(SportsNetwork.com) - The 2015 West Coast Conference Tournament is set to begin on Friday at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The four lowest seeds will take the floor on the opening night of the tourney, hoping to advance to keep their alive their dreams of possibly reaching the NCAA Tournament.
Any Cinderella making a run in the WCC Tournament will most likely have to go through the Gonzaga Bulldogs, who won their first 17 league games before being defeated, 73-70, by BYU at home in their regular-season finale. The loss was just the second of the campaign for the WCC Coach of the Year Mark Few and his squad, which is led by the WCC Player of the Year, Kevin Pangos. The senior guard out of Canada averaged 11.6 points and 5.0 assists per tilt, while his backcourt mate Gary Bell, Jr. earned the league's Defensive Player of the Year award. Gonzaga's 29-1 start and 22-game win streak both set program records.
The Cougars' upset of Gonzaga put them in a tie with Saint Mary's for second place in the league standings and their ownership of the tie-breaker gave them the second seed. BYU (23-8) is one of the few teams capable of outlasting the Bulldogs in a run-and-gun contest, as it ranks in the top-5 nationally in both points per game (84.0) and assists per game (17.1). Senior guard Tyler Haws was selected to the All-WCC First Team after posting 21.9 ppg.
The Gaels (21-8) will match up with the No. 6 seed Portland (16-14) in Saturday's quarterfinal round. SMC got off to a great start this season with 15 wins through its first 18 games, but it went just 6-5 down the stretch. Senior center Brad Waldow (19.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg) was selected to the All-WCC First Team after finishing the regular season ranked second in scoring and first in rebounding.
The Pilots are one of the coldest teams in the league entering the postseason as their 78-66 loss to San Diego last Saturday marked their fourth straight setback. Thanks to the combination of All-WCC honorable mentions Kevin Bailey (14.4 ppg) and Thomas van der Mars (10.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Portland is still going to be a tough out in a tournament setting.
In the other already set quarterfinal-round matchup, the fourth-seeded Pepperdine Waves (17-12) will square off with the No. 5 seed San Diego (15-15). The Toreros snapped a three-game losing streak in their regular- season finale with a 78-66 win at Portland. San Diego is hoping its star, senior point guard Johnny Dee (17.2 ppg), can elevate his game to end his career with a remarkable tournament run. The Toreros downed the Waves, 72-50, in Malibu on Feb. 7 when these teams last met.
First Team All-WCC forward Stacy Davis spearheaded the charge for the Waves this season by averaging 15.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per tilt. Pepperdine downed both SMC and BYU on the road this season and lost to Gonzaga by single-digit margins twice. Freshman guard Shawn Olden was named to the All-WCC Newcomer Team after contributing 9.5 ppg.
Gonzaga will await the winner of the matchup between the eighth-seeded San Francisco Dons (13-17) and No. 9 seed Pacific (12-18). Coach Rex Walters motivated his Dons down the stretch, leading his team to four wins in their final five games, including a season-ending 65-55 decision over the Tigers. Junior forward Mark Tollefsen was a Second Team All-WCC pick after posting averages of 13.9 points and 5.4 boards per outing.
Pacific ended its non-conference slate with an 8-4 record, but it really struggled once WCC play began. The Tigers collected half of their four league wins during a modest two-game win streak prior to falling to USF last weekend. Sophomore guard T.J. Wallace became the go-to-guy for Pacific in his second campaign with the program, netting 13.0 ppg on 39.9 percent shooting from the field to go along with a team-best 5.6 rpg.
BYU will take on the winner in the battle between No. 7 seed Santa Clara (12-18) and the 10th-seeded Loyola Marymount Lions (13-17), who enter the tournament on a six-game losing streak. In its first season of the post- Anthony Ireland era, LMU managed to accumulate only four league wins. The Lions are putting up just 62.5 ppg as a unit despite a solid showing by sophomore guard Evan Payne, who paced the team and ranked third in the WCC in scoring at 17.6 ppg. Payne missed the final three games of the regular season with a knee injury, but is expected to return for this event.
The Broncos were the lowest-scoring team in the WCC during the regular season with only 62.2 ppg on a league-worst 41.8 percent efficiency from the field. Santa Clara notched two wins in its last three outings to finish in a three- way tie with Portland and San Francisco for sixth place in the standings. First Team All-WCC selection Jared Brownridge (15.4 ppg) and the trigger-happy Brandon Clark (15.5 ppg) will play a key role for SCU in the postseason.
Although the Bulldogs were upset in their regular-season finale at home, they are still clearly the best team in terms of talent and chemistry in the WCC. The Gaels and Cougars are both capable of knocking off the top dogs if their star players can create matchup problems, but the Zags have more depth, size and experience than the rest of the field.
Sports Network Predicted Champion: Gonzaga