It was an interesting week in the WCC that has it suddenly looking like maybe, just maybe, the conference could grab multiple NCAA Tournament bids. The final weeks will be big as we sort out who from the WCC is heading to the postseason. On to our second WCC Bracket Watch of the season!
Record: 26-1 (14-0)
National Ranking: #3/2
Good Wins: SMU, UCLA, Memphis, St. John’s, BYU, St. Mary’s
Bad Losses: None
Another week and the Bulldogs haven’t stumbled. But there’s still a long way to go. They cannot lose the rest of the way, including the WCC Tournament, if they want a #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. MAYBE a close loss to Saint Mary’s or BYU is survivable, but it’s not a risk the Bulldogs can afford to take.
So far there’s no reason to believe they won’t run the table the rest of the way considering they’re one bad OT period against Arizona from being undefeated. There’s no reason to believe anyone on their remaining schedule has the talent level to step up and shock them. Besides a trip to Moraga to face the Gaels, they will have a home advantage in all their remaining big games. And that includes in Las Vegas where it will be mostly Gonzaga fans making the trip.
Even with a loss, it’s hard to believe they could fall below a #2 seed. So it’s all about how the bracket shakes out. What their matchups look like will determine how deep they can go in March. Which is more reason to try and hold onto that #1 seed. The big wrinkle is their RPI, which continues to take hits playing in the weak WCC. It currently sits at #8 which would suggest even one loss could cost them a top seed. The Bulldogs don’t want to find out, so they will just keep winning.
Record: 19-6 (11-3)
National Ranking: Unranked
Good Wins: BYU
Bad Losses: Northern Arizona, Pepperdine
Thanks to the recent resurgence of BYU, the blowout loss in Provo last week didn’t damage their RPI at all. What would have really hurt it was if they had fallen at San Diego. The Toreros are currently at #174 in the RPI so if the Gaels had not pulled out a thrilling double OT victory, that might have been the end of their NCAA Tournament hopes. But on they march, still sitting right on the bubble but probably still just outside the field.
With a weak strength of schedule, they need a strong finish. In an ideal world they would upset Gonzaga in Moraga and get the #2 seed in the WCC Tournament to give them a path to the finals that is free of a Bulldogs rematch. The upset and a finals appearance would make a compelling tournament case. Unfortunately, beating Gonzaga this year when you really need to is a lot to ask of any team in the WCC. If that’s the case, they may need to win it all in Las Vegas to make the Big Dance.
The schedule quality is just a real killer right now for the Gaels. They don’t have a ton of bad losses, although the couple they have really drag them down. But as we will see with some of the next teams we look at, stronger opponents can go a long way to strengthening an RPI against both good and bad losses. The Gaels are looking like they will learn a hard lesson this year, especially if BYU sneaks in ahead of them largely because of the superior quality of their opponents.
Record: 20-8 (10-5)
National Ranking: Unranked
Good Wins: Long Beach State, Stanford, Saint Mary’s
Bad Losses: Pepperdine (x2), San Diego
It looked like the Cougars were done for after a loss to San Diego and then another loss to Pepperdine to give the Waves a season sweep. Those are terrible losses when looking at the RPI where the Toreros are at #174 and the Waves at #128 currently. But unlike the Gaels, the Cougars are benefiting from a strong non-conference schedule that is helping hold them up in addition to a recent quality win over the Gaels in Provo.
They’re going to be right on the bubble just like the Gaels without a Gonzaga upset. But the recent win over the Gaels at least leaves them a chance to finish 2nd if the Gaels stumble down the stretch. Same as Saint Mary’s, an appearance in the WCC Tournament finals would be a nice addition to the resume. Without it and/or a Gonzaga upset, the Cougars may be in the same boast as the Gaels looking for a WCC Tournament run as their only way into the NCAA Tournament. That would likely leave the WCC squarely as a one bid conference unless the Cougars or Gaels can get the upset in Vegas to steal the automatic bid.
The interesting wrinkle is how BYU passes the eye test. If they can stay in the bubble group, what separates the teams in that group that make the field versus those who don’t is often their excitement and upset potential. A team like BYU with such a dynamic offense, stars like Tyler Haws and Kyle Collinsworth, and some dramatic games against major opponents might be too much for the committee to ignore. The Cougars are an exciting team, and their high-powered shooting gives them the potential to shock any team. That might be enough to get them off the bubble if they can be in the conversation at that time.
Record: 15-11 (8-7)
National Ranking: Unranked
Good Wins: BYU (x2), Saint Mary’s
Bad Losses: IUPUI, San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Diego, Portland
The way the Waves have fallen back to the pack is going to be a big issue if they hope to sneak into the NIT Tournament. San Francisco got in last year because of how dominant they were over all the non-power teams in the conference. It looked like the Waves were on their way to a similar season, but they have proven very beatable recently as now most of the conference boasts at least one win over them.
As of right now, they would probably be left out of the NIT field. They just haven’t shown enough dominance in a conference with many weak teams to justify making it. Could a perfect finish over their final three regular season games and a small run in the WCC Tournament change that? Maybe, but not likely. None of their remaining wins unless they can shock Gonzaga in Vegas would do much to boost their RPI, and they need five wins over three regular season games plus their games in Vegas just to reach 20 wins. So despite everything, the Waves might have to settle for a third-tier tournament. Hopefully they can make the most of it with a deep run, which is possible with their talent.
Record: 16-10 (7-7)
National Ranking: Unranked
Good Wins: Murray State
Bad Losses: San Francisco, Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine
The Pilots have thrown themselves into the postseason conversation with their recent winning streak. They have jumped 19 spots in the RPI since our last Bracket Watch, and the tough schedule in non-conference play is really helping. They don’t have a bad non-conference loss as all three came to teams currently in the top 100 of the RPI. And despite their struggles in WCC play, they have limited their bad losses. Combined with what’s turned into a very impressive early win over Murray State as the Racers are 23-4 currently, and the Pilots used the schedule to their advantage giving themselves a real boost.
So what hurdles are left for the Pilots to complete this impressive comeback from buried in the WCC standings to a postseason berth? Upcoming games against Saint Mary’s and BYU should help their RPI even if they lose, so it’s about taking care of Pacific and San Diego. That would put them at 18-12 for the season and 9-9 in conference play. If that keeps their RPI in a similar spot, they have a very compelling case to make the CIT or CBI Tournament even if they are one and done in Vegas. Amazingly, the Pilots have jumped the Waves as the next likeliest team to make the postseason from the WCC outside the top three teams.
On the Postseason Bubble
Record: 14-13 (7-8)
Record: 11-15 (5-9)
Record: 10-16 (4-10)
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Those are the current WCC teams that round out the top 200 of the RPI. The Broncos and Dons will probably not have the record needed to make a tournament even if one of them could manage a major upset. San Diego on the other hand is an intriguing case. Their recent hot streak has been impressive, and a third-tier tournament might take notice of wins like the one over BYU.
They went just 16-15 and 7-11 in conference play last year and went one and done in the WCC Tournament, but they got into the CIT Tournament where they made a good run. If they can finish above .500 again this year, their strong non-conference schedule might be just enough for a repeat appearance. Their final three games are all on the road against tough opponents however, so they might easily play themselves out of this situation. But they have a shot for a second consecutive postseason appearance if they can rise to the occasion.