The West Coast Conference Tournament could be the scene of a memorable event in the coming days, but history tells us to expect one result more than anything else.
The WCC Tournament unfurls its quarterfinals on Saturday, before taking a BYU-based break on Sunday and swinging into its semifinals on Monday. Everyone’s waiting to see if Gonzaga won’t make the NCAA tournament this year, and if the Zags don’t lift a trophy next Tuesday night in Las Vegas, their string of 17 straight Dance appearances will end. The WCC could be a one-bid league, but if one team in the conference has a chance of being an at-large selection, it’s Saint Mary’s and not GU.
Should you be worried about Gonzaga? Based on current form, yes.
Based on history? Well, let’s just put it this way:
Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, or (now) BYU meeting in the WCC Tournament championship game.
Kentucky has owned the SEC Tournament for quite some time. Albany — before this year — regularly captured the America East Tournament. Stephen F. Austin, Wofford, Manhattan, and Texas Southern entered Championship Week of 2016 with multi-year conference tournament winning streaks. Some teams just know how to close the sale this time of year.
No team might have a better conference tournament track record over the past 21 years, however, than Gonzaga. The Zags’ chief rival, Saint Mary’s, doesn’t exist in the same class. Yet, SMC has easily outdistanced the rest of the competition in this corner of the country. Before BYU joined the league a few years ago, this was a Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s league.
It is once again a GU-SMC league this year.
If you’re betting on a WCC final without the top two seeds, you’re not merely betting against the favorites. You’re betting against the past two decades.
How thoroughly has Gonzaga owned the WCC Tournament? This year marks the 29th edition of the event. Gonzaga has won 14 of the first 28, exactly half. No other league school has won more than three. Gonzaga has won four of the past five WCC Tournaments. It has appeared in the final game of every WCC Tournament since 1998.
In the first decade of this century, San Diego was the only school other than Gonzaga to win the WCC Tournament (twice, while GU won eight). This decade, Saint Mary’s is the only team other than the Zags to capture the WCC tourney (twice, while GU has won the event four times since 2010).
While Gonzaga regularly wins the championship at this tournament, Saint Mary’s has announced itself as the league’s clear number two. It’s true that the Zags have done most of the heavy lifting in the WCC over time, but Saint Mary’s has complemented GU in a number of ways.
For one thing, the last time neither Gonzaga nor Saint Mary’s reached the WCC final was 1994 (Pepperdine defeated San Diego). In the previous 28 WCC Tournaments, GU and SMC both missed the final on only five occasions, all of them before 1994. Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s have met in seven WCC finals, five straight from 2009 through 2013. BYU joined the league and managed to crash the WCC final in 2014 and 2015. This season, the rise of Saint Mary’s to the No. 1 seed means BYU will have to beat Gonzaga just to make the final.
Zags-Gaels, Part VIII, in the WCC final? That’s what Vegas would recommend.
Given that this tournament is being played in Vegas, would you really want to go against the locals and their expertise?
Yes, Gonzaga faces maximum pressure in the coming days. Yet, that hasn’t stopped Mark Few’s program from reaching its annual March destination.
Will BYU or some other upstart get in the way of a Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s WCC championship game? This college basketball season has been very illogical — more so than most — but when the WCC Tournament begins, normalcy permeates the scene in Las Vegas.
Knocking off the Zags in the WCC Tournament is one of the hardest things to do in sports. Gonzaga might exist on the precipice of a rare trip to the NIT, but if you’re convinced the magic is over for this program, you need to wait until three zeroes are on the clock and the officials have left the floor, not needing to review a last-second shot.
Moreover, your wait might not end in the coming days. It could be years before Gonzaga gives up a title it has defended so consistently over time.