Over the past few years, the West Coast Conference Tournament has been one of the most intriguing conference tournaments in the country. While Gonzaga has been on the national radar for quite some time, the rise of Saint Mary's has made the WCC a very strong conference. With BYU entering the fray this season, it goes without saying that a large majority of the basketball-watching world will have a keen eye on the 2012 West Coast Conference Tournament. For Gonzaga, there is a little 'extra' motivation coming into the Orleans Arena. For the first time in twelve years, Gonzaga did not at least win a share of the regular season conference title. Instead, Saint Mary's enters the tournament as the regular season champion. Many are expecting the Gaels and the Zags to once again match up in the tournament championship but there are a few other contenders that will have something to say about that.
At this point, most consider both Gonzaga and Saint Mary's to be locks to get into the NCAA Tournament field regardless of their showing in the conference tournament. With that said, there are some monumental seeding implications riding on it. For the Zags in particular, since they do boast some quality nonconference wins, there is a tremendous amount of upside if they can win in Vegas. While it is unlikely, there is an outside chance that three teams do make it out of the conference. For this to happen, most seem to think that BYU will have to beat Gonzaga and get to the conference championship game. Also, it is possible (very, very slim chance) that four WCC teams get in the tournament. For that to happen, LMU would need to take out Saint Mary's, BYU would need to beat Gonzaga and LMU would beat BYU to get the auto-bid.
As I said, that last scenario is extremely unlikely but it does speak to the quality of basketball that has been played this season the in WCC and I fully expect the conference tournament to be played at a very high level. After the jump, we'll take a deeper look at what to expect.
For diehard fans of the West Coast Conference, it probably won't make you too happy to learn that I believe Gonzaga and Saint Mary's are on a crash course for a rubber match in the tournament championship game. While that likely means this will only be a two bid league, it should provide an incredible finish to what has been an excellent conference season. Moreover, it will settle the score between these two rivals. In the regular season, the home team routed the visitor in both matchups. On a neutral court, you can just imagine what kind of a game we should be in store for.
Even though I expect Gonzaga and Saint Mary's to square off in the tournament championship, I think you could say that this is going to be one of the more challenging semifinals in recent memory. I am completely serious when I say that I could see four teams winning this tournament. Obviously, SMC and Gonzaga are the big horses but BYU and Loyola Marymount also pose major threats to that coveted automatic bid.
In their first season in the WCC, BYU is the team that many across the country will be watching. First of all, everyone will be curious to see how they do in their first WCC Tournament experience and secondly, BYU's success or lack thereof will have major bubble implications. BYU is led by big men Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock but have really been spurred by freshman guard Matt Carlino. Sure, they are missing Jimmer (great news for the Zags) but this is a team that can be very, very, very dangerous in the month of March. If you ask who the wild card is in this whole tournament, it is without a double the Lions of LMU. Anthony Ireland and Drew Viney are a combo capable of huge things and Max Good is fresh off being named WCC coach of the year. The kids at LMU have traveled such a hard road over the past couple years that you can't help but feel good that they are in this position. If they were to upset the top dogs in this conference and secure an auto-bid, you probably wouldn't hear much boo-hooing from me.
For Gonzaga, there are so many keys to success and, unfortunately, consistency has plagued this team from time to time. While Gary Bell and Kevin Pangos have been nothing short of sensational this season, we have to wonder how they react to their first tournament experience. On the flip side, the veterans, most notably Marquise Carter and Rob Sacre. They both were huge to Gonzaga's success a year ago in the 2011 conference tournament but have both struggled this season from time to time. In my mind, this team can't win the conference tournament with so-so showings from Marquise and Rob.
The good news is that the waiting is almost over. The opening round of the WCC Tournament is tomorrow and the Zags hit the court in the semifinals on Saturday.