Friday, March 7, 2008

West Coast Conference Tournament Preview

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The West Coast Conference featured a great back-and-forth battle all season long between Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. The Gaels were everyone’s non-conference darling, as they knocked off Oregon, Drake, Seton Hall and several other teams en route to a top-25 ranking. On the other hand, Gonzaga struggled somewhat, starting the season just 9-4. However, the Zags lost to just St. Mary’s during the entire WCC campaign, while the Gaels slipped up at third-place San Diego in late January. Gonzaga’s home victory over Saint Mary’s in the next-to-last game of the season gave them to the title. Expect the rubber match to be for the automatic bid.

Favorites: Like I said in the intro, this tournament is likely to result in a Gonzaga-St. Mary’s championship game. The Bulldogs finished the season on a hot streak, winning their last seven games and 15 of their last 17 overall. They are playing their best basketball of the season at the right time. Jeremy Pargo has developed into a very difficult point guard to defend, while Matt Bouldin is a solid all-around player. Austin Daye will be a star, and Josh Heytvelt gives them an inside presence. On the other side, St. Mary’s might have the most balanced and complete team in the conference. The Gaels lost two of their final four games, to Gonzaga and Kent State in the Bracket Busters. Patty Mills is one of the most underrated freshmen point guards in the country, while Diamon Simpson is arguably the best player in the West Coast. Omar Samhan is a beast down low at both ends of the floor. The Gaels have a lot of offensive options.

Contender: If Gonzaga or St. Mary’s don’t reach the final, San Diego is the team most likely to dethrone them. The Toreros have won 10 of their last 12 games, and their three losses in WCC play were all to the Bulldogs or Gaels. One more thing: the conference tournament is San Diego, which immediately gives the Toreros an advantage. Brandon Johnson is one of the best guards in the conference, and Gyno Pomare is a very good scorer and rebounder down low.

Sleeper: Considering no one outside of the aforementioned three finished above .500, the pickings are slim for a legitimate sleeper. However, Santa Clara could potentially be a threat. The Broncos lost four of their last six games, but they have one of the best big men in the country in John Bryant. He averages about 18 points and 10 rebounds per game, and could carry them to a win. Brody Angley is a very solid guard.

Prediction: This is going to an exciting conference tournament to watch, as it always seems to be. Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are the two best teams in the league – but I don’t think they will meet in the finals. With the tournament in San Diego, I think the Toreros are going to pull-off the upset in the semi-finals. Brandon Johnson is going to have a huge game. In the finals, I think that Gonzaga is simply playing too good right now to lose in the tournament. They are hitting on all cylinders and have the depth and balance to defeat San Diego. Come Selection Sunday, I think both the Zags and Saint Mary’s will get in, though.

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