We’ll talk about the games later, but it appears that one thing is a fact of life in the West Coast Conference: Gonzaga will always be overrated by the national media, and everyone else might as well be playing in Tibet. Currently, nobody in the WCC is rated in the top 25.
In the ESPN/USA today poll, which is pretty much the poll that reflects how the public perceives the teams involved, St Mary’s is at number 13, while the only other team in the WCC to get any votes was Gonzaga, who got 18. This would work out to Gonzaga being ranked 27th and no other team from the WCC in the top 42.
Jerry Palm of CBS, whose picks don’t usually agree with the coaches or with other writers, but are eerily dead-on for who gets into the tournament and who doesn’t, agrees with the polls this time. He has St Mary’s as a 4 seed, Gonzaga as a 10, and the Cougars as a 13 and one of the “last four in.”
This rightfully gives St Mary’s credit for a perfect conference record so far, but it still ranks Gonzaga three places above a team that just beat them. From everything we have heard, Palm doesn’t go solely by his own opinion, but works his sources very well, and seems to have a remarkable grasp of what the committee is thinking.
So, while it’s nice to “fly under the radar” and surprise people come tournament time, the Cougars still have to get into the tournament. They should be able to afford to lose to Gonzaga on the road and lose to St Mary’s one more time in the WCC Tournament and still get into the NCAA Tournament as long as they beat everyone else left on the schedule.
This would probably get them a 12 or 13 seed, as close as we can tell. A sweep of Gonzaga should get the Cougars the 10 spot that Gonzaga now has, but you never know. In this case, though, being underrated could end up helping the Cougars immensely.
If a team is seeded at 7-10 or 15-16, it means they have to play the one or two seed the first weekend. This greatly diminishes their chances to make it to the second weekend. We don’t have the exact numbers, but the amount of one and two seeds that make it to the second weekend is staggering, probably somewhere over an .875 percentage, or seven out of eight most years.
We had hoped that, with a strong finish, the Cougars could end up seeded a lot higher. Then the Cougars beat two teams, including a projected ten seed, only to still be rated as one of the “last four in.” At this point, it looks like the only way the Cougars are going to get better than a seven ranking by the committee is to run the table, defeating Gonzaga on the road and winning the WCC Tournament. Consequently, if the Cougars don’t win the WCC tournament, we are pulling for a 12 seed, and for the Cougars to pull off one of the tournament’s most storied traditions: the 12/5 upset.
Let’s take a look at the games that should have gotten the Cougars ranked higher, but were virtually ignored by the national media. The game against Gonzaga was a convincing, ten point home victory. One of the big problems as of late has been the Cougars’ abysmal shooting from three-point range. It didn’t get any better, but they took a lot less shots from outside, and finished 3-12 from outside of the arc.
Dave Rose is a very good coach, and against Gonzaga, he had the team driving to the basket as much as possible. From inside of the arc, the Cougars shot 31-57 for 58 percent, and they totaled 34-69 for a very respectable 49.3 percent. Noah Hartsock led the Cougars with 24 points, while Matt Carlino poured in a sorely-needed 18, and Brandon Davies had 15. Anson Winder was also in double figures with 10 points. Hartsock also had 14 rebounds to lead the Cougars.
Even though there was a gross disparity in fouls, with Gonzaga inexplicably getting to the line for 28 free throws to the Cougars’ 17, the Cougars were easily able to overcome the Zags’ 20-12 advantage in points scored from the free throw line. The Cougars’ defense, which has become world class at this point, held Gonzaga to 25-61 from the field for 41 percent, and 3-19 from three-point range for 15.8 percent.
The win over Gonzaga was a huge win for the Cougars, but it will be all for naught if they don’t take care of business against the lesser teams in the conference. The next game was on the road at Portland, and the Cougars didn’t take it lightly. They left Portland with a 79-60 victory. Brandon Davies had the monster game this time, with 18 points, 13 rebounds, eight steals, four assists, and one block.
Against Gonzaga, the Cougars came up on the short end of a disparity in free throws. Against Portland, though, they were rewarded for taking the ball inside against a young team that really couldn’t do anything to stop them except foul. This made for a terrible shooting percentage from the field: 19-54 for 35.2 percent. However, the Cougars more than made up for it at the free throw line, going 38-53 for 71.7 percent. A total of five Cougars made it into double figures against Portland.
It cannot be stated strongly enough: the Cougars are winning on defense, driving the ball inside, and scrappy team play. This team is turning out to be one of Dave Rose’s best coaching jobs: they are 20-6 with five regular season games to go. We are predicting a 4-1 finish with Gonzaga getting revenge at home for a season total of 24-7 going into the WCC Tournament.
A 2-1 record in the tournament would produce a record of 26-8, which should be more than enough to get the Cougars into the tournament. Winning the WCC Tournament, though, would remove all doubt, and the Cougars would probably get a five or six seed.
We think the Cougars will beat Gonzaga nine times out of ten on a neutral court. What we see as the most likely scenario is the Cougars playing a St Mary’s team that is undefeated in conference and tournament play in the tournament final. If this happens, the pressure is all on St Mary’s, and there is almost no pressure on the Cougars.
Therefore, we are going to get our prediction in early: the Cougars will upset St Mary’s in the WCC Tournament for the WCC’s automatic NCAA Tournament berth.
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