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WCC Tournament Preview

The Zags are the favorites, but other teams are waiting to chomp.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 29 St Mary’s at Gonzaga Photo by Robert Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The West Coast Conference is as strong as it has been in quite some time. The Gonzaga Bulldogs are a potential No. 1 seed. The BYU Cougars are suddenly a KenPom top 10 team. The Saint Mary’s Gaels are penciled into most brackets. Most likely, the WCC Championship game will be a combination of two of those three teams. However, the WCC has dudes, and all it takes is someone to go full Carmelo Anthony and suddenly we are in a different state.

The tournament begins today, but thanks to cushy rules, Gonzaga and BYU won’t play until the semifinals on Monday. Click here to view the full bracket, times, and TV schedule for all of the games.

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs, 29-2 (15-1)

Summary: Duh, the Zags are the favorite to win. They have the reigning WCC Player of the Year in Filip Petrusev, and outside of a humbling at BYU, have more than held their own against the rest of the WCC. Gonzaga has their WCC kryptonite in San Francisco on their side of the bracket, so it’ll be important to watch the early games. Gonzaga beat the Dons by only four points in San Francisco, and the first half of the game was an ugly affair in Spokane. What we all should hope for is a championship game between BYU and Gonzaga for full WCC bragging rights.

Player to watch: The Zags operate with such a slim rotation that pretty much every single player is a player to watch. However, let’s give the nod to the senior Killian Tillie. Tillie has survived four injury-plagued seasons at Gonzaga, and after this year, that is it for him in Spokane. Tillie is one of the most fluidly beautiful players to watch at Gonzaga in some time. Let’s enjoy it while we can.

Key stat: Filip Petrusev draws 7.8 fouls per game, the third-highest mark in the nation. It is one of the more underrated aspects of his game. While many of us call for him to be more assertive and continue through contact, Petrusev is an ace at drawing fouls. Against many WCC teams that lack the depth or size at the frontcourt, this is a hard thing to overcome.

2. BYU Cougars, 24-7 (13-3)

Summary: You might as well put an asterisk on most of BYU’s losses. Yoeli Childs, who Petrusev edged for POY, only played in two of those seven losses. When he is on the court, BYU is a formidable beast between the balance of Childs down low and Haws in the backcourt. The Cougars demonstrated rather forcibly that Gonzaga needs to take them seriously. Another win over GU would probably not only knock Gonzaga off the No. 1 seed line, but would go quite a distance in boosting BYU’s seeding for March.

Player to watch: Senior transfer Jake Toolson is shooting an absurd 47 percent from long range, good for No. 8 in the nation. In BYU’s win over Gonzaga, he went 5-of-9 from three-point range.

Key stat: BYU is the top three-point shooting team in the nation and that makes them rather fun to watch. We all bore witness to that just a couple of weeks ago.

3. Saint Mary’s Gaels, 24-7 (11-5)

Summary: You all know the drill for a Saint Mary’s teams now. Dribble the ball around for 30 seconds and then get a really good shot. It turns out that method works more often than not when you have Jordan Ford, the other player Filip Petrusev beat out for WCC POY, on the squad. The Gaels methodically grinding style of play is quite the departure from BYU. The only chance for the Zags to make it three against Saint Mary’s is if the Gaels win in the semifinals.

Player to watch: Ford is obviously good, but Malik Fitts is one of the players that makes that all possible. Fitts is so good at taking up space around the hoop, especially on the defensive boards end.

Key stat: The Gaels do not turn the ball over, lowest mark in the WCC, and No. 6 overall in the nation.

4. Pacific Tigers, 23-9 (11-5)

Summary: This was the year it finally all came together for 2020 WCC Coach of the Year Damon Stoudamire. The Tigers had a nice year, earning a road win over UNLV and a quadruple-overtime win over Saint Mary’s as a couple of nice cherries on top. Much like Saint Mary’s, the Tigers play a slow and grinding style of play, however, there is quite a bit of difference in how they achieve that mark.

Player to watch: Jahlil Tripp is the undisputed leader of this team on the offensive and defensive end, but I’m searching for the less obvious answer here, so I’ll go with Daniss Jenkins. Jenkins was named to the WCC All Freshman Team. He doesn’t have the best shooting percentages, but it is clear that he has a scorer’s mindset. As a freshman, he will be one of the next big scorers in the WCC.

Key stat: Pacific grinds the game to a halt by fouling, and it is gross to watch. The Tigers fouled opponents 616 times. For comparison, Gonzaga only did it 453 times.

5. San Francisco Dons, 20-11 (9-7)

Summary: The Dons are the dark horse of the WCC race. If any team were able to make the WCC a four-bid league, it would be San Francisco, and that is solely off the crazed-analytical brain of head coach Todd Golden. The Dons almost beat Gonzaga at home, beat BYU at home, and defeated a good Yale team at home. They have the capabilities to pull off an upset if the score stays close enough. It is just a question of whether or not they can pull off three upsets in a row.

Player to watch: Head coach Todd Golden is one of the more promising coaches in the WCC, and although some people think he’ll be out of the WCC after one year, I highly doubt that. I also don’t doubt we will see him at a bigger school in no time flat. He can pretty much outcoach most everyone in the WCC, and is great at stretching the most out of his roster.

Key stat: Sophomore guard Khalil Shabazz is one of the best defenders in the WCC. Despite the fact he only played 22 minutes per game, he led the conference in steals and ranks No. 4 in the country in steal percentage.

6. Pepperdine Waves, 15-15 (8-8)

Summary: It was a perfect .500 season for Lorenzo Romar and company. The Waves feature Colbey Ross, up there in consideration for one of the top guards in the conference, and play a fast-paced brand of entertaining basketball. Unfortunately, their defense is basically trash, hence all the losses.

Player to watch: Sophomore Kessler Edwards is the premier shot blocker in the WCC, leading the conference with 53 total blocks.

Key stat: As a team, the Waves are one of the better free throw shooting teams in the country, coming in at No. 5 with a 79 percentage. Gonzaga fans can drool at the thought of that.

7. Santa Clara Broncos, 19-12 (6-10)

Summary: What a year for Herb Sendek’s crew. The Broncos came out of the non-conference with a 13-2 record. That didn’t carry over to the conference. The Broncos won their home opener, ending a six-game losing streak. This is a young team, however, that will be better next year and the year after.

Player to watch: Jaden Bediako is one of the more promising freshmen of the WCC to watch. He was sixth in the conference in total offensive rebounds and was a top 100 player nationally in OR%.

Key stat: The Broncos are great at making the extra pass, ranking No. 17 nationally in total assists.

8. Loyola Marymount Lions, 10-20 (4-12)

Summary: There are only four teams in the nation that play at a slower pace than the LMU Lions (seriously, what is it with WCC teams and slow pace of play). Judging by the win/loss record, it clearly didn’t work out that well. However, that is what happens when rampant injuries force your squad to run out your best player (a forward) at point guard.

Player to watch: Let’s go with the obvious one here. The Lions will only go as far as Eli Scott (said best player) will take them.

Key stat: The Lions were the worst three-point shooting team in the conference and the third-best two-point shooting team.

9. San Diego Toreros, 9-22 (2-14)

Summary: Of the Toreros nine victories, two came in overtime and one came against a non-D1 opponent. San Diego has a pretty decent defense, but their offense is one of the nation’s worst. Not a single player on the team ranked in the top 500 players in eFG%, and overall, the offense was ranked No. 316 by KenPom.

Player to watch: Joey Calcaterra is a sophomore averaging double-digit points, so that is good I guess.

Key stat: As a conference, the WCC is pretty garbage at free throws. San Diego highlights the worst, hitting just 66.4 percent.

10. Portland Pilots, 9-22 (1-15)

Summary: Even by the Pilots standards, this was a bad year. Portland somehow started off things pretty decently, playing Gonzaga hard in the opening game of conference play and then defeating the Dons. That was it. Portland is now currently in the middle of a 14-game losing streak.

Player to watch: Tahirou Diabate was born in Mali and played basketball in Japan before arriving in Portland. He is a full load at forward, putting up good rebound and block numbers in conference play.

Key stat: The Pilots shot a conference low 42 percent.