For Gonzaga, it's a pregnant post-postseason
03-26-18

So Gonzaga’s “season after” its big breakthrough of 2017 is done, as are the seasons of 346 other college basketball teams (I don’t count anybody still playing in the NIT, CBI or CollegeInsider.com events. There’s only one tournament.)

Safe to say that GU’s off-season is fraught with more possibility than it used to be around Gonzaga, even 8-10 years ago. But the price of running with the thoroughbreds is the uncertainty that accompanies their high achievement.

If Rui Hachimura, Killian Tillie and every other eligible player on the Gonzaga roster returns next season, you’ve got a national-championship contender. But what if Hachimura and Tillie depart after sophomore seasons? And what if Josh Perkins, who will have been a GU student for four years, somehow concludes he’s had enough? At that end of the continuum you might have a team struggling to sustain the 20-year streak of NCAA tournaments.

Meanwhile, other things to chew on:

-- Here’s the damage in that 20-year run: One Final Four, two Elite Eights and six Sweet 16s. If you can find underachievement in that, you’re delusional.

-- You may have read in this space recently that Gonzaga’s average seed in those 20 tournaments was 6.4, yet it went 17-3 in first-round games. For comparative purposes, how have No. 6 seeds fared against 11s in the last five NCAA tournaments? They’re 10-10.

-- I’m puzzled at what happened to redshirt freshman Jacob Larsen, whom I saw score 10 points with five rebounds against Villanova Dec. 5. When I talked to Zag assistant Tommy Lloyd in mid-February, he cited Larsen’s hitting a freshman wall, the fact he was largely idle for two straight seasons, and the rigors of coming off a knee injury. The hope was, they could work him back into the rotation down the stretch. But after the first game of the calendar year, Larsen was in long enough to score exactly 11 points the rest of the way.

-- How to assess the Zags’ NCAA performance? The Greensboro game had upset written all over it until Perkins and Zach Norvell rescued it in the last minute. Ohio State was, by and large, a boffo performance. Nothing seemed right against Florida State, starting with Tillie’s absence.

-- I don’t have any knowledge of Tillie’s disposition about turning pro, but nothing he did in the tournament will help that status. He shot 3 for 12, missed all four threes (after an other-worldly WCC-tournament performance), had eight rebounds, four steals, four turnovers and nine points, before missing the Florida State game.

-- Gonzaga had three 80-percent-plus free throw shooters entering the tournament. Combined, they missed 19 free throws in the three games.

-- The idea of a “bracket opening up” -- upsets taking hold in a particular region -- is something of a myth. A bracket opens up because some team, perhaps underseeded, is now playing really well. Ask Kansas State about its bracket opening up.

-- Remember how, when George Mason made its run to the Final Four in 2006, it was thought to be the most incredible, unrepeatable, indescribable feat?

-- I never really thought this Gonzaga team was capable of going all the way. Going further, certainly, but not all the way.

-- At the 2014 sub-regional in San Diego, before a second-round game against Arizona (blowout win for the Wildcats), Zags coach Mark Few caught some grief for saying it was a matchup of the two top programs in the West that had been recently alternating that title. It’s a highly fluid distinction, but right now, Gonzaga is the top program in the West.

-- Revenue, mostly TV revenue, will drive Gonzaga’s decision regarding whether to remain in the WCC or bolt to the Mountain West. (Personally, I think the Big East would be fabulous, creating a national conference of like-minded schools. But there’s that geography.) And here’s a stray thought: If you go to the Mountain West, you throw in with a collection of schools that will forever be second banana to the Pac-12. If you stay in the WCC, yes, it’s a league inferior to the Pac-12, but you’re still sort of a distinct free agent in a league of convenience because of the religious affiliations. In other words, you gain money going to the Mountain West, but do you sacrifice your brand? Just sayin’.


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