The University of San Francisco or Bill Russell (take your pick) won two national basketball titles in the 1950s.
Most happifying. I’m talking about University of San Diego’s win over St. Mary’s in the basketball — men’s side of the ball — division. It wasn’t a squeaker, it was a 74-66 beating. At the time, St. Mary’s was ranked 23rd in the ESPN coaches’ poll.
The West Coast Conference (WCC) has eight members, and San Diego is in last place. I’m giving the Toreros last place even though Loyola Marymount has the same conference record (2-10), but San Diego gets the nod due to their achievement in the just-made-up Overall Losing Games category, coming home with a 6-21 record.
There are 341 to 347 colleges playing Division I basketball, depending on the source. According to ESPN, University of San Diego (USD) ranks 317th in points per game, 336th in rebounds per game, 299th in assists per game, and 251st in field-goal percentage.
Saint Mary’s ranks 12th in points per game, 134th in rebounds, 11th in assists, and 4th in field-goal percentage. For the mathematically inclined, that is a 305 school spread between St. Mary’s and USD in points per game, 202 in rebounds, 288 in assists, and 247 in field goal percentage.
Or, to put it another way, the NCAA ranks San Diego just below regional powerhouse University of South Carolina Upstate, and just above New Jersey Institute of Technology. Yet, San Diego beat St. Mary’s by 8 points.
Which is why people love college basketball. This stuff happens. In fact, if San Diego loses their last two regular-season games but wins the WCC conference tournament (not technically impossible), they’ll trot off to the NCAA tournament with a mighty 9-23 record. You’ve got to root for that.
Saying that, the West Coast Conference is on a roll. The league consists of eight small private schools, all faith-based — seven are Catholic (Jesuit subdivision), one is Churches of Christ. Wasn’t always that way.
The conference began as the California Basketball Association in 1952. San Jose State was an original stakeholder. At one time or another, Fresno State, UC Santa Barbara, Nevada, and UNLV were members. Nowadays, the conference plays 13 Division I sports but not football (only San Diego plays football, in the Pioneer Football League, a no-scholarship football-only conference). Which means the WCC will never be considered major league. Don’t get me wrong, the WCC knows how to compete: nine national championships in soccer, six national championships in tennis and...nobody cares. Civilians care about football, they care about basketball, and that’s it.
Happily, the WCC plays major league basketball. The University of San Francisco or Bill Russell (take your pick) won two national basketball titles in the 1950s. Loyola Marymount’s made it to the Elite Eight in 1990. Gonzaga has been invited to the tournament every year for the past 11 years.
And now, maybe, the new kid, St. Mary’s, who has made the NCAA Tournament a regular stop, checking in for the 2005, 2008, and 2010 tournaments, last year getting as far as the Sweet-16 round.
Schools are small, as is the eight-school conference. Yet, the WCC has won, count ’em, two national basketball championships and currently has two schools — 25 percent of the conference — regarded as NCAA Tournament regulars. Finally, it is a weirdly stable conference. While big-time colleges are hustling their collective ass on the street buying and selling conference affiliations, the WCC sails along unperturbed. Of its current conference lineup, three schools joined in 1952, two in 1955, one in 1976, and two in 1979.
And now comes change. BYU will become a conference member (save for football) on June 30. BYU has been to 25 NCAA tournaments, has an enrollment of 34,100, plays home games in Marriott Center, a beast of an arena that seats 22,700, third largest beast in the country.
This is a rare case where greed is good. If BYU hadn’t gotten greedy — going independent in football for the big bucks —while attempting to double-cross Mountain West and WAC Conference members, we would not have seen the indescribably more interesting addition of Fresno and Nevada to the Mountain West Conference, thus upgrading San Diego State’s competition by five full clicks. We win. BYU had planned to join the WAC but defections caused the Cougars to seek out any conference that would have them minus their football program. Thus, the fortuitous union between BYU and the WCC. This will make WCC basketball indescribably more interesting. We win again.