See the 3MW Preseason Preview here.
Best call(s): I pretty much nailed the top 10 players in the conference, aside from Watson. I had Sabonis on the third team in the preseason, but that was expecting him to be the third big behind Wiltjer and Przemek Karnowski, who unfortunately missed nearly the whole year with injury. Jared Brownridge was every bit as good as I hoped – I implore you to re-examine his game against Arizona where he nearly beat the Wildcats by himself.
Worst call(s): Two main choices here – St. Mary’s and San Francisco. I was high on the St. Mary’s backcourt, placing both PGs on the preseason second-team, but I underestimated how well the pieces would fit into Randy Bennett’s offense. There was a ton of uncertainty in the Gaels roster (331st this year in minutes continuity), but the talent and scheme triumphed. San Francisco really outperformed my expectations behind another great WCC backcourt in Devin Watson and Tim Derksen – they didn’t have much else returning, but those two carried them to sneak into the top half.
A couple tidbits with this tournament – first, it’s in lovely Las Vegas at the Orleans Arena, setting the stage for 3 more tourneys a week later (Pac 12, MWC, and WAC). Second, Pacific self-imposed a ban this year, and thus there are only 9 teams participating. Finally, for top seed St. Mary’s, they’ll have to more than double their wins outside the state of California – they’ve managed a whopping TWO so far due to a California-based league and a soft as hell nonconference schedule.
Who I want to win: I’ve always had a weird affinity for the Pepperdine basketball team, and that love was only amped up when I visited the ridiculous Malibu campus (maybe I should hate them because they get to “attend class” there?). Stacy Davis is a workhorse, Lamond Murray Jr. can score from anywhere, and Jett Raines has a badass name. The problem? Their backcourt is just not quite as effective as the frontcourt, which can really cause problems this time of year. Especially on the top half of the bracket against the great backcourts of San Francisco and St. Mary’s…
Who I think will win: My money is on the Zig Zags of Gonzaga. Their guards are a major question mark, but I’m expecting Kyle Wiltjer to just terrorize opponents as he’s in jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament as a senior.
Chance to make a run in the NCAA Tournament: St. Mary’s and Gonzaga both have the talent to be Sweet 16 squads, but it will be very matchup based. I love the Gaels’ offense, but I question their interior defense, and I just don’t trust Josh Perkins, Eric McClellan, and co. to make the right play in tense moments.
How I think it will play out:
(9) San Diego defeats (8) Loyola Marymount
(1) Saint Mary’s defeats (9) San Diego
(4) Pepperdine defeats (5) San Francisco
(3) BYU defeats (6) Santa Clara
(2) Gonzaga defeats (7) Portland
(4) Pepperdine defeats (1) Saint Mary’s
(2) Gonzaga defeats (3) BYU
(2) Gonzaga defeats (4) Pepperdine
Pepperdine gets close, using their inside force to repeat the victory over Saint Mary’s they claimed in Malibu, but ultimately can’t unseat the Zags. All is right in the world as the Zags get back into their Cinderella role in the NCAA Tournament (Saint Mary’s misses the field due to their pitiful schedule). Gonzaga can’t quite get the slipper to fit, though, with no Gus Johnson to announce an electric tourney run.