Last night, the West Coast Conference hosted game one of the 2012 Zappos.com WCC Championship. #8 Portland beat #9 Santa Clara. Did you know? Did you care? Yeah, me either. However, today marks the real start of the tournament with #5 San Francisco Dons playing the #8 Pilots of Portland followed by the #6 Toreros of San Diego and the #7 Pepperdine Waves. But tomorrow is when the real games start as evidenced by the fact that ESPNU is picking up both games. Since we can all accept the fact that this league pretty much is up for grabs only to the top four teams, I’m not going to preview today’s match-ups. I will however make an assumption on the winner of each game going forward and ultimately give you my WCC winner (not that you don’t already know if you checked out our weekly picks page.
Game #4: LMU is one win short of 20 wins this season, but they came up with quality wins this season on the road against BYU, then #20 UCLA, and then #16 Saint Mary’s, but lost at home to BYU, SMC, as well as Harvard. USF started the conference season out slow and after an embarrassing loss at BYU, they kicked it on. But their only quality win of the season was two weeks ago at home over Gonzaga. This should be a really good game. Loyola won both games this season by a combined 3 points and one win was in OT. The downside for USF here is they went 1-7 this season against the top four teams in this conference. Will they have enough confidence to get that second win at a crucial time? Part of me really wants to pick the upset here (is it really an upset when 5 beats 4?) but I don’t think I can. I think LMU has great players and a great coach and will make the plays down the stretch to seal the win.
Game #5: #3 BYU versus the winner of #6 San Diego and #7 Pepperdine. I don’t expect much to come of the previous game, but I do think it will be USD playing BYU. The key here will be to see if Noah Hartsock can go on his bum ankle, calf, and knee injuries. And if he is able to go, how effective can he be? Personally, I don’t think it will matter much if he isn’t in there. And to be perfectly honest, I think it’d be better if he sits this one out for much or all of the game. Here’s my reasoning: This will be a lesser opponent that BYU will face. USD lost to BYU this season in two games by a combined 55 points. Pepperdine did the same by 51 points. BYU needs to give Hartsock as much rest as possible to be at his best for the Gonzaga match up on Saturday night. And, freshman Nate Austin needs the quality playing time to learn how to function on both ends of the court, spread the floor with his mid-range shot, and play solid defense without getting into foul trouble. Whoever it is (I predict it will be USD) will get beat handily by the Cougars.
Semi-final #1: If San Francisco can upset Loyola Marymount in the first quarterfinal game, this one won’t be even a little bit close. I don’t expect that, so I do expect a tough, tight game between LMU and #1 Saint Mary’s. SMC faltered a bit down the stretch as they dealt with injuries, but they survived enough to end Gonzaga’s decade plus run as top DAWG in the WCC regular season. However, these teams split the regular season with each team winning on the road. On a neutral floor, I think LMU continues its winning ways and gets the upset over SMC. WCC Player of the Year Matthew Dellavedova will keep this game close with Rob Jones, but combination of Anthony Ireland and Drew Viney for LMU will hold on to win the day.
Semi-final #2: #2 Gonzaga versus #3 BYU. This game will be a brutal match up for both teams and I expect we won’t know an outcome until the final buzzer sounds. BYU has owned Gonzaga on neutral site and in games in Provo. And the only category that the Dawgs beat the Cougars in on February 23 was in free throws and the discrepancy won’t be there again. The easy point here is to say that BYU needs Noah Hartsock for this game. And I won’t dispute that. But without him they hung tough with Gonzaga. While I feel he is integral, the Cougars can beat the Bulldogs without him. As Mark and I both noted in this week’s Ask the Ineligibles we feel the key to reaching the championship game lies in stopping runs, staying within the game plan, and getting Nate Austin in a position to be successful. I don’t think Coach Dave Rose will accept anything less from his team and they strive to win his first conference tournament in his tenure at BYU. When this game is over though, Brandon Davies will show why choosing Robert Sacre for Defensive Player of the Year was a bad choice and why he should have been in that discussion. BYU will win the nail biter.
Championship Game: Yes, I just chose both seeds #1 and #2 to lose their one and only games in this tournament. So the question is, can Dave Rose prepare his team for this game against a hot LMU team? Can they find a way to grind out a big W, and not only get Coach Rose his first conference tournament championship at BYU but also secure a berth in the NCAA dance that begins on March 15? I believe the answer is yes. Each team has a pair of all-WCC players and BYU has all-freshman team honoree Matt Carlino. Coach Max Good is COY, but Dave Rose did an incredible job this season after losing Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery to graduation. He’s exceeded all expectations by at least four games on most people’s preseason prognostications. Here, the injuries to Noah Hartsock, Stephen Rogers, and Matt Carlino will be more important. I don’t think Carlino will sit for anything. I don’t think Rogers will get cleared until they figure out his knee. The key will Hartsock. With him, the Cougars give themselves a solid shot to win. Without him, they can give the trophy to LMU and all but write off their NCAA hopes. Short of complete inability to go, Hartsock will play and be productive for the Cougars and they will find a way to grind out a win in their first season in the WCC.