By: Jack Parodi
This year, there are really only four teams that can compete for the WCC title: the Saint Mary’s Gaels, Gonzaga Bulldogs, Brigham Young Cougars, and the Pepperdine Waves. The rest of the conference was at or below .500 in conference play. I’ll start off by talking about the other six teams first before I get into the true contenders, though.
University of San Francisco came in at 8-10 in the WCC this season. The Dons lost to every quality team it played in the conference this season, with the best win of the season being an 82-72 victory over Pepperdine. The Dons have a lethal duo of guards this season in point guard Devin Watson (20 ppg, 5.1 apg) and shooting guard Tim Derksen (16.5 ppg, 42.3% 3pt, 49% fg). USF has got a real outside chance of winning the conference tournament, if these two keep playing how they have all season and a few role players step up the scoring. One main fault of San Francisco’s game is they just get out-physicalled on the boards. If the Dons can get more production from players other than Watson and Derksen and win the battle of the boards, they could make a run at the WCC title.
Portland has had a season much like you would imagine: a disappointing one to say the least. The Pilots could score the ball decently well this season, but ranked an abysmal 316th in the country giving up 78.5 points per contest. A lack of effort like that on defense will never spell out wins for your team. The lone bright spot of this team this season is point guard Alec Wintering (18.9 ppg, 5.1 apg, 42% 3pt). If by some divine miracle Portland can step it up defensively and be more than a one-man-show on offense, maybe they can win a game or two in the WCC tournament. But whoever they play in the first round should take care of them pretty easily.
Santa Clara Broncos
Santa Clara has never been the same since future hall-of-famer Steve Nash left campus, and this season is no exception. The Broncos finished the regular season at 7-11. To be quite honest, this team is extremely below average. They are ranked at the very best 223rd in the country for all categories (ppg, rpg, apg, points allowed). You just can’t expect to win many games if you can hardly score and play non-existent defense. Jared Brownridge is the top scorer averaging 20.1 ppg, but the best player on this Santa Clara team is forward Nate Kratch. His statline is solid (9.2 ppg, 8 rpg), but it doesn’t do him justice. He’s a real hustle player and always gives 110% when he’s out on the court. I don’t see Santa Clara winning a game in the tournament, though; and if the Broncos somehow do, it’ll be a real shocker.
University of Pacific has had an abysmal season to say the least. Making it out of the regular season with single-digit wins is never a good sign and definitely doesn’t spell success for the Tigers in the WCC tournament. Pacific does have three players averaging over 10 ppg which is a good sign. When a team shares the ball like that, it usually spells success. But they only have three or four players who can really contribute and make a positive impact on a game. I don’t see Pacific winning a game in the tournament because of the fact that they hardly score the ball (69.7 ppg) and just don’t have enough players who can make a significant impact to upset a top tier team in the WCC.
LMU this year has had a very ho-hum year. Their starting lineup is all pretty experienced and that usually makes a team with average talent play higher than expectations because of how good the team chemistry is. I would say because of this factor, the Lions have had a season that has been somewhat of a let-down. One thing that LMU does extremely well is share the ball: ranking 20th in the country in assists per game. Their offense is centered around the pick and roll and dribble drive, anchored by junior forward Adom Jacko (16.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg). If the Lions can run an efficient offense and knock down some 3’s, they could get through the first round of the tournament. LMU has been playing good basketball as of late, beating San Francisco and Pepperdine in back-to-back games. Because of that and their ball-sharing, I see LMU winning their first round matchup of the WCC tournament.
San Diego Toreros
San Diego has always been known for its warm weather and beaches; never basketball. And that’s for good reason. The Toreros have been horrendous this year, there’s no other way to put it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jackie Moon and the Flint Tropics beat this team by 50. They lost to a slightly above average BYU team 91-33. USD scores less than every single team in the country at a pathetic 60.7 ppg while shooting 39% from the field and 28.4% from long range. I sure don’t see this team scaring whoever they play in the WCC tournament as I expect the Toreros to get manhandled by their opponent in the first round.
The Brigham Young Cougars have always been one of the most underrated teams in the country ever since the Jimmer Fredette days; and this season is no different. Having lost only nine games during the regular season, BYU definitely shouldn’t be counted out to take the WCC title. They have everything that you could ask for in a successful team: scoring (83.9 ppg, 7th in NCAA), rebounding (11th in NCAA), and passing (22nd in NCAA). The Cougars have four players averaging over 12 ppg. With this team, you never know who is going to step up and go off and that’s what makes them so scary and tough to guard. Don’t be shocked if BYU wins the West Coast Conference this season. If they get hot, watch out.
The Pepperdine Waves have been a pleasant surprise this season. They have a trio of studs that have lead the team to its success in Lamond Murray Jr (16.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Stacy Davis (15.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg), and Jett Raines (13 ppg, 5 rpg). Pepperdine lets these players do their work by the way of isolation, which usually isn’t the best form of offense, but has worked well for them this season. Some things that the Waves do extremely well are hustle and grab rebounds. They’re a scrappy team that, if the offense gets hot, could be a dark horse to take the WCC by surprise this season.
Saint Mary’s Gaels
Now, on to the top team in the WCC this regular season: the Saint Mary’s Gaels. This 2016 Saint Mary’s team reminds me a lot of the 2010 team that upset 2 seed Villanova in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Gaels are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country, boasting an impressive 42% from beyond the arc. As well as being a great shooting team, they share the ball extremely well with six players averaging at least 9 points per game. Not only are the Gaels top-notch offensively, they give up 60.2 ppg, ranked fifth overall in the NCAA this year. Their only real competition this season is Gonzaga. I honestly just don’t see Saint Mary’s beating the Zags three times in one season; they’re too good.
Gonzaga started off the season ranked tenth in the country and for good reason. They’re a perfect mix of experience and young talent. That is shown perfectly by the Zags two best players: senior Kyle Wiltjer (20.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 40.9 % 3pt) and sophomore Domantas Sabonis (17.2 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 60.2% fg). With two big men like that leading the way with an offense focused on ball movement to find the best shot possible, there’s no wonder why the Bulldogs are one of the best shooting (48.2% fg) and scoring (78.8 ppg) teams in the country. But, offense isn’t the forte of this team. They live by the motto “defense creates offense”, giving up 65.3 ppg to the opposition. Because of Gonzaga’s strengths in defense and its efficiency on offense, they will win the WCC tournament this season over arch-nemesis Saint Mary’s for the fourth straight year.