Updated: Mar 7
The WCC tournament has always been a subtle kick off to March Madness. The tournament is held at Orleans Arena just off the Strip in Las Vegas, Thursday through Tuesday, which leads nicely into the mainstream conference tournaments that follow.
This year that's extra juice, because while Gonzaga is typically an overwhelming favorite, that’s not the case this season. The Zags are actually the two seed behind Saint Mary’s. Despite having identical conference records, Saint Mary’s got the No. 1 seed due to superior NET ranking. Gonzaga has won this tournament 10 out of the last 11 seasons. There will be 10 teams that are going to try to prevent this from happening again.
Let’s move forward to the preview, with odds provided by Betfred Sportsbook.
Saint Mary’s- +115
Santa Clara +2500
Loyola Marymount +4000
San Francisco +7500
San Diego +25000
You can’t talk about the WCC without Gonzaga. The Zags are obviously the class of the conference, but while you see the Zags typically dominate the WCC, this year is not the case. Gonzaga had seven conference games decided by single digits; more close games than they had in the previous five years combined. Gonzaga lost to a good Loyola Marymount team at home and proceeded to blow them out when they came back to Santa Monica. They closed the season beating Saint Mary’s by nine.
The Zags still have Drew Timme and rank No. 1 in the nation in offensive efficiency and field goal percentage. But they have struggled on defense this season, especially defending the three. If a team like Santa Clara gets hot, there is a chance the Zags can find themselves in trouble.
I expect Mark Few’s team to come into form and use this conference tournament to build momentum through March Madness.
Saint Mary’s (+115)
This is the most complete team Randy Bennett has had at Saint Mary’s. They rank 8th in the country in KenPom for a reason. They play solid defense, they rebound the basketball, they move the ball around on offense and they can shoot. The Gaels have superstar freshmen Aidan Mahaney surrounded by one of the most solid upperclassmen cores college basketball has to offer.
Junior guard Logan Johnson has made an incredible leap in the second half of the season. The slashing guard is averaging 14.7 points per game, 4.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and he has improved his three-point marksmanship from 20 percent to 31 percent.
Johnson’s growth has really turned Saint Mary’s offense from consistent steady to gaining a dynamic gear. Combine that with Aidan Mahaney's 40 percent three-point stroke, and I really think Saint Mary’s is good enough to be anyone. This team had Houston on the ropes back in December, and beat San Diego State and Gonzaga outright.
It’s a team I’m really excited to watch.
Santa Clara (+2500)
It always seems Santa Clara is a sleeper team in this tournament. They rank 19th in 3-point percentage at 37.6 percent, with co-WCC Player of the Year Brandin Podziemski, Carlos Stewart and Keshawn Justice shooting over 36.5 percent apiece. They can rebound the ball to compete with Saint Mary’s.
The problem is, their defense is pretty suspect at times. They rank 274th in three-point defense and they don’t turn teams over. The Broncos are just going to look to outshoot teams, I guess. They get the double bye so their first game will be Saturday. They will likely get a matchup with USF who I think they match up pretty well against. A trip to the semis against Gonzaga is likely and who knows what can happen then.
Loyola Marymount (+4000)
Are the Lions back? They are the only team in the league to beat both Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga. Cam Shelton is an all-conference first team guard who averaged 21.2 points 5.4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists in the regular season. Shelton is the last member from the Ball family’s famous 35-0 Chino Hills High School basketball team still playing college basketball.
Shelton is balling like a Big Baller. He’s going to have to continue to carry this Lions team. Veterans Keli Leaupepe and Jalin Anderson anchor the Lions on the wings, and both shoot nearly 40 percent from three as well. When the Lions get hot, they can light up anyone. The problem with LMU, they struggle defending the paint. They rebound the ball extremely well for being undersized, but penetrating wings and guards give them trouble without a good rim protector.
We have to talk about BYU in what is going to be their last WCC tournament before they ship off the Big 12. They have the same odds as Loyola despite having to play an extra game. The Cougars are an inefficient shooting team in a league full of shooters.
However, they get after it defensively ranking 37th overall in defensive efficiency. Cougar nation is typically the second most represented fan base in Orleans Arena. We will see if the fans make the trip down from Provo one final time.
This Waves team is an interesting one. They probably have the third most talented roster in the conference, yet they finished in last place. I’m just wondering, what if they put it all together? They have a potential first round pick in their starting lineup in Max Lewis. A likely future draft pick in center Jevon Porter, and great guards in Houston Mallette and Mike Mitchell. They have an explosive offense and can score with anyone.
The problem, Lorenzo Romar’s teams typically don’t play defense. Back in 2019, Pepperdine played on Thursday and made it all the way to the semifinal against Gonzaga. That team had a sophomore Colby Ross and future NBA first round pick Kessler Edwards. This team has more talent than that team and the league is more wide open.
I can see Pepperdine making a run and you will be able to hedge out to make a profit if they make it the quarterfinal.
The pick: Saint Mary’s
I went back and forth between Gonzaga and the Gaels. I just feel like this tournament may mean more to Saint Mary's. A win against Gonzaga could propel the Gaels to the four line when the NCAA Tournament bracket comes out, and I think they have the easier matchup in the semis playing BYU/LMU rather than Santa Clara. This Gaels team has beat Gonzaga before and winning this tournament would be a huge deal for the program.
Look for the Gaels to get that WCC crown.
Follow Austin Montgomery on Twitter - @AMontgomeryLive
To get full odds on the WCC and all conference tournaments, visit Betfred Sportsbook
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