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The WCC will likely be a 1-bid conference

Losses by USF and Saint Mary’s this weekend against a pair of Southern California schools almost certainly ended their at-large hopes.

NCAA Basketball: St. Mary’s at San Francisco D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Even though Gonzaga was enjoying the night off, Saturday proved to be a significant day of contests in the WCC.

Two weeks after giving the Zags a tough game at the War Memorial gym, the San Francisco Dons suffered their second conference loss of the season to the University of San Diego and severely damaged their hopes of picking up an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. The Dons held a double-digit halftime lead against the Toreros, but it will be their second half performance that they’ll be thinking about on Selection Sunday if they are left out of the dance.

The Dons were already firmly on the tournament bubble before Saturday night’s loss, having squandered their best chance at impressing the committee when they lost to Gonzaga at home. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had USF in his “First Four Out” grouping, while SB Nation’s Chris Dobbertean had the Dons slightly further back in his “Next Four Out,” with upcoming consecutive road games at Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga looming large.

Now that the Dons already have two conference losses before even playing those two road games (along with a road game at BYU in late February), they will likely have to win out their remaining conference games to safely make it into the field. Winning on the road in Moraga, Provo, AND Spokane is an uphill battle, to say the least. San Francisco’s margin of error has completely evaporated, and will now find it difficult to even secure second-place in the WCC in a competitive four-team race.

San Francisco wasn’t the only Northern California team to have a tough weekend, as Saint Mary’s fell in overtime to the Pepperdine Waves in Malibu. The Gaels allowed Pepperdine guard Colbey Ross to score 11 points in just the OT period, and any absurd talk of the Gaels picking up an at-large bid should now be over.

After losing six out-of-conference games and having already lost to USF and BYU on the road in conference play, I never bought the idea that Saint Mary’s could wiggle its way into the tournament without winning the WCC Tournament and securing the conference’s automatic bid. Frankly, I don’t even understand why Saint Mary’s was being considered for a tournament spot, and that was before losing to Pepperdine.

When the Gaels last picked up an at-large bid in 2017 (a much-more talented team than the current iteration), they only lost one non-conference game along with three losses to Gonzaga (trying, and failing, not to cackle). While sweeping Gonzaga in regular-season conference play this year would obviously serve as a tremendous resume boost to Saint Mary’s chances, tournament hypotheticals should remain somewhat moored to reality. At 13-9, and having not yet played Gonzaga, there is no chance a double-digit loss Saint Mary’s team makes it into the tournament with an at-large bid.

While the WCC is definitely a stronger conference this season as a whole, the parity in the second tier below Gonzaga almost assuredly means that it will be a 1-bid conference barring an upset in the WCC Tournament. USF had the best chance at picking up an at-large bid before losing to San Diego, and is certainly a good enough team to play in the tournament, but you have to take care of business to get there. For the second year in a row, unfortunately, it looks like the WCC will only send one team to the dance.