|Not 24 hours have passed since the final buzzer sounded and confetti streamed down from the rafters in the Orleans Arena. I'm already looking forward to next year.|
|The Orleans Arena between the 2013 Women's and Men's Championship Games.|
This year's WCC Tournament was the last in a few categories. It was the last nine team tournament. The last to feature the top seed protecting double-bye into the semifinals. It won't, however, be the last to take place at the Orleans Arena.
“I am very pleased that the West Coast Conference and The Orleans Arena have agreed to extend our partnership for the next three years,” WCC Commissioner Jamie Zaninovich said of the contract extension. The Orleans Arena will play host to the WCC Tournament through the 2016 season.
For the past five seasons the WCC Tournament has been held at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. Before the move to this neutral site the tournament moved from campus to campus. Since Gonzaga's run to the Elite Eight in 1999 only one school other than Gonzaga or Saint Mary's has won a WCC Tournament. That school, San Diego, won twice, but both times the tournament was held on the San Diego campus. Saint Mary's, winners of two WCC Tournaments in Las Vegas, hadn't won since 1997, before the move to The Orleans Arena.
There are advantages to the Orleans Arena besides the neutral site being beneficial from a competitive balance standpoint.
With 7,741 seats when configured for basketball games, the Orleans Arena is larger than any WCC arena other than BYU's 20,900 seat Marriott Center. While schools like Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount, with arenas considerably smaller than the Orleans Arena, struggle to sell out games against teams other than Gonzaga, BYU or Saint Mary's, the conference has had no problem selling out in Las Vegas.
Over the five year run here the arena has been sold out, in advance, four times. As I sit in the "Java Vegas" part of the Orleans to write this, the resort has shifted (completely and literally overnight) from West Coast to Western Athletic Conference. The WAC Tournament starts here today but there are, from the looks of it, more WCC fans streaming through the check out line than WAC fans, players, students, etc. streaming in. The WAC Tournament isn't sold out. Many conferences, especially ones the size of the WCC and WAC, struggle to sell tickets to their conference tournaments.
For some conferences that problem is because the tournaments are held at predetermined campus arenas and, like the 2007 WCC Tournament in Portland, the home team doesn't last very long. For others, like the MAC with the 20,562 seat Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, it is because the tournament is held in cavernous NBA arenas.
Granted, the arena wasn't close to full for the Loyola Marymount vs. Portland opening round game. It was, however,packed for many women's games. During the Saint Mary's vs. Gonzaga game last night the capacity crowd's deafening roars at nearly every bucket or whistle made up for the scattered empty seats during the first couple games of the tournament.
This continuation of the partnership between the WCC and the Orleans Arena comes in advance of some major shifts in the conference and tournament that I alluded to earlier.
With the University of the Pacific joining (rejoining, actually, Pacific was a founding member of the WCC, then the California Basketball Association, in 1952) the conference at the start of next season there will be ten teams to account for. The conference tournament format will change because of this addition.
Gone are the days of the #9 vs. #8 opening round game. Also gone is the protective double-bye for the top two seeds. No longer does the conference feel the need to send Gonzaga to the semifinals. When the double-bye was implemented in 2003 Gonzaga was the cream of the conference, and the cream was floating atop some pretty unappealing milk. If the Zags lost in their first or second game of the tournament, to one of the worst teams in the conference, it would dirty their dancing shoes. Conceivably to the point of stripping the Zags of a berth in the NCAA Tournament, leaving the WCC with a team less equipped to win games (gain exposure/earn $$$) in the NCAA Tournament and generally in a less appealing situation than if the Zags make the tournament.
"Tiny Gonzaga", as the New York Times liked to call the school in its Cinderella years, isn't riding a one or two year streak of appearances in the big dance anymore. It's not a small time program that can be denied an at large berth if it doesn't win the WCC's auto bid. The WCC isn't the Gonzaga cream and everybody-else-unappealing-milk anymore. BYU and Saint Mary's are legitimate threats to win NCAA Tournament games every year (if able to make the tournament). Gonzaga is at the point where a loss in the opening round to say, a team like this year's Loyola Marymount that got hot at tournament time, wouldn't be bubble bursting. The conference is at the point where even if Gonzaga's bubble were to be burst by a loss, BYU or Saint Mary's would likely win the auto bid and they have large enough profiles to keep the WCC above the SWAC or Sun Belt in both seeding and exposure.
It's a good feeling to be able to bracket like the big boys.
|The new look of the WCC Tournament bracket.|