March is here
Last year’s West Coast Conference Tournament crowned the final champion of the 2019-2020 college basketball season. The following night, Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus and the entire world was put on hold. I don’t think many people would have imagined the 2021 WCC Tournament would be held without fans because of that same virus, but here we are. One thing we know: The NCAA Tournament isn’t getting canceled this time around, and these are Gonzaga’s final two tune-up games prior to Indianapolis.
The biggest question entering both the men’s and women’s tournament: Can anyone beat Gonzaga or BYU? Let’s take a look at the men’s bracket:
The biggest adjustment because of the KenPom adjusted standings is that 7-5 LMU falls from third to fifth, which not only costs them a double-bye, but also puts them on Gonzaga’s side of the bracket. On the other hand, 4-6 Saint Mary’s jumped from seventh to fourth and gained that double-bye into the quarterfinals, where they could face LMU and settle that debate.
San Diego and Portland will have a tough time making runs in this tournament. Portland hasn’t played a game within 20 points in six weeks. They’re 1-51 in their last 52 WCC games. The 3-10 Toreros show fight, but it’s hard to see them beating the Dons in the opening round.
That brings us to the Bay Area. Both San Francisco and Santa Clara could be poised for surprise runs in this bracket. USF lost six straight games to wrap up conference play, the final five coming after a lengthy Covid pause. Prior to the break, they were 10-7 and thought to be one of the upper echelon teams in the league. It would not shock anyone if they got hot from beyond the arc and roared into the semi-finals. Their second round opponent, LMU, beat the Dons twice in the regular season, but both games came down to the wire and were determined in the final two minutes. The old saying goes: It’s hard to beat a team three times in a season. Whoever wins would get the Gaels, and Saint Mary’s beat each team by just four points in their lone regular season match-ups. Gonzaga could truly see any of those three teams on Monday night.
Santa Clara’s offense has exploded in the final few games of the season. They scored 86 on Pepperdine and battled Gonzaga until the final five minutes. The team that lost to Pacific in early January is not the same team that should face them in round two on Friday. The winner of that game would get Pepperdine. The Broncos just beat the Waves two weeks ago and Lorenzo Romar’s team dropped three of their final four games. In other words, BYU has no idea who they will play in the semi-finals either.
And so that leads us back to the original question: Can anyone beat BYU or Gonzaga? The Cougars only other loss in WCC play besides the Zags came at the hands of Pepperdine. A semi-final game with them could be very intriguing. For Gonzaga, it’s hard to imagine anyone challenges them more than what they showed in the regular season. A rematch with LMU in the semi-finals would be helpful because of their size and elite rebounding ability. I’m sure BYU would love a third shot at them in the Title game considering they’ve got their roles much more defined now than they did in either of their two regular season games.
As for the women, the question is also “Can anyone beat Gonzaga or BYU?” With third-seeded San Diego out of the tournament because of Covid, one of the main challengers goes out the door. Let’s have a look at the women’s bracket:
Gonzaga beat all their possible semi-final opponents handily throughout the season. However, Portland is the reigning WCC Champion and Haylee Andrews and Alex Fowler might be the scariest scoring duo of anyone in the conference. They knocked off the Zags in the semi-finals last year on a buzzer beater, and I’m sure Lisa Fortier’s crew would like some revenge.
The Cougars finished 13-3 and had won eight straight games, including a home victory over Gonzaga, before they fell in the season finale to San Francisco. USF put up 86 points in that game, by far the most BYU gave up all season. In their first match-up of the season, they held the Dons to just 46. That would be BYU’s semi-final opponent if the bracket holds, and it would be interesting to see which San Francisco team shows up.
In all likelihood, just like the men’s side, we will get Gonzaga vs BYU Part III. Both teams are pretty solidly in the NCAA Tournament. Winning the WCC Championship may lift Gonzaga up to the five seed line as they look to get back to the second weekend for the first time since 2015.