Probably by now, on this blog and plenty of national sites around the internet, you have read that this is the year of the WCC.
Interestingly enough, the conference is not rated as highly by such outlets as KenPom as it was last year. But season-long ratings are not what dictates how successful a conference is in college hoops. Rather, it is how many teams a conference sends to the NCAA Tournament.
This year, we are approaching the unprecedented number of four potential NCAA teams in Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, BYU, and San Francisco. According to the 2022 Bracket Matrix, that number is largely holding up across the board, with the Zags earning a No. 1 seed and BYU, San Francisco, and Saint Mary’s holding No. 8-10 seeds, respectively.
Now, let’s get one argument out of the way before it even starts. Of course, BYU, San Francisco, and Saint Mary’s have to win the games they need to win and not lose games to bottom-feeding WCC teams. That much is obvious. When people talk about a four-bid WCC year, the statement comes with the implicit understanding that the teams don’t fall off the edge.
The biggest reason why the four-bid WCC is very real is that most of the other teams in the conference did exactly what they needed to do in the non-conference slate to position themselves: win games.
Here are the NET rankings of all of the teams in the WCC (NET is one of the primary factors used by the Selection Committee):
- Gonzaga, 5
- BYU, 30
- San Francisco, 36
- Saint Mary’s, 43
- Santa Clara, 81
- LMU, 153
- San Diego, 218
- Portland, 243
- Pepperdine, 247
- Pacific, 299
The success at the top is exactly what has the best chance of getting four WCC teams into the NCAA Tournament. There are three numbers with regards to NET rankings to pay attention to during conference play: 30, 50, and 75.
A team that has a NET ranking of 30 or higher qualifies as a Quad 1 win when played at home, 50 or higher on a neutral court, and 75 or higher qualifies as a Quad 1 win when the win comes on the road.
Last season, entering the NCAA Tournament, the Zags had a total of eight Quad 1 wins, four of which came in conference play: BYU at home, away, and in the WCC Tournament; and Saint Mary’s on the road.
This season, if the numbers above hold true to form, the Zags will have the potential for possibly six Quad 1 wins (including WCC Tournament play). If Santa Clara can up its game just a smidge, or if San Francisco can crest the 30 mark, that total goes up even more.
For the Zags, the Quad 1 wins matter pretty specifically for seeding, because the Zags are probably the automatic qualifier, and, if not, are virtually guaranteed a place in the NCAA Tournament.
For BYU, Saint Mary’s, and San Francisco, the potential for all of those quality Quadrant 1 opportunities means they can pad their resumes during conference play. If you ever wondered why that mediocre-looking ninth Big 12 team gets an at-large bid, this is the reason. Strong conferences equate to the potential for resume-boosting wins.
Take the Dons, who are attempting to become the first non-Saint Mary’s, BYU, or Gonzaga team to make the NCAA Tournament since the San Diego Toreros won the WCC Championship in 2008.
San Francisco currently has two Quad 1 wins and three Quad 2 wins. If the Dons, at the very minimum, defeat BYU and Saint Mary’s at home and pick up another win in the WCC Tournament, that gives them three extra Quad 1 wins. Looking at their two losses, one is fine (against Grand Canyon by one point) and the other is perfectly fine (against Loyola-Chicago by five).
Saint Mary’s, the weakest of the four teams by NET rankings, benefits from a strong up-top conference as well. The Gael’s Team Sheet is not impressive by any stretch, they are just 1-4 in Quad 1 games. But they are also 11-4 overall, do not hold any bad losses, and can pick up a good win by beating BYU at home, Gonzaga on the road or at home, and San Francisco on the road or at home.
When March approaches, we very well could see the WCC with as many teams in the conference as the Pac 12 and the ACC, if not more. They are basically guaranteed to have more teams in than the Mountain West. When Gonzaga decided to stick around and not change conferences, this is exactly the result that need to happen. Hopefully, the success will continue.