Friday, March 3, 2006

West Coast Conference Tournament Preview

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Like the Patriot League and the Atlantic-10, the West Coast Conference featured an undefeated league champion. In the WCC's case, it was Gonzaga. The Bulldogs finished the conference season at 14-0, and they won the league by a shocking six games. None of the other teams ever gave the Zags a scare in the standings, but they had some tough games on the court. They had six games decided by single-digits and a few were by one basket or less. Expect the favorite to win this, but the other teams won't go down without a fight.

Favorite: Gonzaga is one of the best teams in the country. They have won 16 in a row and 21 of 22 overall. They lead the conference in scoring offense and are second in scoring defense. The Bulldogs, as one would guess, are ranked near the top of several statistical categories in the WCC. Adam Morrison is one of the top two players in the country, and has been an unbelievable played all season. He is likely to win the national scoring title, as well. J.P. Batista is an excellent post player who can dominate a game and carry his team to victory, while Derek Raivio is a solid three-point shooter who plays defense and distributes the ball well. Sean Mallon is a good role player who leads a deep group of players who contribute but don't get much publicity.

Contenders: Finishing second in the WCC was St. Mary's. The Gaels have won six in a row and eight of nine after starting out the conference season 1-5. They own the best defense in the league and can also pour it in on the offensive end. Moreover, they only lost by 8 at home to Gonzaga and took them down to the wire on the road before losing by a single point. St. Mary's may have the second-best player in the WCC in Daniel Kickert. He has the potential to put the Gaels on his back and carry them to multiple victories. Add in Brett Collins and several capable scorers, and you have a team that could make a run and possibly pull off an upset of Gonzaga. Also finishing 8-6 in the conference was Loyola-Marymount. The Lions started out 8-2 in the league and looked like they would keep Gonzaga on their toes. However, they have since lost four in a row and are slumping. Matthew Knight is the best player in the WCC outside of Gonzaga, in my opinion. He averages close to a double-double per game and can carry LMU. Guards Brandon Worthy and Wes Wardrop form one of the best backcourts in the league as well, while Chris Ayer is a very solid big man up front.

Sleeper: Although they have not demonstrated it this season, San Diego is a very good team that is capable of making a run in the conference tournament. They have lost four in a row and five of six, but were 14-6 overall before that and they have demonstrated the ability to hang with quality teams. Gonzaga only beat them by one back in January. Nick Lewis is an excellent frontcourt player who can score inside and shoot the three, while forwards Corey Belser and Gyno Pomare are very solid up front as well. Ross DeRogatis is a good scorer in the backcourt who shoots the ball very well from deep.

Prediction: Take a guess. No, I'm not taking San Diego. Gonzaga is the obvious pick here, even though it is fairly boring and vanilla. What else would you like me to do? The Zags are going to win the conference tournament, and it's likely not even going to be close. Loyola Marymount could "mount" (pun intended) a challenge due to their scoring ability, while St. Mary's has always played the Bulldogs close. However, no one in the WCC has defeated Gonzaga this season and there is a reason for it--Adam Morrison. He simply will not let them lose to an inferior opponent. In other words, bubble teams can sleep safe another night, because the WCC is no two-bid league. Gonzaga gets the automatic bid.

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