BYU men's basketball vs. San Francisco 03

BYU guard T.J. Haws holds on to the ball against a San Francisco defender during a men's basketball game between the Cougars and the Dons on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Provo.

The West Coast Conference announced its 2020 men's basketball conference schedule on Tuesday ahead of what promises to be another exciting year. The race for the WCC regular season crown will stretch over a nine-week span, featuring 16 conference games. Conference play is slated to begin on Thursday, January 2, 2020 and will conclude on Saturday, February 29.

Five WCC teams concluded the 2018-19 season with a top-100 ranking in the ESPN BPI poll, headlined by defending regular season and 2019 NCAA Elite Eight participant Gonzaga (No. 2), Saint Mary's (38), San Francisco (62), San Diego (87) and BYU (94). The Zags (33-4) led the nation in adjusted offense according to KenPom.com (124.5), while the Gaels (23rd/114.7) also cracked the top-25 in offensive efficiency.

After making a nearly unprecedented five consecutive NCAA Sweet 16 appearances, including the program's third Elite Eight showing since 2015, the Bulldogs are, once again, generating significant buzz in multiple publications. Two years removed from concluding the 2017-18 regular season in the top-25, Saint Mary's also prominently appears in the national rankings conversation. BYU and Pepperdine are trending as potential postseason teams to watch.

In the way-too-early 2019-20 ESPN poll, Gonzaga checked in at No. 6 while the 2019 WCC Tournament Champion Gaels are No. 21. The Zags (No. 11) and Saint Mary's (24) appear in the latest CBS Sports Top-25 and One and check in at No. 11 and No. 16 respectively on the NBC Sports poll.

All told, four WCC programs earned postseason berths in 2018-19. The Gaels and Zags gave the WCC multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament field for the sixth time in the last eight seasons. In addition, San Diego qualified for the NIT Postseason for the first time in program history and LMU advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2019 CBI Tournament.

This marks year two of the modified WCC men's basketball schedule. The 16-game schedule is the result of changes adopted by the WCC Presidents' Council as part of the Conference's Men's Basketball Enhancement Plan .

These schedule initiatives demonstrate the league-wide commitment by West Coast Conference Presidents and Athletic Directors to adopt an innovative approach to advance men's basketball on the national stage.

Early schedule highlights include Saint Mary's at San Francisco January 2, while Pepperdine visits Gonzaga January 4.

BYU and Gonzaga square off for the first time January 18 in Spokane in a Saturday showdown. The return game in Provo is scheduled for February 22.

Gonzaga and Saint Mary's play twice in four weeks, with the first meeting on February 8 in Moraga. The series shifts to Spokane on February 29 for the regular season finale for both teams.

The West Coast Conference will celebrate its 12th year in Las Vegas when the 2020 West Coast Conference Basketball Tournaments return to the Orleans Arena from March 5-10.

Fans can expect an announcement regarding the full slate of WCC broadcasts in the coming weeks.

Follow Darnell Dickson on Twitter @darnellwrites or e-mail him at ddickson@heraldextra.com.

Darnell Dickson, who has been covering sports in Utah since 1989 (with a detour to Nebraska for three years somewhere in there), is currently the BYU football columnist and BYU men’s basketball beat writer.

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