Wednesday , Mar , 01 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

2006 West Coast Conference Tournament Preview

The Sports Network

By John Agovino, College Basketball Staff Writer

FACTS & STATS: Site: McCarthey Athletic Center (6,000) — Spokane, Washington.
Dates: March 3-6. Television: ESPN 2 (Semifinals), ESPN (Championship Game).
Annual: 20th. Defending Champion: Gonzaga.

OUTLOOK: The Gonzaga Bulldogs have won back-to-back West Coast Conference
titles and have won six of the last seven WCC Tournament championships, so for
the rest of the league, the road to this year’s crown and a NCAA Tournament
invite will most likely have to go through the fifth-ranked team in the
nation. The Bulldogs are a stellar 25-3 on the season and finished conference
play with a pristine 14-0 record, which earned them the top spot in this
event. After Gonzaga there is a large drop-off, as the next two teams in the
standings are Loyola-Marymount and Saint Mary’s-CA, both of which finished
their conference schedule with identical 8-6 ledgers. The Lions received the
second seed thanks to the tiebreaker and will enjoy a free pass to the
semifinals along with Gonzaga. As for the Gaels, they will also have the
pleasure of a bye, but only through to the quarterfinal round, and the same
goes for the San Francisco Dons who finished the season with a 7-7 league
mark, which earned the team with the fourth seed. The San Diego Toreros were
just 6-8 in WCC action and had to settle for the fifth spot in the tourney,
while the Santa Clara Broncos and Portland Pilots both closed out the year
with 5-9 records against WCC foes. Because of a tiebreaker, Santa Clara enters
the tournament as the sixth seed, while the Pilots fly in as the seventh seed.
The Pepperdine Waves crash into the tourney with the eighth and final seed,
thanks to their 3-11 ledger in the WCC. All eight teams make the postseason
gathering, while the winner gets an automatic bid to the “Big Dance”.

The Zags were outstanding all season, mainly because of the play of All-
American Adam Morrison. Gonzaga led the WCC in offensive output with a scoring
average of 80.4 ppg, and finished the year second in scoring defense,
surrendering 69.3 ppg. GU enters the postseason with a 16-game winning streak
and regardless if the Bulldogs win this tournament or not, they will surely be
one of the top seeds in the MCAA Tournament.

As for the Loyola Marymount Lions, they captured the No. 2 seed with an 8-6
ledger in the WCC, but the team was just 11-17 overall and closed out its
schedule with four straight setbacks. A main reason for the Lions’ success
this season can be attributed to their success at the offensive end, as they
come in averaging 76.6 ppg versus WCC foes, trailing only Gonzaga in that

The Saint Mary’s-CA Gaels, who went 15-13 during the regular season, come into
the postseason red-hot, as they have won eight of their last nine games,
including six straight. The Gaels were solid offensively this season, but the
team’s success at the defensive end (66.9 ppg) is what will take it far in
this tournament. For the past two seasons, Saint Mary’s-CA has lost to Gonzaga
in the title tilt, but if the Gaels can play solid defense maybe this could be
the year they upend the long-standing champs.

The San Francisco Dons finished their conference schedule with an even 7-7
mark, and the problem the Dons face will definitely be their lack of
consistency, as the team went back and forth between wins and losses for the
majority of the season. Still, there is talent on the roster and surprising
run through the WCC Tournament is a possibility.

The first game of the opening round pits the ninth-seeded Pepperdine Waves
against the fifth-seeded San Diego Toreros. Not much went right for the Waves
this season, especially at the offensive end where the team averages just 67.9
ppg, raking it last in the conference. Pepperdine finished its season in
embarrassing fashion, losing seven consecutive games, and closed out the year
with a pathetic 7-19 overall mark. As for the Toreros, they were only 6-8 in
WCC action, but the team posted a solid 16-11 record overall and could be a
darkhorse to win this thing. The Toreros did struggle down the stretch, losing
four consecutive matchups, but the team isn’t far removed from its 2003 title
victory over Gonzaga.

The nightcap on day one features the sixth-seeded Santa Clara Broncos against
the seventh-seeded Portland Pilots. Neither team was all that impressive
during the regular season, but both squads come into the tournament on a
slight roll, as the Broncos have won three straight games, while the Pilots
have collected three wins in their last four outings. Portland currently has
the worst record in the WCC Tournament, while Santa Clara is just one of three
teams with a winning ledger in the event.

In terms of the history of the West Coast Conference Tournament, it has
traditionally been dominated by Gonzaga, as the Zags have been in 11 title
tilts, winning seven times. The Bulldogs have been in the final matchup eight
straight years and have won back-to-back titles and six of the last seven
overall. Obviously, GU has been the most successful team in the tourney,
posting a 28-12 ledger. Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount have both collected
three titles, but the Waves are an impressive 25-15 in postseason play, while
the Lions are only 11-16. Santa Clara has won twice, but has not been crowned
champion since 1993, while Saint Mary’s-CA, San Diego, San Francisco and the
University of Portland have all won one title apiece.

This is Gonzaga’s tournament to loss. The Bulldogs are by far the best team in
the West Coast Conference once again and sit fifth in the nation with a
stellar 25-3 record, and to make matters worse for every other team in this
event, the Bulldogs will be playing on their home floor. Loyola Marymount
might have squeezed past Saint Mary’s-CA for the No. 2 seed, but if there is a
team in this tournament that is going to knock off the Bulldogs it will be
Saint Mary’s-CA. The Gaels lost to the Zags twice this season, but have both
setbacks have come by a combined nine points. Besides SMC, the only other team
that might have a chance to dethrone Gonzaga is San Diego. The Toreros have
been sensational at the defensive end and that is what will be needed to upset
the Bulldogs on their own floor. As for the rest of the teams in the
tournament, their best bet is to enjoy their final couple of games before
heading home to rest up for next season.

Sports Network Predicted Champion: Gonzaga