Can BYU Pull Off Surprise Title Run In WCC Tournament? Here’s Our Predictions
PROVO, Utah – This is year ten for BYU basketball in the WCC Tournament. Is this the year the Cougars make a run and win the title in Las Vegas? To do it, they’ll have to knock off the nation’s best team.
The last time Gonzaga was not playing in the WCC Tournament championship game was 1997. You can basically bank on the Zags being in the final game. Both Gonzaga and BYU have byes until the semifinal round of the league tournament. This is the third year of that set up in an effort by the WCC to keep Gonzaga from going to the Mountain West Conference.
Like everything else in this league, it works out nicely for the Zags.
The Zags come into this year’s conference tournament with an undefeated record. It’s the first undefeated regular season in program history and the first undefeated campaign by a college basketball team since Kentucky in 2014-15.
BYU is playing some of their best basketball as of late. The Cougars come into this tournament on a four-game winning streak and are viewed as a “lock” by many bracketologists for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
All of the action for this year’s WCC Tournament will be played in front of no fans at The Orleans Arena due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. First-round games begin on Thursday, March 4, and the tournament concludes on Tuesday, March 9 on ESPN.
Predicting the 2021 WCC Tournament
Time to make some predictions for the 2021 WCC Tournament.
First Round, Thursday, March 4
No. 8 San Francisco vs. No. 9 San Diego, 7 p.m. (Stadium)
After the San Francisco Dons went on pause for COVID-19 at the end of January, the season has gone sideways for the Dons. San Diego has only played 13 games this year due to numerous COVID-19 pauses as well. There’s usually a first-round upset in this tournament; I’m calling for the Toreros to pull this one out as they will be more motivated than USF.
Pick: San Diego
No. 7 Santa Clara vs. No. 10 Portland, 10 p.m. (Stadium)
I’m kind of stunned the Pilots are playing in this tournament after recent issues with COVID-19. Santa Clara breezes through a Portland program that is one of only four teams to go winless in their respective conference this season.
Pick: Santa Clara
Second Round, Friday, March 5
No. 5 LMU vs. No. 9 San Diego, 7 p.m. (Stadium)
LMU is an intriguing team coming into this tournament. The Lions have played well under first-year head coach Stan Johnson. Had it not been for a late-season switch from the traditional record for standings to KenPom’s AWP, the Lions would be the 3-seed in this tournament. Eli Scott is a first-team All-WCC selection, and he will carry LMU in this one over a San Diego team that was just happy to extend their season by one more day.
No. 6 Pacific vs. No. 7 Santa Clara, 10 p.m. (Stadium)
For all the hoop heads out there, this will be a sneaky good matchup if you’re willing to stay up late. It’s the weekend. Santa Clara’s Josip Vrankic is a first team All-WCC selection. He’s one of the league’s most underrated players. Pacific is as physical of a team as you’ll find in this league. Neither squad can knock down the three. So expect a low scoring, defensive battle with Damon Stoudamire’s Pacific squad coming out on top.
Quarterfinals, Saturday, March 6
No. 4 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 5 LMU, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Saint Mary’s tempo and style of play will create headaches for anyone not named Gonzaga in this conference. Randy Bennett’s problem this year is that he doesn’t have enough talent to make a run in this tournament. No Gaels players made the first team All-WCC squad and only one cracked into the second team. This is a transition year for Bennett’s squad, and like everyone else in this conference, SMC has faced issues with COVID. I’m going with LMU to pull off an upset to advance to semifinal Monday.
No. 3 Pepperdine vs. No. 6 Pacific, 10 p.m. (ESPN2)
Will the real Pepperdine please stand up? After a February 13th win over Saint Mary’s in Malibu, the Waves were tied with BYU second in the league standings. Then Pepperdine did what Pepperdine usually does. Underperform when expectations start to rise. The Waves went on a three-game losing streak before closing out the regular season with a win over San Diego.
Pepperdine is the most talented team that isn’t named Gonzaga, BYU, or Saint Mary’s in the past 10 years of this conference. Kessler Edwards is a future NBA player, and Colbey Ross showed last year in this tournament that he can pop off for big games. Too much offensive firepower from the Waves for Pacific to keep up.
Semifinals, Monday, March 8
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 5 LMU, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
LMU hung around with Gonzaga for the first 10 minutes of their game on February 27. But as Gonzaga always does, they rolled to a double-digit victory to cap off their undefeated regular season. Gonzaga might have the best starting five college basketball has seen since UNLV in the early 1990s or Arizona in 2001. If Gonzaga wants to maintain their number one overall seed in the Big Dance, they have to crush LMU, and they will. Zags big.
No. 2 BYU vs. No. 3 Pepperdine, 10 p.m. (ESPN2)
A bye till Semifinal Monday is a dicey spot for BYU. They don’t find out their opponent until late Saturday night, and then they can’t practice on Sunday. Then they have to wait until late on Monday night to play a game. BYU was upset by Saint Mary’s off a last-second shot by Jordan Ford last year in this tournament.
The motivation for BYU is to find a way to improve its seed for the NCAA Tournament. A loss against Pepperdine isn’t going to accomplish that. BYU comes out motivated and finds a way to take down the Waves, but this game won’t be easy. Mark Pope will likely be up all night in his Vegas hotel room worried about Ross and Edwards, but BYU won’t lack the physicality as they did in their loss to Pepperdine in Malibu.
Championship, Tuesday, March 9
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 BYU, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
This would be a huge stage for BYU to face the No. 1 ranked Zags on Championship Tuesday in front of a nationally-televised audience on ESPN. Slow starts have doomed BYU in the two meetings this year against Gonzaga, but the Cougars kept things respectable in Provo.
BYU hasn’t had an answer for Drew Timme. Matt Haarms, WCC Defensive Player of the Year, will need to have his collegiate career’s best game if BYU wants to pull off the upset. Gonzaga will be a sizable favorite over BYU, but look for the Cougars to keep it closer in Vegas than the previous two meetings. Especially with no fans at The Orleans Arena.
But to steal a line from my good friend Tom Hackett, this is Gonzaga’s world in the WCC, and everyone else is just living in it.
Championship Pick: Gonzaga
Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m., KSL Newsradio). Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper and the KSL Sports app.
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