November 13, 2002

Has the WCC Hoops Tournament Lost Its Magic?

Nov. 13, 2002

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    There HAD always been a certain magic surrounding the first day of the WCC tournament with four games in one day and the possibility of seeing a shocking upset. A new tournament format has made me believe that magic has disappeared for the sake of protecting the top seeds and that's something I understand but am still sad to see.

    Starting this season, seeds 5-8 will have to win four games to reach the NCAA tournament, while the top seeds have two byes into the semifinals. 5-8 will play to get a crack at numbers three and four, who have first round byes. Cinderella has had one slipper removed before the ball even starts. In the words of P. Diddy: "It's all about the Benjamins."

    The WCC has been rewarded in a big way financially with the recent success of Gonzaga and previously with Santa Clara in the NCAA tournament. The thinking goes that the top team in the conference has a better shot at making a little noise than a sixth seed, who happened to get hot on one weekend. So, let's do our best to ensure the league's best team gets to the "Big Dance" in order to give the WCC the best chance at big-time exposure. The chances of the 8th seed knocking out number one are next to none because the last place team would have to pull off two upsets just to get to the title game.

    "You'd like to think you could win four games if you had to", says 11th year Head Coach Dick Davey. "But if I had a choice, I certainly would rather play just two or three to win it."

    The fact that all eight schools are participating is a plus because there were scenarios kicked around that would knock out the 7th and 8th place teams, giving the top two seeds one bye while 3-6 slug it out in a first-round game.

    "I'm definitely glad all eight teams are in the tournament," says first year women's Head Coach Michelle Bento. "There was some talk of eliminating a couple teams and I think that would have been a bad idea."

    Bento also echoed the thought that the new format places increased emphasis on the regular season. Imagine the final weekend playing not only for seeding, but for one or perhaps two byes. Last year, the SCU men's team was playing for 3rd or 4th by the end of the regular season, meaning they would get 6th seed Saint Mary's or 5th seed USD on it's home floor.

    ''With the change in tournament format, each team's performance in conference play has increased in value, since a poor finish in the conference standings can result in a harder road in the WCC Tournament", according to WCC Assistant Commissioner Brad Walker. "Considering the importance of the RPI to NCAA Tournament selection, this format prevents the league's top teams from playing more games against lower RPI teams in the conference. Our hope is that our top teams get the best chance to advance to the NCAA tournament and receive a desirable seed".

    Walker added that in the old format, playing for a 4th or 5th seed meant nothing because you would play each other anyway. Now, it's a difference in having to play an extra tournament game.

    If given a choice, Davey would take the old way, but does understand the thought of protecting the top two seeds. Certainly, he hopes his team is one of those.

    The hoops junkie can no longer spend 10 hours on Saturday at the WCC Tournament with the chance of watching a lower seed make it's season by winning just a single game. Should the format have been implemented last year, the Broncos would have received a first round bye and not faced the upstart Gaels in the first round.

    On second thought, this new system is growing on me already.