Gonzaga's road map to Spokane Arena

Or, you could title this: “Now The Lifting Gets Really Heavy.”

Spokane Arena in March plays host for the sixth time to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament first and second rounds, and although nobody is saying it, a reasonable goal for Gonzaga ought to be getting there. It takes a protected seed in the tournament – that’s a No. 4 or better, although you’ll hear basketball committee members sometimes fudge a little and begrudge a No. 5 seed – and that would seem a realistic aim for the Zags, now ninth-ranked and 9-1 after a rout of Texas Southern Wednesday night.

It would be a hoot to see it happen, just to hear the yowling from some poor, unsuspecting fan base in Ohio or Pennsylvania, when it finds out it’s journeying to a gym that’s only a good walk from the Gonzaga campus. (And, if you’re wondering, by rules of the bracketing procedure, the committee only has so much latitude in opposing those principles. In other words, if Gonzaga earns the home cooking with a protected seed, it shouldn’t be denied the placement.)

Funny, but during Gonzaga’s gilded run of 21 straight NCAA-tournament appearances, the Zags have managed to miss the Spokane Arena host years – almost uncannily so. GU has been a No. 4 seed or better nine times – in 2004-06, 2009, 2013, 2015 and 2017-19, and none of those lined up with the five Arena host years. The Zags play a mean game of basketball, and in this case, seemingly, dodgeball.

A refresher on Spokane Arena’s host years:

2003 – The Zags, a nine seed, were off playing that double-overtime hair-raiser against Arizona in Salt Lake City.

2007 – This was the Heytvelt-bust season, when a drained and thin roster got a 10 seed and lost to Indiana.

2010 – An eight seed got the Zags shuffled to Buffalo, where they got schooled in the second round by Syracuse.

2014 – Kevin Pangos’ turf toe, another eight seed in San Diego, a plucky win over Oke State before a blowout at the hands of Arizona.

2016 – Only a late-season awakening got Gonzaga in at all, as an 11 seed that crashed the Sweet 16.

So the years when the Arena has hosted have been almost a curse to Gonzaga’s outlook for a deep run.

What’s dead ahead of the Zags figures to go a long way toward determining whether they can end that long trend. Next up, in a 10-day stretch starting Sunday, are Washington and Arizona on the road and North Carolina at home. It’s a treacherous enough run that the possibility exists of going 0-3.

It’s a fool’s errand to try to project in early December how the three games could impact the chance of a four seed or better, but what the hell, let’s be foolish. Here’s how I’d handicap it:

If Gonzaga can win two of three, that’s a major step toward a protected seed.
Win one of three, and it’s an iffy future unless the Zags dominate the WCC, which logically means a handful of wins and no more than one loss (WCC tournament included), two max, against the Saint Mary’s-BYU bloc.

Winless, or 3-0, against the Huskies, Wildcats and Tar Heels will pretty much speak for itself.

None of these propositions comes with a guarantee. There are always unseen, one-night provocateurs in the WCC. There’s the befuddling string of injuries that hit recently. But a move on Spokane Arena in March would cross off another box on Gonzaga’s to-do list.