WCC Tournament Men’s Preview


The bright lights of Las Vegas are calling, and it’s time for the West Coast Conference to shine in the annual WCC Tournament. The men’s bracket gets underway today, and there a lot of story lines after a wild finish to the regular season. We’re breaking down the bracket including taking a look at the contenders, the dark horses, and what kinds of surprises we can expect as the teams of the WCC look to hit the jackpot.

The Contenders

#1 Gonzaga: The Bulldogs are still the class of the WCC even after their shocking loss to BYU to end the regular season. Led by WCC Player of the Year Kevin Pangos, WCC Newcomer of the Year Kyle Wiltjer, WCC Defensive Player of the Year Gary Bell Jr. and WCC Coach of the Year Mark Few, the Zags are the most talented team in Vegas by a wide margin. They shoot well, they defend well, they have size inside, and they will also have the most fans in the Orleans Arena by a good margin.

A lot had to happen for BYU to upset them in Spokane, and a lot will need to happen for the Bulldogs to get upset again. Their first two games should post little challenge, so it will come down to a finals meeting with likely either Saint Mary’s or BYU. And if they play up to their potential there, even a very good game from the Gaels or Cougars won’t stop them. If things go to plan and we don’t see any surprises, Gonzaga should emerge as the champion.

#2 BYU: If anyone is going to knock off the Bulldogs, the favorite pick right now is the Cougars. Their long-range shooting has been amazing all season, and it’s why they have one of the best offenses in the country. When they’re hot, they can compete with anyone. Now that it appears they have found some reliability inside led by Corbin Kafusi, they suddenly look like a real threat to Gonzaga.

They still need to get by Saint Mary’s in the semifinals, and that won’t be easy with Brad Waldow dominating inside. So it’s hard to predict what the Cougars are really capable of right now. If they are shooting cold and the improvement inside turns out to be a fluke, they could be knocked out by the Gaels. If they’re hot and overwhelming teams with their scoring, they could blow past the Gaels and be in position to shock the Bulldogs again. Having stars like Tyler Haws and Kyle Collinsworth will keep them in games, so anything is possible.

Also worth taking into account is their NCAA Tournament status. The Gonzaga upset put them on the bubble, and they have a real shot of making it if they do well in Vegas. So they will be very motivated to do as much as they can to improve their stock. That probably requires at the very least a finals appearance and ideally a close game with the Zags even in a loss. That could lead to some fearless shooting as they go for broke, so the Cougars could be one of the most dangerous teams in Vegas.

#3 Saint Mary’s: Through the first half of conference play, you would have said the Gaels would have been in the spot BYU is in right now. They were the clear 2nd team in the WCC as nobody could touch them, and they were building postseason buzz as a possible NCAA Tournament at-large selection. But that has changed drastically with their weak finish including an RPI destroying loss to Santa Clara in their last game.

Now the Gaels are in a tough #3 spot needing to win it all in Vegas to have any chance at the NCAA Tournament. The road will be difficult with an opening game against a good Portland team followed by likely games against BYU and Gonzaga. That’s a brutal road to redemption for a team that hasn’t been at their best lately.

But despite everything, this is a talented team. Waldow is dominant inside, and he has been getting more and more support from Desmond Simmons and Garrett Jackson. Aaron Bright and Emmett Naar are excellent ball handlers, and Kerry Carter is quietly one of the best scoring guards in the WCC with triple-double potential. A poor man’s Kyle Collinsworth if you will. That talent could take them a long way, especially if they play like they have nothing to lose. And that’s exactly the case since it’s WCC Championship or bust for the Gaels. They are a wild card who could disrupt the collision course BYU and Gonzaga seem to be on unless something surprising happens. The Gaels might be that surprise.

The Dark Horses

#4 Pepperdine: There was a time when Pepperdine was storming towards a top three finish and looked like a real contender. And they still have the best perimeter defense in the conference and one of the best frontcourts led by Stacy Davis and Jett Raines. Having a good defense and inside presence can take a team far, so it’s not impossible that they have something in them for a run in Vegas.

Unfortunately, the Waves are really struggling right now, and they have not had the offense needed to back up their defense. Their outside shooting is atrocious, so their perimeter is canceled out a bit by that issue. They get a very touch matchup with a Ssn Diego team in their opening game that blew them out in Malibu in their last meeting, so they could be one and done. And either way, they aren’t getting past Gonzaga. They played the Bulldogs extremely close at home during the season, but they were playing much better at the time.  As of right now, they don’t have a shocking run in them.

#5 San Diego: The Toreros come into Vegas as one of the hottest teams after their second half turnaround. They too have a great defense led by shot blocker Jito Kok, and it has been backed up more than ever by their recently discovered depth that has been sparked by the resurgence of Duda Sanadze and a group of freshmen led by Vasa Pusica. They are as sound and complete as Pepperdine now, so they have the same potential as the Waves to embark on a surprise run if things go their way.

They could easily get past Pepperdine in the first round, but they haven’t shown enough to prove they can beat Gonzaga. While they have been good, they haven’t shown quite the same ability to push the Bulldogs like Pepperdine and BYU have. In a big game in front of pro-Gonzaga crowd, don’t expect the Toreros to pull the upset. But that being said, they are right up there with the Waves as the two most likely team to turn the bracket into chaos with some upsets.

#6 Portland: The Pilots were arguably the best WCC team outside of the top three during non-conference play. Injuries slowed them for a bit, but they had a run in the middle of conference play that suggested they could be a real contender. That was until they limped to the finish as their normally strong frontcourt faltered and they turned into a team too reliant on shooting and a small number of players. They stumbled to the #6 seed by losing their final game to San Diego, and they could have fallen even further if they didn’t get some help from other teams on the last day of the regular season.

Thomas Van der Mars and Volodymyr Gerun are excellent scorers and rebounders inside, but they have disappeared too often lately. It’s led to a lot of reliance on Kevin Bailey and Alec Wintering, way too much in fact. The duo has taken upwards of half of the entire team’s shots in their last couple games. So it’s no surprise that they finished on a four game losing streak including a very concerning overtime loss to Pacific.

They are much less likely than Pepperdine and San Diego to go on a run, but they are still a talented team. If Van der Mars and Gerun can get going and Bailey and Wintering get more support, it’s not impossible they can recapture some of their early season momentum. Saint Mary’s is vulnerable and BYU runs hot and cold, so it’s not impossible the Pilots could surprise with a run to the finals. They could also easily go down in the first round, but they are a team the contenders can’t ignore if they’re being careful.

The Longshot

#8 San Francisco: None of the bottom four teams have a real shot getting past the quarterfinals, but the Dons are an interesting case. Despite their struggles, they have a very strong frontcourt led by Kruize Pinkins and Mark Tollefsen. They have been very sound even in losses, so they could keep the team in games against more elite big men. The main issue that has held them back from having a season like last year has been the backcourt. They have lacked a true point guard most of the year, so the big men have not had anyone to support them and get them opportunities.

All-Freshman Team selection Devin Watson has shown flashes of potential, so if he gets going the Dons could make some noise. Nobody should be betting on them to shock Gonzaga and reach the finals, but if you had to pick a team out of the first round games to shock the world, this it the team to take. Maybe, just maybe, they still have some of last season’s magic in them that they have just been saving for Vegas.