Friday, March 4, 2011

Previewing the Madness: The WCC Tournament

As we have grown accustomed to these days, the WCC regular season title came down to Gonzaga and St. Mary's. In other news, grass is green, water is wet, and Virginia Tech is on the bubble.

Gonzaga was the favorite to win the league coming into the season, but the loss of Matt Bouldin hurt this team much more than anyone expected. The Zags struggled during their difficult non-conference schedule and took a couple of early losses in WCC play, including their first matchup, to fall behind the Gaels by two games. St. Mary's seemingly had tossed the season into cruise control, but they went down to San Diego and suffered one of the most excruciatingly inexplicable losses of the season. They followed that up with losses to Gonzaga and Utah State at home, and all of a sudden the Gaels had not only blown their WCC lead, they put themselves in serious jeopardy of losing a potential at-large bid.

It says up a terrific scenario should both teams make it to the finals of the WCC Tournament. Two nationally recognized teams with familiar names and faces playing a nationally televised rubber match which, potentially, could be for their conference's only bid to the NCAA Tournament. That, my friends, is March Madness at its best.

Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas

When: March 4th-7th

Final: March 7th, 9:00 pm on ESPN2

(Bracket can be seen here.)

Favorites: Gonzaga Bulldogs

Whether or not you consider Gonzaga or St. Mary's the favorite for the WCC Tournament is a matter of opinion. I just happen to be of the opinion that Gonzaga is playing better right now. The Zags have won seven in a row, they erased a two-game deficit in the WCC standings in the span of a week, and just eight days ago they beat the Gaels in Moraga in overtime. Elias Harris and Sam Dower are both playing arguably their best basketball of the season, and -- as least Zags fans hope -- this team appears to be peaking right now.

  • Other Contenders: St. Mary's is the obvious choice here. They lost three straight games, blowing both their lead in the WCC and their standing as an NCAA Tournament team. I really like the make-up of this team -- Mickey McConnell, Matthew Dellavedova, and Stephen Holt maybe the most underrated back court in the country -- and up until last week, the general consensus seemed to be that the Gaels were the best team in the conference. How much does one game actually change that?

Sleeper: There are a number of them in this league, but I think the best pick outside of the top two is San Francisco. The Dons lost their top two scorers this season, but with a more balanced attack led by Michael Williams, Rashad Green, and Perris Blackwell, USF finished third in the WCC at 10-4, one game off the lead. They also knocked off Gonzaga. This team is legit.
  • Deeper Sleeper: Portland is a team that you have to keep an eye on. While they finished fifth in the league standings after losing guy Nik Raivio and TJ Campbell, the 1-2-3 punch of Jared Stohl, Nemanja Mitrovic, and Luke Sikma is dangerous.
Players to Watch
  • Kevin Foster, Santa Clara: Foster is the leading scorer in the WCC, and for good reason. He's a gunner, having taken 298 threes in just 31 games this season, but when he gets going he can single handedly win a basketball game. Ask the Zags. They learned the hard way when Foster went for 36 against them earlier this year.
  • Rob Jones, St. Mary's: I didn't mention him in the St. Mary's section of the write-up, but Jones is an animal. Generously listed at 6'6", Jones averages 13.8 ppg and 7.6 rpg and almost single-handedly kept St. Mary's in the game against Gonzaga last week.

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