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NCAA Tournament Preview: West Coast Conference, Patriot League, Southern Conference

WEST COAST CONFERENCE
Orleans Arena, Paradise, NV
Mar. 6-11

GONZAGA
Record: 29-2, 16-0
Best conference wins: at Saint Mary’s, at BYU
Worst conf. losses: none
Non-conf. wins: Oklahoma (neutral), Kansas State (neutral), at OK State, Baylor
Non-conf. losses: vs. Illinois, at Butler
Current run: 12 straight wins
NCAA Outlook: 1-seed
Quick note: No matter what people say, the Zags deserve a 1-seed as long as they win the WCC tourney, which they should. They currently only have two losses on the year, and while their conference may not be the hardest; it’s not easy going undefeated in any conference. Their losses are against respectable teams in Illinois and Butler. What people are forgetting are the solid wins Gonzaga does have. They beat Oklahoma and Kansas State on neutral courts and won at Oklahoma State. All three of those Big 12 schools will be in the Big Dance. They beat the Sooners 72-47, which was their worst loss of the season.

Kelly Olynyk has come out of nowhere after red shirting last season and is now in talks of being the National Player of the Year. The big man is averaging 17.7 points to go with 7.0 boards per game. He’s shooting a ridiculous 67 percent from the field. With him and Elias Harris down low, not many teams have the bigs to stop both of them. On the outside, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. can both hit the three-ball with consistency. While many people will be marking the Bulldogs for upset potential in their brackets, it might be worthwhile to check them out in this tourney to see just how good they can be.

SAINT MARY’S
Record: 26-5, 14-2
Best conference wins: at BYU, at Santa Clara
Worst conf. losses: vs. Gonzaga
Non-conf. wins: vs. Creighton, vs. Harvard
Non-conf. losses: vs. Pacific (neutral), vs. Georgia Tech (neutral), at Northern Iowa
Current run: Five straight wins since home loss to Gonzaga
NCAA Outlook: 10/11-seed
Quick note: The Gaels are currently projected to be a 10/11-seed and will most likely end up there, unless they can win the WCC tournament. Saint Mary’s looked to be having a down season with early November losses to Pacific and Georgia Tech. Maybe they weren’t ready for those games or they just didn’t have much motivation because they ended up beating Pacific by 28 points in their next meeting a month later, a 38-point turnaround.

Led by senior Matthew Dellavedova, the Gaels plan on getting back to the winning side of the things in the NCAA Tourney. Their last win came in Dellavedova’s freshman season when they made it to the Sweet 16 as a 10-seed. A similar route will be needed this year.

In their last out-of-conference game, they handled Creighton for an eight-point win, which happened to be their only win against an RPI Top 50 team all year.

Prediction: Maybe the Gaels will pull off the upset in the Championship game over Gonzaga, but that seems unlikely at this point. Like many teams, they don’t have the guys down low to deal with Olynyk and Harris. Gonzaga shouldn’t have too many problems in this tournament, much like how their season has gone in the WCC.

PATRIOT LEAGUE
Campus sites
Mar. 6-13

BUCKNELL
Record: 26-5, 12-2
Best conference wins: at Lehigh, vs. Lafayette
Worst conf. losses: vs. Lehigh, at Lafayette
Non-conf. wins: at Purdue, vs. New Mexico State (neutral), vs. La Salle
Non-conf. losses: at Penn State, at Princeton, at Missouri
Current run: Four straight conference wins
NCAA Outlook: 13-seed
Quick note: This season has set up perfectly for Bucknell to make it to the NCAA Tournament. Once Lehigh’s best player, C.J. McCollum, picked up a season-ending injury right before conference play, the floodgates were opened. Now, as the No.1 seed in the Patriot League tourney once again, the road to the Big Dance goes through Bucknell. In last year’s Championship game, Lehigh beat Bucknell on the road as McCollum had a cool 29 points.

A two-point loss at Missouri highlights the Bison’s out-of-conference play and shows how much of a threat they can be. Mike Muscala puts up double-doubles for fun, as he averages 19 points and 11 boards per game. He’s complemented by plenty of experience around him in the starting lineup. However, they are very shallow with only four players averaging more than three points per game.

The last time they were in the tournament, they lost to eventual Champions, No. 3 seed Connecticut, in the first round by 29 points. With a couple more years under their belt, they’ll be hoping for more this time around.

LAFAYETTE
Record: 18-14, 10-4
The semifinal match between Lafayette and Lehigh may be the more exciting one to watch. Lafayette won the season series, including a 21-point road win at the end of January. With McCollum out, Lafayette will be favorites in that game. As for their Championship chances, they did beat Bucknell at home by one point, but lost by 15 on the road. It’s going to take a lot for them to beat Muscala and company again.

LEHIGH
Record: 21-8, 10-4
It’s unlikely the Mountain Hawks will get McCollum back for the tournament, which doesn’t help their chances. They have lost three of their last five games with two of those losses coming against Bucknell and Lafayette. No matter, they did beat Bucknell on the road back in January without McCollum, so there’s hope.

Prediction: As said earlier, this conference is primed for a Bucknell win. No other team would represent their conference better and with a player like Muscala, they have the ability to compete with some of the bigger teams they could face in the tourney.

SOUTHERN CONFERENCE
U.S. Cellular Center, Asheville, North Carolina
Mar. 8-11

DAVIDSON
Record: 23-7, 17-1
Best conference wins: at Elon, at College of Charleston
Worst conf. losses: at Georgia Southern
Non-conf. wins: at Richmond, vs. Vanderbilt (neutral), vs. West Virginia (neutral)
Non-conf. losses: at New Mexico, vs. Gonzaga (neutral), vs. Duke (neutral)
Current run: 14 straight wins
NCAA Outlook: 13/14-seed
Quick note: Here’s another team that has dominated their conference, but due to their out-of-conference games, don’t deserve much respect. Their wins outside of the Southern Conference are highlighted by Old Spice Classic wins over Vanderbilt and West Virginia (neither is very good). They lost to other teams like Milwaukee, Charlotte and Drexel. Their only conference loss looks like a lack of concentration at Georgia Southern, as they just beat them by 35 points in the regular season finale.

The Wildcats may get some upset love in the Big Dance, but it’s going to take a lot for them to pull out a win over a three or four seed.

COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON
Record: 22-9, 14-4
Davidson’s competition is few and far between in the Southern Conference, but if anyone were to cause them harm, it would be the Cougars. CofC has a nice non-conference win on the road at Baylor, as well as a road win over Elon, their likely opponent in the semifinals. Unfortunately, they probably won’t have enough in the Championship to overtake the Wildcats.

Prediction: Davidson’s first real competitors won’t come until the Championship game. That’s what’s to be expected when you win 14 straight games to finish out the season. Their likely finals opponents will be Elon or College of Charleston, two teams they already beat on the road.

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