Busting Brackets

Bracketology 2024: Akron, Drake, and Gonzaga highlight first-place battles this weekend

Akron Zips head coach John Groce has a moment with forward Enrique Freeman during the second half of
Akron Zips head coach John Groce has a moment with forward Enrique Freeman during the second half of / Jeff Lange / USA TODAY NETWORK
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Saint Mary's Gaels (17-6, 8-0 in WCC) at Gonzaga Bulldogs (16-5, 7-1 in WCC) Saturday, February 3, 10:00 PM ET, ESPN

If it's February and the West Coast Conference, it must be Saint Mary's and Gonzaga. The two rivals face off again on Saturday night at the Kennel. The Gaels were picked to win the conference and after a rough spot that saw them drop five of six in November into December, they have gotten back on track going 13-1 in their last 14 after beating Santa Clara last time out.

It seems weird to say that a 16-5 team isn't quite at the level we are used to seeing them at, but here we are with the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Even though their losses are to likely No. 1 seeds Purdue and UConn, the national runner-up San Diego State, Washington by five, and Santa Clara by one it still feels like they have taken a slight step back. Despite all that, here they are once again battling Saint Mary's for conference supremacy.

This game is extremely important for both teams. For the visiting Gaels, even though they lead the conference, much like Gonzaga if they don’t get the auto-bid their at-large hopes are tenuous right now. A win over Gonzaga gives them one of the few opportunities remaining to improve their resume. As for the Bulldogs, this game is even more important for them from a postseason standpoint.

Right now Gonzaga is on the wrong side of the bubble and this game could be considered a must-win. There’s a big difference between pulling even with the Gaels and falling two games behind, especially with a trip to Rupp Arena to take on Kentucky happening a week later. If Gonzaga wants to move closer to the cutline, they have to win needle-moving games like this one from here on out.