The West Coast Conference was a talented and deep league this year, and it shows based on the postseason berths. Half the conference will be playing well into March and possibly April as five of the ten teams have accepted postseason bids. Every postseason tournament has at least one WCC team in it highlighted by two in the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulldogs will hope to finally make the deep NCAA Tournament they have been on the cusp of for years.
Gonzaga is a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and they have one of their most talented teams in ever which could lead to a deep run. They cruised through most of the regular season, and their only two losses came to tournament teams. They lost a thriller to #2 seed Arizona, and they were struggling when they got upset by red hot BYU at the end of the regular season. If they can play up to their potential, they have the talent to make some noise and a relatively favorable bracket until the later rounds.
They are joined by BYU who used a late surge, including an upset of Gonzaga in Spokane, to fight their way into one of the final at-large spots. They just got in as evident by their appearance in the First Four, a pair of pre-tournament games outside of the seeded bracket where the Cougars must beat Ole Miss to even get into a bracketed game. But they are considered a tournament team even if they don’t make it past their first game, so it marks the fourth year in a row the WCC sends multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament.
The lower-tier tournaments will all feature one WCC team. Saint Mary’s faded from NCAA Tournament contention late, but they didn’t fall far enough to drop out of the NIT Tournament where they are a #4 seed and have the talent to win it all if they play like they did when they were dominant in the first half of the season. They will be facing nothing but second-tier teams with flaws, just like them. So there’s potential for them to find their stride again and compete with anyone in the bracket. With their excellent frontcourt and talented guards, they could go deep.
The two third-tier tournaments will feature Pepperdine and Portland. The Waves had a great season, but their struggles late combined with a weak scheduled landed them in the CBI Tournament. This is a slight upgrade from Portland who is heading to the CIT Tournament. Because the CBI allows power conference teams while the CIT only allows mid-majors, the CBI is considered slight more prestigious.
Last year, no WCC teams made the CBI. The Waves are a sound team with excellent defense and a strong frontcourt. It’s a sound foundation that could help them do some damage. They will open by visiting Seattle. The CBI is a smaller tournament with only four rounds, so it wouldn’t take a lot for the Waves to make a run. But there are some quality teams to get past including UC Santa Barbara and Colorado, Pepperdine’s potential second round opponent. Going deep in the CBI is not something to ignore, and it could springboard the Waves to bigger things next season as they will return their entire roster. The postseason experience which will hopefully include some wins will be great for their confidence.
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The Pilots will represent the WCC in a tournament that is becoming a home for mid-tier teams from the conference. Last year, Pacific and San Diego represented the league well in the CIT as they both won multiple games. They reached the quarterfinals where they faced each other with Pacific coming out on top before they fell in the semifinals to Murray State. Like the CBI, the CIT can be a springboard to bigger things, as evident by the team that eliminated the Tigers. The Racers of Murray State won this tournament last season, and had a huge season this year that nearly led to the NCAA Tournament. And in the minds of many, they should have made it to the Big Dance. So a big jump after a CIT run is possible.
Portland is talented, and there isn’t a team in the bracket they can’t beat. They will host their first round game on Wednesday versus Sacramento State, and they should win that game. The bracket is reseeded after each round, so their next opponent is unknown. But like the CBI, it’s a small tournament where only a few wins could lead to a championship. But there will be some quality opponents to get past including Northern Arizona, a team that upset Saint Mary’s earlier in the season. Even at this lower level, postseason wins against decent teams is a great achievement.
It’s a banner year for the WCC with the opportunity to go deep in every postseason tournament. It would take a lot to have it happen, but imagine how great it would be for the conference to get close to or even win multiple postseason tournaments in one year. It’s not impossible, and it says a lot about how much the conference is improving. The WCC continues to grow into one of the finest mid-major conferences in the nation, and fans can enjoy a postseason where their conference is well-represented.