Here is a complete breakdown of this year�s tournament:
Things get underway on Friday with a quartet of teams that have no chance of making the NCAA Tournament. San Diego won this thing last year, but that was because they got to play host and took advantage of what appeared to be a disinterested Gonzaga team in the Final. The Toreros parlayed the tourney win into a first-round upset of UConn in the Big Dance before eventually bowing out to Western Kentucky in a battle of double-digit seeds.
This season has been an absolute disaster for USD as they lost leading scorer Brandon Johnson in the non-conference slate and have suffered ever since. They actually finished with a losing record in WCC play this season after being pegged to challenge Gonzaga for the conference crown.
The good news for San Diego is that they draw a terrible Loyola Marymount team in the first round. The bad news is that they actually lost to Loyola by eight as a 13.5-point road favorite last month. However, we�ll point out that the Toreros are a perfect 7-0 ATS away from home over the last three seasons playing with revenge for a SU loss as a favorite. It was one of just three wins this season for LMU, who was 0-17 off-campus this year and hasn�t won this event since 1990, which was back in the days of Bo Kimble and the late great Hank Gathers.
The other first round Friday matchup pits the Dons of San Francisco against the Waves of Pepperdine. The Dons finished just 3-11 in league play, but played better down the stretch than did Pepperdine. USF won two of their last three, including a 70-62 win over this opponent. The Waves lost their last four games to finish 5-9 SU in WCC play. USF has covered five of the last six meetings and has opened as a 5.5-point favorite.
Looking ahead to Saturday, 4th seeded Santa Clara draws the winner of LMU/San Diego. The Broncos won eight of their final 11 games and has taken this tourney twice, but not since 1993 when G Steve Nash was on campus. They swept Loyola Marymount, including a 26-point home win. They split with San Diego with each team winning and covering on the other�s home floor.
3rd seeded Portland is probably a bit disappointed they were unable to take over second place and earn a bye into the semifinals. Losses in their final two regular season games cost them. Still, they finished 18-11 SU overall, the best finish in recent memory for this program. They draw the winner of USF/Pepperdine, both of whom they swept during the regular season, including three double-digit victories.
The WCC is like the Horizon League in that they reward their top two teams with an automatic �double-bye� into the semifinals. We like this idea as teams that had great regular seasons, particularly in mid-major conferences, should be rewarded handsomely.
#2 seed St. Mary�s is a team to watch. Despite missing leading scorer Patrick Mills for more than a month, they still finished second and 24-5 SU overall, the same record as league champ Gonzaga. Mills and his 18.7 PPG are now back. Despite that great record and a five-game win streak, the Gaels probably need to win the tournament to make the Big Dance. It will be interesting to see how Mills comes back from the broken right hand. They�ll probably draw Portland on Sunday, who they lost to in their first game without Mills, 84-66, on the road back on January 31st. They got revenge on 2/14, winning 77-65.
Top seed Gonzaga is already assured of an NCAA Tournament berth. If they win the WCC Tourney, then this is a one-bid league. The Bulldogs went 14-0 SU in league play during the regular season and most of the games weren�t even close. Only five games were decided by less than double-digits (two against St. Mary�s) and just two by five points or less. This was the third time they completed a perfect WCC regular season. They have won nine straight and 11 of the last 12 WCC titles. They have made the tournament finals 11 straight times, 13 of the last 14 years, and are 33-13 SU all-time in this event.