggs is a leader on the court that is playing as a true freshman for a program that usually forces you to wait your turn, and that speaks louder than any of the praises that Mark Few or any of his teammates give him. For the longest time, Gonzaga lacked that one guy who could stop the game from slipping away. The guy that can keep the game close if they are losing, make the tough shots and make the defensive stops to keep the Bulldogs from losing. I am going out on a limb here and saying Suggs is that guy, and that is what makes him the player to watch out for in the tournament.
Tournament Winner: Gonzaga
Really, what else can I say about the Zags at this point? The goal for the Bulldogs is to win the NCAA tournament, and I expect them to also put up some hardware and nets from Vegas in the process.
Edited by Tyler Kading