Friday, March 2, 2007

West Coast Conference Tournament Preview

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The West Coast Conference standings look a lot different than they have in previous years. Yes, Gonzaga won the conference title, but Santa Clara was only one back of them in the standings. Moreover, the Bulldogs actually lost three WCC games and looked destined for second-place before Santa Clara lost their final two games to blow the league title. The league was balanced overall, with four teams finishing above .500 and four teams finishing below .500.

Favorite: Gonzaga, despite their slump late in the season, has to be considered the favorite heading into the tournament. They have the most experience in the conference, and coach Mark Few knows how to win in March. The Bulldogs are efficient at both ends of the floor, and are also a very good shooting team. They are led by the backcourt of Derek Raivio, Jeremy Pargo, and Matt Bouldin. Raivio is an excellent three-point shooter, Pargo is quick getting to the basket, and Bouldin can do a little of everything. The Zags will miss the suspended Josh Heytvelt inside, though.

Contenders: Santa Clara seemed like they would win the WCC regular-season title, heading into their final two games with a one-game lead. However, they lost both contests and were sentenced to a #2 seed. The Broncos have experience (six seniors) and size (three players 6-10 or taller). The post duo of 6-10 John Bryant and 6-11 Sean Denison is very difficult to match-up with inside. SCL also has a very good perimeter group, led by Danny Pariseau and Brody Angley. St. Mary’s has won three in a row heading into the conference tournament. They have arguably the best frontcourt in the league, in forwards Diamon Simpson, a rising star, and Brett Collins, and 6-11 freshman Omar Samhan, who has loads of potential. Wayne Hunter is the main man on the perimeter. San Francisco might have the best inside-outside balance in the conference. Big East transfers Antonio Kellogg (Connecticut) and Manny Quezada (Rutgers) can do a variety of things on the perimeter, and big man Alan Wiggins is one of the best post players in the West Coast.

Sleeper: Loyola Marymount was expected to challenge Gonzaga for the league title coming into the season, but injuries ruined that notion. However, they swept Santa Clara and also knocked off Gonzaga, so they know how to win big games. Matthew Knight is the best post player in the league, and capable of taking over games, and guard Adoyah Miller can score from the perimeter. Don’t forget San Diego and their four double-figure scorers, either.

Prediction: There are several teams capable of winning the West Coast Conference tournament. Gonzaga has looked vulnerable many times this season, and is by no means unbeatable. However, with the top two seeds getting byes to the semi-finals, the Bulldogs and Santa Clara have a distinct advantage. I like Gonzaga to get the automatic bid because they are getting used to playing without Josh Heytvelt and have experience and Mark Few on their side.

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