LA VEGAS – The 2022 WCC Tournament highlights just how much the West Coast Conference has grown as a league over the past decade.
Entering the league tournament with the chance to produce four NCAA Tournament teams is a testament to the depth of the league, the quality of play, and the investment schools have placed in their basketball programs.
It’s a watershed moment to have a team of BYU’s stature as a five seed. The depth of this tournament is good and oh yes, it has the best team in the country in Gonzaga who will patiently wait until Monday to avenge their rare league loss at Saint Mary’s last week.
A run in the WCC tournament would help BYU’s overall NCAA hopes
BYU would love nothing more than a chance to face the Zags again. If they make it that far, they’ll have a great chance of winning a general offer for the NCAA Tournament. Would it be mandatory to win this WCC Tournament? BYU coach Mark Pope doesn’t believe that’s the case for his 21-9 team.
“I don’t feel like that at all. Our body of work is really good. I think we have to show well, ”said Pope. “If we win it, we are definitely in the race. What this team has accomplished is quite extraordinary. If you go back to the beginning, what they have done is impressive. But we have to finish. We have to play Vegas really well and see what we can accomplish.
With the stepladder support the WCC uses in its tournament (thanks to Gonzaga threatening to leave for the Mountain West), BYU knows its way into this deep WCC. So let’s see how far BYU will go in this year’s WCC tournament.
Round 2: vs. Loyola Marymount (Friday, March 4, 7 p.m. MT)
Since Mark Pope became BYU’s head coach, the Cougars were getting used to being the last WCC team to hit Orleans as a double seed, which has a bye for running backs. -finals. That’s not the case this year, thanks to a surprising four-game slippage in the league’s scorching days that sent BYU to the top five seeds.
First up for BYU is a shorthanded Loyola Marymount team without their team’s heart in Keli Leaupepe. In the first round on Thursday night, the Lions rolled with a seven-man rotation in their 86-66 win over Pacific.
Starting guard Joe Quintana scored a career-high 31 points and a WCC Tournament-high eight three-pointers in the win over the Tigers. BYU knows LMU is in them to get hot shooting the ball, despite their low shooting percentages throughout the season. The Lions were red hot at Gersten Pavilion in the first game, taking a 17-point lead over a BYU team whose season was hanging by a thread.
BYU took care of business against LMU in Provo, picking up a 20-point victory.
I don’t see BYU picking up a 20 point win in this one tonight, but BYU is the better team. BYU freshman Fousseyni Traore’s rebounding ability to come back from a groin injury has been exceptional. Traore is coming off a performance of 25 points and 19 rebounds in the regular season finale. Against LMU on Feb. 10 in Los Angeles, he had 19 points and 12 rebounds.
Without Leaupepe, the Lions will have no answer for Traoré.
My prediction: BYU 76, LMU 63
Quarterfinals: vs. San Francisco (Saturday, March 5, 8:30 p.m. MT)
If that happens, BYU vs. San Francisco, with the NCAA Tournament implications at stake, could be the greatest quarterfinal in WCC tournament history. Two Quad 1 teams potentially face each other in the quarters? That’s not happening in this conference. So that’s another example – again, assuming BYU goes through LMU – that this tournament has got to be pretty fun.
San Francisco includes two All-WCC first-team members in guard Jamaree Bouyea and Yauhen Massalski. Massalski, who was traded from league foe San Diego, has been a star for the Dons this season. Against BYU in Provo on Feb. 3, Massalski went for 16 points and 13 rebounds.
San Francisco’s size caused a lot of trouble for an undersized, stoned BYU team.
But it will be a place where the Dons have had a week off, while BYU arrives with some confidence already having a win on their belt. I’ll be calling on Alex Barcello to have a big game and lead BYU to a narrow win, giving them a critical Quad 1 win to potentially earn their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
My prediction: BYU 73, San Francisco 71
Semi-Finals: vs. Gonzaga #1 (Monday, March 7, 7 p.m. MT)
The idea of facing Gonzaga is a nightmare for anyone. But, if there’s one place you want to get Gonzaga, it might be Semifinal Monday, where the Zags have been out for nine days. Again, that’s overkill, but when you’re trying to plot a path to an upset against the best team in the land, you have to dig deep.
Two years ago, Gonzaga barely beat San Francisco by four after a long layoff before the WCC tournament semifinal that year.
Listen, Gonzaga is the best team. But one thing I’m curious to see for BYU against the Zags – if they get the chance – is how they perform on defense. In the 33-point loss at Provo on Feb. 5, BYU didn’t do their best on the defensive end of the field. Could they hold on tighter against them on neutral ground?
Last season, BYU gained 12 points at halftime in the league game before Jalen Suggs and his team scored BYU 22 points in the second half. This time, the Zags will have their passionate fans behind them. Last year they didn’t.
If BYU found a way to play Gonzaga and only lost by 10 points or even single digits, that could be considered a moral victory that could improve its predictive metrics in KenPom and the NET. But that’s a big question because Gonzaga has beaten everyone in the league by double digits this year except for the loss to Saint Mary’s.
Chet Holmgren proved to be worth all the hype he garnered upon his arrival. It could be better than advertised. BYU would love nothing more than a third chance against Gonzaga, but this Zags crew is upset after losing. Mark Few wants to find answers on his bench. A Gonzaga team angry with their talent? Yeah, that wouldn’t be a winning proposition for BYU. But it would be a potential win if the Cougs made it to Monday night.
My prediction: Gonzaga 90, BYU 74
Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.