After the Saint Mary’s – Gonzaga College Gameday showdown this last Saturday, the West Coast Conference tournament tips off Thursday. While they were tied for first in the regular season conference, Saint Mary’s earned the one seed due to a higher NET ranking tiebreaker. While both had lost on the road to each other, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s share a common loss: the Lions of Loyola Marymount. Santa Clara and LMU make up the third and fourth seeds, respectively, and will receive a double bye, while Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga get a free trip to the semifinals.
Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga will receive at-large bids, regardless of winning the WCC tournament. Therefore, the West Coast Conference may be a three-bid conference if Santa Clara or Loyola Marymount wins the championship.
The Favorite: Gonzaga -145
As we head closer to March Madness, the usual hollow cries of “overrated” and “play in a real conference” will appear. And year in and year out, Gonzaga wins in March. However, the Zags’ offense has been on a rampage recently, getting recognized as the most efficient offense in the nation. Coach Mark Few has this team trending up at the right time. Drew Timme remains one of the premier offensive talents in the country, and per usual, the Zags’ offense remains elite in transition. Unfortunately, despite the offense maintaining the form it has had over the past few years, the defense took a massive step back. Timme is not a capable threat defensively inside. While Anton Watson is a highly impactful defender, there are frequently too many weak links defensively.
Contenders: Saint Mary’s +105
Randy Bennett has arguably his best Saint Mary’s team ever this season, thanks to the elite defense they have played. Anchored by their elite interior defense, the Gaels won the WCC regular season title via NET ranking tiebreak. As a result, most analytical rankings deem them the better team than Gonzaga. Offensively, Aidan Mahaney is capable of fireworks that few other guards in the conference can match, evidenced by his performance late in their win against the Zags. However, he has had his share of inconsistency throughout the season. Offensively, they have relied upon three-point shooting and offensive rebounding to extend possessions to create offense. Should they get a ceiling performance from Mahaney, the Gaels will be a tough out until the end of the year.
Surely, someone could come up with an argument supporting Santa Clara, San Francisco, BYU, or Loyola Marymount, but frankly, you will not find that here. These teams are all at talent, coaching, and schematic disadvantages that I see too much to overcome in tournament play.
Best Bet: Saint Mary’s +105
As a Gonzaga grad, this pains me, but these odds should be closer to an implied 50/50 than currently lined. While recent play suggests that Gonzaga should be favored, it was a favorable stretch of the schedule, especially with how raucous the crowd was in the Kennel to end the season.