By Matthew Terry
Have you ever watched a Gonzaga game at 10pm on a Saturday night and wondered how they found all these cupcake teams to play? Let me introduce you to the West Coast conference, or as it’s nicknamed, the “Gonzaga Conference.”
Gonzaga has won this conference tournament 15 times since the turn of the century and they’re primed to do it again this year as they enter the WCC tournament as not only the number one team in the conference, but the No. 1 team in the country, having rattled off 20 consecutive wins at a 29-2 overall clip. Its only losses were to current No. 5 Tennessee and No. 3 North Carolina, two teams that are set to go deep in the NCAA Tournament this season.
It’s almost too easy to make Gonzaga the team to watch for this tournament, but they are so talented it’s almost unfair. Led by potential lottery pick Rui Hachimura and his 20.6 points per game, the Zags have blown through the WCC once again. The closest game that Gonzaga has played in conference play this year was a 12 point win over San Diego.
For those that are good at math and extrapolation, that means Gonzaga has not won a game by less than double digits in conference this year. Gonzaga is in the driver’s seat to streamroll through this conference once again with little in their way to stop them.
Now, contrary to popular belief, there are other teams in this conference. Saint Mary’s, San Francisco and Loyola Marymount all won 20+ games this year, and BYU came very close with 19. Saint Mary’s is led by ace scorer Jordan Ford, a junior who averages a conference leading 43.2% shooting from three (among qualified shooters) and is one of three players in the WCC who average 20+ points per game. For that, he’s my player to watch for this tournament (that’s not named Rui Hachimura).
Lastly, for my sleeper pick of the tournament. It’s hard to pick a sleeper team when it seems like everyone in this conference that’s not named Gonzaga is in a coma, but for the non-Gonzaga pick I’m going to go with Saint Mary’s. Saint Mary’s is the stereotypical “always the bridesmaid; never the bride” of the conference- they always seem to be playing second-fiddle to the Zags.
This year is no exception. However, with efficient three-point shooting of Ford plus fellow guard Tanner Krebs- who are two of the top three outside shooters in the conference- they can beat anyone on their day.
To close out, this is Gonzaga’s world and we’re all just living in it. Tournament play tips off on Mar. 7 at 8pm central time when the Pacific Tigers face the Pepperdine Waves, and will continue on until the championship game on Mar. 12, where Gonzaga will most likely be hoisting up the trophy for the seventh consecutive year.