WCC Mens preview

Drew Timme (2) will enter conference play as GU's leading scorer, averaging 16.7 points per contest.

Coming off a strong end to the nonconference season, the Gonzaga University men’s basketball team is trending in the right direction with the West Coast Conference (WCC) season opener just around the corner.

GU comes into conference play with an overall record of 11-2, with both losses coming against ranked opponents Duke University (11-1) and the University of Alabama (9-3) by a combined score of 12 points. The Zags got themselves back on track with a dominating performance over Texas Tech (10-2) before handling business against Northern Alabama to close out 2021 with a win.

Looking forward, the WCC is expected to be deeper this season than in years past. Four schools have received votes in the AP polls this season, including four teams inside the Kenpom top 35 for efficiency ranking. The conference could field as many as four teams make the NCAA tournament this year, which is a testament to how much better the conference has become in the past few seasons.

The Zags come into the season as the preseason favorites to win the regular season conference title and are predicted to go undefeated in conference play. GU opens its conference season on New Year’s Day in Los Angeles when they take on LMU (10-5) in a matinee matchup. The Zags were expected to open conference play against the University of San Diego before complications with COVID-19 forced the game to be postponed to later in the season.

After opening the conference season with a road game, the first true test GU will have in 2022 comes against the University of San Francisco. The Dons have been the surprise of the conference so far this season, sporting a record of 13-1. Outside of the Zags, USF was the only other WCC school to receive votes in the latest AP poll.

In their next two home games the Zags take on Pepperdine (6-9) and BYU (12-3). Pepperdine is struggling so far out of the gates, posting a subpar record under former University of Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar. BYU on the other hand, will look to continue to be GU’s toughest conference matchup season by season.

BYU has climbed as high as No. 12 in the AP poll this season after a resounding win over the Oregon Ducks on a neutral floor in Portland, Oregon. After this win however, BYU stumbled with losses coming against Utah Valley, Creighton and Vanderbilt. BYU is led by preseason all-conference selections, guard Alex Barcello and forward Caleb Lohner. The Cougars visit GU on Jan. 13 in the Zags first home game of 2022 with students filling the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Following a three game home stand, GU travels south to California in matchups against Santa Clara (10-5) and Pacific (5-9) before returning home for another two game home stand against LMU and the University of Portland (9-6).

GU will have its hardest road test of the season on Feb. 5 against BYU in Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, where the Zags will be tested in front of a raucous crowd of 30,000 people. BYU has historically played GU very tough on its home floor, beating them in 2019 for the Zags' only conference loss that season.

Outside of USF and BYU, the toughest opponent the Zags will face up against is Saint Mary’s (12-3). The Gaels, similar to BYU, have always played GU competitively. Saint Mary’s comes to Spokane on Feb. 12 before the return matchup in Moraga, California on Jan. 26, which wraps up the conference season for both schools.

The Zags will be tested more than in season’s past with the conference boasting multiple teams that could make the NCAA tournament. GU will look to continue its dominance in the WCC in 2022 and win its 10th consecutive regular season conference title.

Tommy Connolly is a staff writer.