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WCC Men’s Basketball Storylines

The 2022 West Coast Conference regular season has wrapped up and it was a blast. Onto the WCC and NCAA Tournament.

NCAA Basketball: Santa Clara at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Was the 2021-2022 season the strongest in the history of the WCC? Will it be a 3-bid or 4-bid conference this March Madness?

The last time the West Coast Conference had 3 total bids to the NCAA Tournament was back in 2012 (would’ve occurred in 2020 if the tournament hadn’t been canceled). It looks like it will be going back to 3 bids with Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, and USF while BYU being a question mark. 4 bids aren’t completely out of the picture but it doesn’t seem likely at this point.

The overall strength of the top half of the conference is the strongest I’ve ever seen it. Five teams in Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, USF, BYU, and Santa Clara all finished the regular season with 20+ overall wins.

Chet Holmgren has put together one of the most spectacular regular seasons that Gonzaga has ever seen. Has he proven that he deserves to be the #1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft?

Not only has Holmgren had one of the best seasons in Gonzaga and the WCC’s history but one of the best seasons from a freshman in college basketball history. Chet is 4th in the nation in blocks (3.6 BPG), tied for 20th in rebounding (9.7 RPG), and 39th in field goal percentage (61.6 FG%). He also finished 6th in three-point percentage in the WCC (43.8 3P%) and 7th in scoring (14.4 PPG).

There are a lot of players who deserve consideration to be the top pick this summer (Jabari Smith of Auburn, Paolo Banchero of Duke, Jaden Ivey of Purdue) but Chet’s case is as strong as anyone’s. He’s an elite rim protector, runs the floor well, can stretch out to the three-point line with ease, and will battle down-low against the biggest in the country. He’ll only continue to get better as he gets stronger at the next level.

Randy Bennett’s success with Saint Mary’s continues on.

The little town of Moraga has a basketball powerhouse within it and that is in thanks to Randy Bennett. Since being named the head coach back in 2001, he’s led the Gaels to seven (going on eight) NCAA Tournament appearances. This season, he upset the AP #1 team in Gonzaga. Next season, he will most likely reach 500 wins as the head coach of Saint Mary’s.

Zag fans might not like him but you have to respect his greatness. Saint Mary’s looks like a second-weekend team in March.

Santa Clara surprised a lot of fans and made a late run for the 3rd seed in the WCC Tournament.

I was shocked. The Broncos may only be on their way to the NIT but this season was a pleasant surprise to witness.

And Santa Clara fans should be just as excited for next season with Jalen Williams only being a junior. Similar to how Jamaree Bouyea of USF did this season, Williams will break out onto the national radar in his senior campaign.

San Francisco should be returning to the Big Dance for the first time since 1998.

At the beginning of the season, I thought the Dons were going to be the biggest sleeper in the WCC due to the return of Jamaree Bouyea and the haul they came out with through the transfer portal. I was right. Yauhen Massalski (USD), Patrick Tapé (Duke), and Gabe Stefanini (Columbia) all made an immediate impact on this team.

Bouyea and Khalil Shabazz are one of the most skilled, quick, and tough backcourts in the entire country. No one wants to draw those two and the rest of the Dons in the NCAA Tournament.

BYU has been quite disappointing in WCC play and may have lost an NCAA Tournament bid because of it.

What a disaster that four-game stretch was for the Cougars. The losses at Santa Clara, at Pacific, versus USF, and versus Gonzaga might’ve just cost BYU their chance to play in March Madness.

Mark Pope and the BYU staff have tried to schedule a last-minute Quad 1 opportunity before the WCC Tournament but that seems unlikely. As of right now, BYU is on the “First Four Out” line (according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi). A win against USF in the quarterfinals of the WCC Tournament will definitely help their chances to get in but it still might not be enough. If they do end up making it to the semifinals, the Cougars would draw Gonzaga. Not looking good for BYU.

Shantay Legans has already made an immediate impact in his first season as the head coach of Portland. The program’s future is bright.

Shantay brought his talents over to the Rose City from Eastern Washington and has started a new era of hoops at Portland. The Pilots finished the regular season with a 17-13 overall record, 7-7 in WCC play in his debut season at the helm.

The guard play will be very strong next season with the return of the trio in Tyler Robertson, Chris Austin, and Mike Meadows. You have to pay attention to the growth this program will have under the guidance of Legans going forward.

Is this finally the year that the Zags go all the way?

If Gonzaga can take care of business at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, they will enter the NCAA Tournament as the top overall seed. They’ll have the opportunity to play the first two rounds in Portland and the Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight in San Francisco. A path to New Orleans and their third Final Four appearance is well within reach.

The one school I wouldn’t want this team to run into is Purdue. The size and depth of the Boilermakers would have me extremely worried.

The success of this team relies on the play of Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme. As we saw in the loss to Saint Mary’s, a cold performance from both of those two will most likely end in a disappointing result. The Zags need the All-American duo at their best every step of the way going forward if they want to be cutting down the nets on April 4th.

Follow Arden Cravalho on Twitter @a_cravalho.