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Are WCC's bubble teams better than commonly perceived?

Thurman James/CSM/AP Photo

Bubble teams beware. Conference tournaments are underway for many smaller and mid-major conferences. The West Coast Conference tournament starts Friday in Las Vegas, with Gonzaga projected as the first team out in the NCAA tournament, according to Joe Lunardi's Bracketology.

Saint Mary’s is the No. 1 seed in the WCC tournament, yet the Gaels also sit as an 11-seed in ESPN’s Bracketology, meaning should they falter in Las Vegas, their spot in the field of 68 is also in jeopardy.

The top-heavy WCC is in a precarious position. Since BYU joined in the 2011-12 season, it has sent at least two teams to the NCAA tournament each year.

With none of its teams apparently having locked up an at-large bid this season, the best chance it has to continue the trend is for Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s to play each other in the championship game.

According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI), Saint Mary’s has the easiest path, with a 78.8 percent chance of reaching the WCC tournament final. Gonzaga, on the other hand, has a 63.1 percent chance of reaching the title game; the Bulldogs’ path is harder with BYU (58th in BPI) on their side of the bracket.

Should BYU win the tournament (15.4 percent chance, according to BPI), the WCC could be anything from a one-bid to a three-bid conference this season.

While the West Coast Conference is living on the bubble, the résumés of its top teams are not as weak as Bracketology analysts might think. According to ESPN’s Strength of Record (SOR), which calculates how difficult it is for a team to achieve its current record given the schedule it has played, Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga are a little more deserving of an at-large berth than current bracket projections suggest.

Gonzaga has another streak to worry about -- 17 straight appearances in the NCAA tournament. Should the Bulldogs fall to BYU (they split the season series) or to another team besides Saint Mary’s, Mark Few might miss out on the NCAA tournament for the first time as their head coach (he took over in 1999).

No matter how the tournament plays out the next few days, there will be at least one team sweating as it leaves . . . and it won’t be from the desert heat.