Do the Zags deserve a No. 1 seed?
02-19-19

I think this is where I came in.

About three years ago, piecing together a work on Gonzaga hoops, “Glory Hounds,” I opened with an anecdote about how Kentucky fans in 2015 had their panties in a tangle about the Zags, owing to the notion that GU’s prospective seed could put the beloved Wildcats in the same region as a potent Wisconsin team.

Now, as Yogi was fond of saying, it’s déjà vu all over again.

One of the hot topics of Gonzaga’s week (since there’s nothing much to discuss as regards the West Coast Conference) suddenly concerns Kentucky, which trounced No. 1 Tennessee Saturday. That has bumped up the onrushing ‘Cats in the national narrative – deservedly so.

In fact, Seth Davis of CBS and The Athletic nudged Kentucky into his group of four No. 1 seeds. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports told Sirius radio Monday that he could see Kentucky nabbing that No. 1 seed over Gonzaga, even if the Zags win out.

Which would be novel. Remember, Gonzaga was a No. 1 seed – officially – in the NCAA basketball committee’s early-February read on where the top 16 teams lay at the moment. It would be quite the notion that an early-projected No. 1 could win nine straight games – that would be Gonzaga’s path from the Feb. 9 reveal through the WCC championship game – and drop in the seeding. And the Zags have been abusing WCC teams by record margins.

Having said that, let me say this: I don’t have a problem with either Seth Davis’ or Jerry Palm’s reckoning.

First, let’s back up. When Gonzaga lost at North Carolina Dec. 15, there was a lot of talk about how little chance existed for GU to claim a No. 1 seed, so bereft is the WCC of real, meaty chances to impress. My take then was that it was possible for the Zags at least to be in the discussion come March.

It was a surprise to me, then, that Gonzaga so quickly made up that ground. Essentially, by the end of January or thereabouts, the Zags had sprouted on the top line.

Bottom line, risking pitchforks and torches outside my house from Zag fans: I don’t think Gonzaga’s resume is necessarily deserving of a No. 1 seed, pending what may take place around it (from Kentucky, et al).

The Zags have a thundering resume victory-on-steroids with the win over Duke in Maui. It’s the loudest statement Gonzaga has ever made to the basketball committee with a single triumph. (Meanwhile, Kentucky was thrashed in November by Duke).

And there’s no quibble here with Gonzaga’s scheduling intent. You don’t have to apologize for taking on Arizona or playing Creighton in front of 17,000 on the road, or meeting a Power Five team in Illinois in Maui.

It’s just that: Illinois is 10-16 (even as it’s proven to be nobody’s stooge in the Big Ten, having beaten Minnesota, Maryland, Michigan State and Ohio State). Creighton is a disappointing 13-13, having lost nine of 12 in the new year. Its season went south with consecutive home losses, and blown leads, to Marquette and Villanova early in January.

And Arizona is a mess. A team that was good enough to beat Iowa State on the eve of the Gonzaga loss in Maui, good enough to be 13-4 and 4-0 once, has now lost seven straight. It hasn’t won in a month.

Texas A&M, another Gonzaga victim, is tied for 11th in the SEC – after a Sweet 16 appearance last spring.

Yeah, Gonzaga beat Washington, and the Huskies’ season helps the Zags. But Gonzaga won by two, and it was at home, and that’s the kind of result the committee expects if you’re going to be a high seed.

None of this is Gonzaga’s fault, it’s just the way it played out. Reminds me a little of 2002, when Gonzaga had a sort of coming-of-age experience with NCAA seeding, falling to a No. 6 seed when Mark Few had toyed with the idea his team could be a 3 or even a 2. Teams like Fresno State and Saint Joseph’s – Zag victims -- were projected to be Final Four threats and when they came up disappointments, Gonzaga paid the price. Then it really paid the price with a first-round NCAA loss to Wyoming.

I’m not going to try to weigh Kentucky’s 21-4 record and recent 10-game winning streak in the SEC against Gonzaga’s chops. There’s time enough for that later.

Besides, you can get plenty of that on a Kentucky message board, where the opinions occasionally touched charitable (“I’d prefer a rematch with Duke to playing GU in the Dance. They’re a nightmare”) to the delusional (“I have no idea how this Zags team beat Duke. It almost seems like K gave them the win just because he thinks they’re the next media favorite. Of the four games I’ve seen from Gonzaga in the WCC, there’s nothing to make me believe they’re anywhere near even the top 15 teams in the country”).

Thankfully for some, registration for a fan card carries no requirement for being of sound mind.

Like a lot of mid-season debates, this one may descend to a faint murmur by March. The Zags may well end up a No. 1 seed. If so, they won’t be thanking Arizona or Creighton.


Back