The West Coast Conference hasn’t had three NCAA Tournament teams in the same season since 2012 (Saint Mary’s, BYU, Gonzaga). This time around, those exact same programs will end up dancing in March. All three teams had impressive non-conference performances and that will pay dividends when the selection committee is making their decision. As for conference play, all of the top dogs in the WCC look as if they are one of the 68 best teams in the nation that will have the honor to compete in the NCAA Tournament.
Remember when Gonzaga was thinking about leaving the WCC for the Mountain West Conference almost two years ago? I think the university made the right decision with the MWC looking like a one-bid league coming from the undefeated Aztecs of San Diego State (possibly two if Utah State can sneak in). This is the most competitive that the WCC has looked in a long time and I’m all for it.
Let’s take a look at why each of the top programs in the West Coast Conference will be continuing play into March Madness this season.
#2 Gonzaga Bulldogs:
KenPom - #3, NET - #3, RPI - #16
No doubt here. Gonzaga is a lock. The #2 team in the nation has looked strong all season long and has national championship aspirations. I believe Gonzaga has had no bad loss. Michigan hasn’t looked their best since beating the Zags in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship but have started to turn their season around in BIG-10 conference play with quality wins over Rutgers and Michigan State. The Wolverines will still end up in the Big Dance.
The Bulldogs have a combined 7-1 record in Q1 and Q2 games. Plus, Gonzaga will still have multiple chances to pick up quality wins against San Francisco, at BYU, and Saint Mary’s in the regular season. They will most likely also have another chance to play at least one of those teams again in the WCC Tournament. The Bulldogs will be entering their 22nd straight NCAA Tournament appearance. As long as they have no losses the rest of the way, Gonzaga will be on their way to their third #1 seeding in the past four seasons.
Saint Mary’s Gaels:
KenPom - #36, NET - #34, RPI - #33
The 2019 WCC Tournament champions won’t be needing an automatic bid to get in the NCAA Tournament this season. An at-large bid is well in reach for the Gaels (barring any bad losses in conference the rest of the way). Some began questioning the idea of letting the Gaels into the Big Dance after a home loss to Winthrop by 2 points but the Eagles are currently at an 18-8 overall record, 12-1 in conference with control of the Big South. Saint Mary’s fans should be rooting for the Eagles to win their conference tournament in March.
Another questionable loss came against Santa Clara also at home by 1 point but the Broncos have improved dramatically from last season. That goes the same for the Tigers of Pacific who the Gaels fell to in Stockton after 4 (yes, 4!) overtime periods. Not terrible losses in my mind especially since the Gaels would end up beating the Tigers in their second conference matchup and they will have another chance to avenge their loss to the Broncos on February 27th.
A solid win over then #15 Utah State (KenPom - #39, NET - #42, RPI - #38), a win over Wisconsin (KenPom - #27, NET - #29, RPI - #36) and a red-hot Arizona State (KenPom - #57, NET - #47, RPI - #25) both on a neutral court, and a quality loss to Obi Toppin and then #19 Dayton (KenPom - #6, NET - #5, RPI - #5) will grab the selection committee’s attention. Splitting with BYU in the regular season also helps the NCAA Tournament case for both Saint Mary’s and the Cougars, especially based on the fact that both games were determined by the last possession. The Gaels will end up competing in March Madness for the third time in the last four seasons.
#23 Brigham Young Cougars:
KenPom - #17, NET - #22, RPI - #22
What a weird but interesting season for the Cougars. Their NCAA Tournament hopes were up in the air after the news of Yoeli Childs having to sit out the first nine games of season occurred. Five of BYU’s seven losses have come without the 6’8” senior forward (21.0 PPG, 8.5 PPG, 2.3 APG, 1.1 BPG, 59.2 FG%) in the lineup. The Cougars are 13-2 when he is on the court this season.
Even without Childs on the floor, the senior point guard TJ Haws and the rest of the crew have proven they’re still a dangerous team. Their biggest win of the season happened in the win at Houston on a Haws’ buzzer beater (Houston looks like a late favorite to win a talented American Conference after a strong second-half of their season). Haws would end up hitting yet another clutch shot to defeat Saint Mary’s at home in conference play. Without those two enormous makes from the senior guard, BYU’s postseason hopes would look very bleak.
Another key to their resume is the fact that the Cougars haven’t lost consecutive games all season. They’ve been competitive and close in all of their games this season with quality losses to two teams currently in the Top 4 of the AP Poll, Kansas and San Diego State. Two overtime losses on the road in non-conference to Boise State and Utah also don’t kill their chances in any way.
Now, BYU has three games left on their schedule. Two of those games they are favored to win (the one not being against Gonzaga at the Marriott Center). The remaining path left for the Cougars looks very bright. In his first season under the coaching helm in Provo, Mark Pope will be bringing BYU back to the promise land for the first time since 2015.
Let us also make sure to keep this in mind... if either BYU or Saint Mary’s can steal a win away from Gonzaga at any point going forward, you can automatically lock up that team for a bid into the NCAA Tournament. That’s a huge resume booster.
Even without that monumental win, I truly believe the WCC will be a three-bid league and each of those three schools will be a tough out for any opponent in March.
*Arden Cravalho is a Gonzaga University graduate from the Bay Area... Follow him on Twitter @a_cravalho