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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 8:16 PM

Sports bettors knew the West Coast Conference was typically going to be a three-team race annually when BYU was invited to join a league that has been recently ruled by Gonzaga and St. Mary’s. When either of those three teams play each other, it’s going to have a BIG impact in the West Coast race, and for Big Dance consideration.

The first of those meetings happens TONIGHT when St. Mary’s visits Gonzaga in a game that will be nationally televised by ESPN2 at 11 p.m. ET. It’s easy amidst the hype of the Big Ten…the Big East…and media juggernaut Duke to lose site of the best of the mid-majors. Be sure you’re paying attention to the big games wherever they’re played!

We’re not going to run the full numbers for the whole West Coast Conference at this early stage of the season. Maybe someone will come in from off the radar to make it a four-team or five-team race. For now, here’s what you need to know about the Big Three.

JEFF SAGARIN’S COMPUTER RATINGS AT USA TODAY

Gonzaga #9

BYU #52

St. Mary’s #61

KEN POMEROY’S COMPUTER RATINGS

Gonzaga #13

BYU #44

St. Mary’s #52

Gonzaga is currently thought of as a team with a great shot to get seeded for the Sweet 16. Many pundits are picking them as a darkhorse to go deep…though that seems to be an annual occurrence that Gonzaga can’t quite live up to. They are 15-1 entering Thursday’s game with St. Mary’s, with the only loss coming to Illinois of the powerful Big Ten.

St. Mary’s is 12-3, but hasn’t challenged itself with a tough schedule. That’s why they’re a bubble team at the moment. The three losses came as favorites at Northern Iowa, and to Georgia Tech and Pacific on neutral floors.

BYU is 12-4, and will look to build on that Thursday Night at home against Pepperdine.

Here’s a full schedule for the big three against each other:

Tonight: St. Mary’s at Gonzaga

January 16: St. Mary’s at BYU

January 24: BYU at Gonzaga

February14: Gonzaga at St. Mary’s

February 21: BYU at St. Mary’s

February 28: Gonzaga at BYU

Circle those dates now. Then monitor how each of these teams plays under big game pressure through the next two months. All three will be playing in the postseason even if only Gonzaga reaches the Dance. Smart handicappers will be picking their spots for and against all three through the season and in March based on what is learned in these showdowns.

JIM HURLEY has a lot on his plate tonight. St. Mary’s/Gonzaga may be in the mix. But, he’s also loking at Temple/Xavier, Michigan State/Iowa on ESPN2, Miami/North Carolina on ESPN, Kentucky/Vanderbilt on ESPN, and Arizona/Oregon on ESPN2. Of course, Thursday means NBA on TNT as well. Tonight’s doubleheader involves four teams in the news recently. New York visits Indiana and Miami is at Portland.

You can always purchase the top nightly plays right here at the website. If you have any questions about service, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. We have great combination packages available that take you through the Super Bowl or through March Madness

Be sure you’re with us EVERY DAY in the NOTEBOOK for handicapping and sports betting guidance. Our NFL Playoff stat previews will be up well in advance of this weekend’s exciting football action. But, now that basketball is rolling strong, every day is a big day at JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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