The Dons are likely to end the regular season second to last in the WCC, having won only 2 -10 conference games so far: one against Santa Clara in a riveting 67-66 overtime victory on homecoming Saturday and the other against Loyola Marymount in a 73-53 pounding in late January. With only two games left in the regular season, the Dons have no chance of moving up from seventh place but must keep a wary eye on last place 1-11 (WCC) Loyola Marymount, as the Lions still have an opportunity to overtake the Dons in their final two games. LMU and USF square off this Saturday in Los Angeles, in what should be a fairly scrappy game as the two teams duke it out for the honor of being worst in the WCC.
However, for LMU to overtake USF in the rankings, USF will have to lose to both LMU this Thursday and Pepperdine on Saturday in their final game of the season and LMU will have to clench its final game against Saint Mary’s. Given that the Dons already beat LMU handily once this season, and that Saint Mary’s delivered LMU with a thorough 78-53 spanking in mid-January, I think we can safely declare the Dons will finish 7th in the WCC, meaning the team will have rounded out this rebuilding year either 3-11 or 4-10 depending on how things go against Pepperdine (5-7, WCC).
Moving on to the WCC “Advance to the Dance” championship in Las Vegas, the Dons are going to be put to the test. Coming into the tournament in 7th place means they will match up against the 6th seed, which can only be Pepperdine, San Diego or Santa Clara. Assuming that neither SCU nor USD will upset the nationally-ranked 12-0 (WCC) Gonzaga juggernaut, and that Pepperdine will lose to Saint Mary’s in a fashion similar to their early season thumping, there are only eight ways the Pepperdine-USD-SCU ordering can go as the three teams will be confined to the 4th, 5th and 6th seeds. The number three spot, occupied by 8-4 Saint Mary’s, is within the reach of only SCU, which would have to beat Gonzaga and Portland while Saint Mary’s loses to Loyola and Pepperdine to overtake the Gaels.
There is no way the Gonzaga Bulldogs will let Santa Clara walk away with a “W,” after beating the Broncos by more than 40 points earlier this season. It’s equally unlikely that Saint Mary’s gives up games to Loyola and Pepperdine, after destroying both teams back-to-back in January, Pepperdine by more than 50 points. This outcome is so unlikely I’m going to rule it impossible, meaning that SCU can’t enter the WCC top three.
Given the assumptions that Pepperdine will lose to Saint Mary’s, but has a chance to beat USF, and that SCU and USD will both lose to Gonzaga but have the opportunity to win against Portland, there is a 75 percent chance Pepperdine winds up ranked 6th, a 25 percent chance USD is 6th and no chance that SCU holds that spot. Going with the odds here, I choose Pepperdine as USF’s opponent in the first round of the tournament. USF barely lost to Pepperdine 69-67 in late January so this match-up should be a good one, and with Lady Luck on her side, the Dons will be able to splash the Waves and advance to the quarterfinals.
In the quarterfinals USF will play the third seed – either Portland or Saint Mary’s as both teams are still vying for the #2 and #3 tournament spots. It’s highly likely that the Gaels will win their final two regular season games against Pepperdine and Loyola, bringing their record to 10-4, 24-5 overall, meaning that Portland, currently 9-3, 18-9 overall, will have to win its final games against USD and SCU to hold onto the #2 spot. Portland narrowly defeated SCU 53-52 when they met earlier this season, where SCU mounted a strong rally from a 17-point deficit to nearly clinch the win even while shooting well below their season average from the floor and hitting just 5-21 from the -point line. Portland will face SCU in Santa Clara on Saturday, so the home court advantage tips the scale in favor of an SCU victory, meaning Saint Mary’s will edge the Pilots for the #2 WCC seed, regardless of what happens to the Pilots down in San Diego on Thursday.
In their quarterfinal match-up against Portland, USF will have momentum on their side, but is going to have to step the game up. The Dons and Pilots faced off twice this season already with both decisions going to the Pilots, first 78-60 and then 72-67. USF has shown it can hang with Portland but is going to have to ask even more from its leading scorer, Dior Lowhorn who averages 32.1 points per game but scored just 24 in his latest appearance against the Pilots. The Dons are also going to have to do a better job defending against three-point shooting by the Pilots, who set a school record for most three-pointers against the Dons this year. USF should be able to go into the contest fresh off the winning streak that started when they shut down the Broncos last Saturday, and carry that momentum to upset the Pilots.
Moving into the semifinals, USF will face the #2 seed, which in my prediction will be Saint Mary’s. The Gaels beat USF twice this year in a 66-54 bout followed by a 79-58 blowout. I’m willing to roll the dice on this one and say USF will bring their A game and show the Gaels how the dance is done.
Then it’s on to the WCC championship, where the Dons will inevitably face Gonzaga, and even though the Bulldogs have won eight of the last 10 WCC championships and USF has only won one in the history of the program, that will not stop us nor will it deter us, because at the moment of our reckoning, Bill Russell will appear in spirit and lead us triumphantly to victory and on to the NCAA tournament, where we will promptly be annihilated by the likes of Big East and Big 12 schools like UConn, Marquette and Kansas.