The madness begins this weekend, with the start of NCAA conference tournament play.
The Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas is hosting the West Coast Conference (WCC) tournament that begins on Friday, and it's difficult to handicap this year's field.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs captured the regular season title with a 12-2 record, one game ahead of the St. Mary's Gaels, who finished their conference schedule at 11-3.
Being seeded No. 1 and 2, the Zags and Gaels' first game action in the tournament will be in the semifinal round.
The Bulldogs have dominated the WCC for a long time, as they have appeared in 12 straight tournament championship games. They won a record 10 championships in that stretch, with the only blemishes being losses to the University of San Diego in 2003 and 2008.
This season, the hope for Gonzaga is to be seeded high enough in the NCAA tournament and to stay in their home state at Spokane for the opening round.
Challenges are ahead for the Zags, as the Gaels have the WCC's leading scorer, F Omar Samhan, who averages 21.5 points and grabs over 11 boards per game. The University of Portland Pilots captured the No. 3 seed in the tournament with a 10-win conference season. The hottest team coming to Las Vegas could be the No. 5 seed Loyola Marymount Lions, as they ended their season winning five of their last seven games.
The Lions have gotten healthy and could present a tough matchup for Gonzaga with a solid six-man rotation. Head coach Max Good welcomed back C Ashley Hamilton, G Jarred DuBois, and F Larry Davis from the injury list and promptly went on to post 16 wins (LMU's best season mark since 1995-96). Their most memorable victory was defeating the Zags late in the season on their home court.
Karma is on their side as well, as the Lions have won the WCC tournament on three occasions, with their last championship in 1990.
Coaches will stress to their teams to stay healthy and play to win, adding not to lose because you were submissive on the court, and go out on your own terms. In the WCC, we will not know which school has outplayed, out-hustled, and outshot its opponents until late Monday night.
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