Santa Clara forward Josip Vrankic (13) drives the ball while defended by Gonzaga guard Joel Ayayi (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Spokane, Wash., Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
- Santa Clara plays Portlandin the first round of the West Coast Conference tournament Thursday in Las Vegas
- Portland has been one of the worst teams in the NCAA Division I at 6-14 straight up and 4-13 ATS
- Check the odds, analysis and betting predictions below
No. 7 seed Santa Clara (10-7, 4-5) will play No. 10 seed Portland (6-14, 0-11) in the second of two first-round games in the West Coast Conference tournament at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. Tip-off is Thursday at 11:59pm.
Portland has lost 12 games in a row, tied for the second-longest current streak in NCAA Division I behind Iowa State. The Pilots, Iowa State and Chicago State, which cancelled the rest of its season in December, are the only teams are winless in league play this season.
Portland vs Santa Clara Odds
|Portland Pilots||+750||+13.5 (-106)||144.5 (Ov-110)|
|Santa Clara Broncos||-1200||-13.5 (-116)||144.5 (Un-110)|
Odds from FanDuel on March 3.
Santa Clara and Portland were scheduled to play three times in the regular season, once as a makeup game, but all three were cancelled because of coronavirus concerns, the last when Portland reported a positive COVID-19 test before a makeup game Feb. 27. It was the Pilots’ first virus stoppage.
On Friday, the Santa Clara-Portland winner will play the winner of the other first-round game between No. 8 San Francisco and No. 9 San Diego.
A Long, Strange Trip
Santa Clara has spent the season in pandemic hell. The Broncos went over thre weeks between games because of COVID issues in its program, pausing between a Jan. 23 victory over Loyola Marymount and a Feb. 16 loss in the rematch.
The Broncos have had 14 games either postponed or cancelled, and because of health restrictions set by Santa Clara County were forced to relocate to Santa Cruz, 32 miles to the southwest. Santa Clara played and practiced there from the first week of December through the second week of January and did not have a true home game between Nov. 28 and Feb. 16.
With so many cancellations, Santa Clara played every team in the WCC first division at least once (except second-place BYU) and did not meet last-place Portland. The Broncos’ aggressive non-conference slate included games against USC and Oregon, and their best victory was a 66-64 decision at Saint Mary’s on Jan. 9.
The Broncos could have hoped for a more straightforward season. They returned four starters and seven of their nine top scorers off a 20-win team in 2019-20, and they were 6-0 before losses to Colorado State and USC this season.
2021 NCAA Men’s Tournament Championship Odds Tracker
Pilots Endure a Coaching Change
Portland has not responded well to the Feb. 5 firing of head coach Terry Porter, losing all three games since assistant coach Ben Johnson was elevated.
Porter might have seen it coming. A star guard for the NBA Portland Trail Blazers, Porter was 43-301 in four-plus seasons with the Pilots. They never won more than four WCC games in one season and have won only one conference game the last three.
Since Porter was fired after a 106-60 loss to BYU on Feb. 4, the Pilots have lost by 21, 27 and 22 points.
Portland was without leading scorer Ahmed Ali in an 80-58 loss to Pacific in the regular-season finale, and his status for the tournament is unclear.
Ali, a 5-foot-11 guard who previously attended Washington State and Hawaii, is third in the WCC in scoring, averaging 18.0 points per game.
Broncos’ Vrankic Among WCC Elite
Santa Clara 6-foot-9 forward Josip Vrankic, a three-year starter, made the All-WCC first team after a regular season in which he averaged 15.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He leads the league in rebounding, is 10th in scoring and has seven double-doubles.
Broncos sophomore guard Jalen Williams was named honorable mention on the all-conference team after averaging 10.8 points and 2.3 assists per game.
Both enter the WCC tournament on a roll. Vrankic had 26 points and Williams had 17 in an 86-82 victory over Pepperdine on Feb. 20, and Vrankic had 14 points and 11 rebounds against Gonzaga. Williams is averaging 14.6 points and 3.7 assists in his last seven games.
Peaking at the Right Time?
The Broncos rebounded from their worst loss of the conference season with two of their better games, the victory over Pepperdine and an 89-75 road loss to Gonzaga in the final game of the regular season.
Santa Clara led Gonzaga for almost 12 minutes in their 89-75 loss on Feb. 25, and the Broncos were within seven points on a Vrankic’s layup with 6:30 remaining. Those games came after a two-point home loss to San Diego, which won two WCC games.
Guglielmo Caruso had a season-high 19 points against Gonzaga.
Portland has lost nine straight ATS, eight as a double-digit underdog.
The pick: Santa Clara -13.5 (-116)
Jack has covered college and professional sports for various Arizona media outlets and has written for the AP, USA Today and Baseball America, among others. He staffed the 2015-17 World Series and has staffed four Super Bowls.