This is the matchup the league and college basketball fans at large wanted from the WCC tournament. You can thank the format of the WCC tournament, which is similar to the Horizon League in that the top two seeds are protected until the conference semifinals. Play the best in the regular season, and you get the bye until the penultimate game. So now the WCC is ensured of its most competitive matchup, on paper.
And the question can be asked: biggest game in the history of the rivalry? That's possible, as neither team is secure with its at-large position.
Winner is for sure in, and loser will be sweating for five nights. The two split the season series, each team winning on the other's court. Gonzaga, at 23-9, has a bit more bubble wiggle room because its strength of schedule is better and it has better wins (Xavier, Baylor, Marquette) to claim than the 24-7 Gaels (St. John's, Long Beach State, Texas Tech).
What's particularly embraceable about this game, outside of the massively looming at-large question, is the star power. The Gaels have Mickey McConnell, the player of the year in the conference, and Matthew Dellavedova. Robert Sacre, Steven Gray and Elias Harris may not be Adam Morrison, Matt Bouldin and Blake Stepp, but they're still familiar faces to casual hoops fans who come around the block this time of the year.
It has now been more than a month since Gonzaga's lost, as the Bulldogs have peeled off eight in a row. That isn't their longest winning streak of the season, though; Mark Few's club won nine straight from Dec. 16 to Jan. 15. A bit ironic this team has as many as nine losses and is unstable as it is despite two lengthy streaks of victory.
Saint. Mary's can't claim to fully be recovered, despite making it to the WCC championship game for the third straight year. The Gaels dropped three straight before recovering to beat Portland in the season finale last week, and then beating Santa Clara Sunday night. How quickly many would forget the three-game slide if Saint Mary's won tonight.
Prediction: I've got a hunch the WCC is sending two teams to the tournament this year. For that to happen, Saint Mary's has to win tonight, 'cause I don't think its non-con schedule stacks up. Gaels win, 75-70. The game tips at 9 p.m. on ESPN.
Posted by Matt Norlander
Photo: US PRESSWIRE
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