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Crumpacker - What We Think - 2/17/16

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By John Crumpacker
#WCChoops Columnist 

COMPLETE CRUMPACKER ARCHIVES

With three teams within two games of each other as the WCC regular season winds down to the final two weeks, there is justified excitement among players and fans in Spokane, Moraga and Provo for what lies ahead – and beyond.

Possibilities for WCC teams in the NCAA Tournament range from three to one, with two being the most likely. GONZAGA is 20-6 overall and 12-2 in conference. SAINT MARY’S is 20-4 and 11-3 while BYU is 19-8 and 10-4.

In a 68-team format with two play-in games reducing the field to 64 for the real first round, it seems to me that all three WCC teams are deserving of NCAA bids. The downside is their RPI rankings. The most current numbers have Gonzaga at 61, Saint Mary’s at 72 and BYU at 74.

Gonzaga should be a lock based on its strength of schedule. The Zags court quality non-conference opponents and this season they have a 4-4 record after facing Washington State, Washington, UConn, Texas A&M, Arizona, UCLA, Tennessee and SMU.

It gets a bit dicey for the Gaels, however. ESPN’s Joe Lundardi has them as one of the last four teams in the tourney despite 20 wins to this point and the kind of team stats that would make any coach envious. It would be a shame if Saint Mary’s stumbles a bit down the stretch and fails to get a bid. See below for more on the Marksmen of Moraga.

For BYU, it looks like it would have to at least make the championship game of the WCC Tournament to have a shot at an NCAA bid, if not win the title outright. That’s the position the Cougars find themselves in after particularly bad losses to Long Beach State, PORTLAND and PACIFIC. More on BYU a few paragraphs to the south.      

As conference teams ready for the final four (lower case, please) WCC games before Las Vegas, here’s What We Think:

  1. Now is the time for Saint Mary’s to make a statement and win a significant road game for the first time this season. The Gaels have a thin resume on the road but beating Gonzaga in Spokane would go a long way toward fattening it up. And the Zags have been vulnerable at the McCarthey Center this season in dropping games to Arizona by five, UCLA by five and BYU by one. Coach Mark Few’s team is hardly low-hanging fruit, but it is reachable on tippy-toes.
  2. Speaking of Gonzaga, star Kyle Wiltjer needs to have a short memory and put that 4-point effort at SMU behind him and be the leader his team needs him to be down the stretch. For such a polished offensive player, it was startling to see Wiltjer so off his game against the Mustangs, who pressured him throughout the game with switching defenders. Having lost to the Gaels in Moraga the first time around, Wiltjer and his teammates should be particularly motivated for the big game on Saturday night.
  3. Watch out for BYU! Despite some inconsistencies this season, coach Dave Rose’s team is within striking distance of Saint Mary’s should the Gaels falter. With a home-and-home against travel partner SAN DIEGO (3-11) this week, the Cougars figure to improve to 12-4 going into the final week of regular season play. If Saint Mary’s splits its games this week, beating Portland and losing to Gonzaga, while BYU sweeps the Toreros, the teams would be tied for second.

Game of the Week
That would be SAN FRANCISCO at LOYOLA MARYMOUNT on Saturday afternoon at Gersten Pavilion. Neither team is a factor in the conference race but it does have meaning for the Dons and Lions. USF’s teeter-totter is dead level at 7-7 as only .2 of a point separates its average scoring output vs. its points allowed. Time to rise up, Dons. Or down. I could never figure out which is the most advantageous position on a teeter-totter. For LMU, one more conference win down the stretch would surpass last season’s total of four. The Lions played Saint Mary’s tough in Moraga before losing 68-62 without their best player, Adom Jacko. Suffice to say LMU has a much better chance of winning if Jacko plays-o.

Follow the three dots...
If PEPPERDINE defeats USF and SANTA CLARA this week at Firestone Fieldhouse, a not-unreasonable proposition, it would equal last season’s total of 18 victories with two games left in the regular season and at least one guaranteed game in the WCC Tournament. Pepperdine has not won 20 games in a season since 2001-02, when Paul Westphal was in his first season as head coach in Malibu. ... Pep stalwart Stacy Davis needs just nine points to break Dane Suttle’s career scoring record that has stood for nearly 33 years. Suttle finished with 1,701 points. Davis is at 1,693 and counting. … Saint Mary’s fine shooting has been duly noted all season long, but this stat drives home the point: Four Gaels are in the top 15 list of most accurate shooters in the conference, with Dane Pineau (.635), Jock Landale (.605), Evan Fitzner (.513) and Emmett Naar (.505).

John Crumpacker spent more than three decades working at the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. During his career he has covered the full gamut of sports from prep to professionals. Most recently, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for Cal through the end of the 2013-14 season. In addition to covering 10 Olympic Games, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for the San Francisco 49ers. He is a two-time winner of the Track & Field Writers of America annual writing award and has several APSE Top 10 writing awards.