When and Where: Wednesday through Monday, Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, NV.
Last year: The WCC is set up so that the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds meet in the finals, and last year that is exactly what happened. No. 2 Gonzaga got an Elias Harris 3-pointer with 2 seconds left to force overtime. In OT, the game was decided when Matthew Dellavedova and Kevin Pangos fought for a loose ball and rammed into the scorer's table. Delly got the ball. St. Mary's got the win. It was their 2nd WCC Tourney title in three years, and both times they went through Gonzaga.
This year: The top-2 seeds are the same (though their roles are reversed), and they avoid play until Saturday. It's bizarre and disappointing that the WCC doesn't use their 8/9 play-in game to slide right in to true quarterfinals, but whatever. The Zags are overwhelming favorites to reach the finals, whereas St. Mary's will likely have to go through BYU. They've already beaten them twice this season, but they can say that about every WCC team not named Gonzaga.
The favorite: No. 1 seed Gonzaga. The Zags are rated No. 4 in the nation by Ken Pomeroy, and St. Mary's is No. 19. You have to go all the way to No. 71 to find another conference team (BYU). Gonzaga has won 12-straight, and only two of those were single-digit margins (at San Diego and at BYU).
Gonzaga has the 3rd most efficient offense in the nation, and it flows through center Kelly Olynyk. He's scored in double figures in every game but one this season (his 2nd game) and only three opponents all year have held him below 50% shooting from the field. In the past five games he's converted 84% of his 2s. When he's doubled he can find the open man. Of the top 25 WCC players in assist rate, he's one of two over 6-6 (the other is Brandon Davies of BYU). He likes to find Kevin Pangos (43% from the arc) and Gary Bell (39%) with his kick outs.
The contender: No. 2 seed St. Mary's. Over the past 20 games the Gaels have gone 18-2. Their two losses? By 5 at Gonzaga, and by 17 vs Gonzaga. If the Gaels win they will be guaranteed their 2nd consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time in program history. It will also be their 4th appearance in seven years.
St. Mary's is another offensive juggernaut, and they have the No. 8 most efficient offense in the nation. Coach Bennett runs almost everything through high-ball screens, and utilizes his all-world point guard Matthew Dellavedova to great effect. On senior night, Dellavedova passed Daniel Kickert as the all time leading scorer in school history, and if he can somehow play at least five more games this season he has an outside shot at 2,000 points for his career. Plus he leads the program in assists as well as a number of other categories.
The dark horse: No. 4 seed Santa Clara. The Broncos haven't won the conference tournament since 1993. To get there they will have to win Friday and then beat Gonzaga on Saturday. For that to happen senior Kevin Foster will have to catch fire. Foster is the only player in the conference who attempts more than a third of his team's shots when he's on the floor. When Santa Clara lost at home by seven to Gonzaga earlier this season, Foster had 29 points but was only 2-12 from the arc. If a few more of those went down, the upset could have been a reality.
Five players to watch (not named Olynyk, Delly or Kevin Foster)
1. Tyler Haws, 6-5 sophomore, BYU
Before his mission, Haws was just another guy running around on the court whose name wasn't Jimmer. After a two-year absence, he came back and has promptly scored more than 20 per game. He's been held in single digits twice this season, and the Cougars lost both games. When he's held to 15 or less BYU is 2-4. In their four combined losses to Gonzaga and St. Mary's, Haws was only able to get off three 3-pointers, and he missed them all. The 3-pointer has to be there to keep teams honest so that he can deal with his real strength - an old school mid range game.
2. Beau Levesque, 6-6 junior, St. Mary's
Levesque (pronounced 'Le Veck') is one of the top 6th men in the nation. His back story is interesting as it involves double hip surgery, but the former walk on is a lot more than just a good story. He has a deadly set shot 3-pointer which he converts on 48% of his attempts. He averages 18.2 points per 40 minutes, which is just behind Delly's 18.4 pts/40.
3. Johnny Dee, 6-0 sophomore, San Diego
Dee is the bigger of the two guards which make up the Toreros very talented back court. He scores 14.6 per game, and has the mid-range game that seems to be a prerequisite of WCC scoring guards. He makes 38% of his 3s, 51% of his 2s, and 90% of his FTs (including a current streak of 17-straight). He's also stereotypically tough, as you would expect from the son of an NFL tight end.
4. Mike Hart, 6-6 senior, Gonzaga
It would be annoying to listen to announcers yammer about Mike Hart - his hustle!, his toughness! - if it weren't all true. He's only played in 40% of his team's minutes but something is guaranteed to happen when he's on the floor. He rebounds 15% of Gonzaga's misses when he's on the floor, and generates a steal on 3.1% of possessions. He also has the highest offensive rating in the nation, but rarely shoots. When he does he makes 55% of his 3s and 69% of his 2s.
5. Cody Doolin, 6-2 junior, San Francisco
What would west coast hoops be without a floppy haired skinny kid who looks about 14 years old, but is a straight up baller? Doolin is the facilitator for the Dons and has a better assist rate than Matthew Dellavedova. He leads his team in assists and steals, and is 2nd in scoring. He garnered some national attention with his 18 point, 14 assist dismantling of St. John's and since then has had at least 10 points and 8 assists six times. He had a seven game stretch during conference play where he had 42 assists to just 6 turnovers.