2007 West Coast Conference Preview

2007 West Coast Conference Preview

2007 West Coast Conference Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 02/28/2007

Needless to say, Gonzaga's season has been a little weird.

It feels like déjà vu. It feels surreal. I mean, first the Zags had to get over the how-can-you-win-without-Adam-Morrison questions through all of the preseason. Then they came out and completely dominated Carolina in New York City. That was just the tip of the iceberg on a schedule so brutal it made John Chaney cringe. Big wins (Texas, Washington) and big losses (Virginia, Duke, Nevada, your mother) were flying around all over the place as they fought through the winter.

Then the Bulldogs lose their best player. They win their first game without him - a serious revenge game against a team that ended their 30-game conference win streak earlier in the season. But then Gonzaga lost their next game without their top scorer, getting run out of their own gym by Santa Clara as the Broncos ended the Bulldogs' 50-game home winning streak. Oh, the horror.

The WCC regular season banner seemed destined to hang in someone else's gym for the first time in six years and the Bulldogs looked like an NIT team instead of a Sweet 16 team. But sadness and self-loathing never set in. They kept plugging away. And then, miraculously, WCC leader Santa Clara dropped two games in a row! In the meantime, the Zags won four in a row (including an overtime win at San Francisco) to steal their seventh consecutive conference championship.

All of a sudden they're the No. 1 seed in the WCC Tournament, which will be begin Friday at the Chiles Center on the campus of the University of Portland. If they can win the tourney then all of the talk about their bubble will be moot. But if they happen to get bounced in the semifinals then…well…they could be sweating out Selection Sunday with the rest of the wannabes.

Wow. What a year. I just can't put my finger on what it must feel like. What can this season best be compared to? I GOT IT! Like a bad mushroom trip!

(I know, all that setup for the totally obvious punch line. Yeah, someone should punch me.)

But anyways, on to our show:

THE FAVORITE:
Gonzaga - The Bulldogs have won seven of the past eight conference tournaments, so it's safe to say that Mark Few knows what this time of year is all about. Look out for Micah Downs. He's soft and can get rattled, but he's also averaging 18 points in his last three games. If Gonzaga is going to win an auto bid they're going to need to man up on the boards and bear down and play some defense. I'm not certain they have it in them. Also, I wouldn't lay too many points with these guys. They rely on the outside shot an awful lot and one bad shooting night could end their run.

THE CONTENDERS:
Santa Clara - The Broncos completely collapsed in the last week of the season when they had all but wrapped up the conference title. It will be very interesting to see how they regroup. They are 3-1 SU and ATS against Gonzaga and St. Mary's, but they were swept by LMU. Also, this is a decent time to mention that the last six semifinals in the WCC tourney have been decided by an average of 5.7 points.

San Francisco - Don't sleep on the Dons. San Francisco has a slew of talented transfers and has the potential to upset a shaky Zags outfit in the semifinals. In four games against Gonzaga and Santa Clara, San Fran lost four times. Twice they lost in overtime. The red flag is that they didn't exactly dominate Pepperdine or San Diego during the season. But if they can get past the quarters I do think that they cause some problems. But they can't win it all.

THE SLEEPER:

St. Mary's - Let's call them the diamond in the rough. Led by electric swingman Diamon Simpson (14.1 points per game) the Gaels beat Gonzaga and lost two tough games against Santa Clara. They hammered likely quarters opponent Loyola by an average of 15.5 points and could upset the Broncos in the semis. The bad news is that they lost in Portland to a pathetic Pilots club earlier this month. Bad vibes on that court.

MATCHU-PS:
The WCC has what I refer to as a "Wacky Bracket". As the top two seeds, Gonzaga and Santa Clara get a double bye into the conference semifinals. That means that they need just one win apiece to set up a neutral court rubber match.

Gonzaga has San Francisco and San Diego in its half of the bracket. The Bulldogs went 4-0 SU and 3-1 ATS against those two this year, but San Fran took them to overtime last week. San Francisco has an edge in the SD-SF matchup, given that they've already beaten the Toreros twice this year and will be getting San Diego in its second game in two nights. However, their two games were decided by a total of just eight points.

St. Mary's awaits the winner of the Loyola Marymount-Portland game. The Gaels actually lost to putrid Portland in the Chiles Center a few weeks ago, but they swept Loyola easily this season. Santa Clara will likely take on St. Mary's, a team it beat twice in a pair of tightly contested games. Santa Clara was 2-0 SU and ATS against the Gaels.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
I really can't say what's going to happen when Gonzaga gets to the championship game. And they will. If they catch St. Mary's they'll be facing a team playing its third game in three nights. But the Gaels match up very well with the Zags and could take full advantage of Heytvelt's absence in the middle.

But that's just Door No. 2. Door No. 1 is Santa Clara. And despite a late swoon the Broncos have played and beaten some decent clubs. Also, five years in a row the top two seeds have made it to the finals. I'll be surprised if it isn't six in a row.

I actually think Gonzaga's semifinal game will be an excellent indicator. If the Zags don't cover in that one, they're not going to cut down the nets. If they look inspired and blow someone out I wouldn't bet against Mark Few in the title tilt.

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