Arrow-right Camera
Presented by The Spokesman-Review and KHQ/SWX
Gonzaga Basketball

March Madness hardly that without Zags

Tue., March 24, 2009

Thank heavens for Meech Madness.

Because March Madness is on life support.

We know this because beyond the borders of Zagistan, the biggest story of the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament was Jim Calhoun being hospitalized and missing UConn’s opening-round game. The coach was apparently suffering from dehydration, a counterintuitive diagnosis in that he’s usually so full of himself.

Then there were the charming first-round upset winners: Cleveland State and … uh, Cleveland State and … uh …

Finally, the general catatonia was lifted Saturday evening when Demetri (call him Meech) Goodson, Gonzaga’s puckish freshman guard, sallied coast-to-coast for the improbable last-second banker that sent the networks scurrying through their video vaults for footage of UCLA’s Tyus Edney and BYU’s Danny Ainge pulling off similar full-court heroics.

At Gonzaga on Monday, even the student managers were on the court trying to mimic Meech’s moves while the Zags watched film of North Carolina, and the campus remained suitably giddy. Goodson had answered the 67 texts left on his cellphone after the game and readied for the onslaught of media demands – except that there weren’t any, really.

No Letterman. No CBS Morning News. No Jim Rome. No Dan Patrick. No Slappy and Scrappy from AM 980 The Sports Slug in Bugscuffle, Tenn.

The stupor had returned. And no wonder.

Who can get mad over March when all the teams that are supposed to win, win?

This is why the NCAA tournament needs Gonzaga, now more than ever. They may not be the Little Zags Who Could of a decade ago, but they’re the closest you’ll find standing – and beating the Tar Heels on Friday in Memphis would be the equivalent of a B-12 shot for all concerned.

Surely you know from your weekend math homework that either A) your bracket is in ruins because you’re smitten with Cinderella complex, or B) you’re in the office pool hunt with all the other drones who cleave to the seeds.

The chalk, they call it.

The crock, we call it.

For the first time in tournament history since the seeds were sown, Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in all four regions have advanced to the Sweet 16. They’re joined by two No. 4s (Gonzaga, Xavier), a No. 5 (Purdue) and a No. 12 (Arizona).

That’s right – plucky, gritty Arizona is carrying the flag for underdogs everywhere, with its interim coach and the rap that it didn’t belong in the tournament to begin with. Also with its two first-round draft picks, its McDonald’s All-American point guard and its 25 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

With a Cinderella like that, don’t you root for the wicked stepsisters?

This on the heels of the 2008 Final Four which, for the first time, was made up entirely of No. 1 seeds. Just two years ago, the Final Four seeds included a 2, a 3, a 4 and an 11. The games weren’t necessarily better, but it was more fun.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few isn’t particularly surprised by the development, nor alarmed.

“It’s a little deceiving, I think,” Few said. “There were a lot of close games if you watched at all (Sunday), and any of those teams with a shot here or a break there could have broken through. Sometimes the conclusions we draw after the fact aren’t as cut-and-dried as we think.”

No. But the scoreboard is still the scoreboard.

Few believes the pod system that keeps higher seeds playing closer to home in the early rounds is a big factor “and they should do it that way,” he said. “If you have great years like that, you shouldn’t be put in a road situation.”

True, it’s not as if the underdogs didn’t have an opportunity to win. But if Few is correct, then the pod system is just one more thing stacked against the little guy, along with the criteria the selection committee seems intent on keeping fluid. A few years ago the way a team finished the season was all-important; now it’s the “whole body of work,” which to those schools who can’t get a phone call returned by a Pac-10 or Big East school is the college basketball version of the poll tax.

But back to the Zags. Though they long ago segued from Cinderella to Top 25 perennial, Few accepts that a segment of basketball fandom out there has never really let go of the original feeling.

“There’s something that resonates with people across the country – not just in Spokane or the Northwest,” he said. “I don’t know why that is, but it’s great – even if it’s not reality any more.”

And surely it would resonate loudly this weekend.

“Just reading newspapers and stuff on line,” said Goodson, “people are saying North Carolina is going to beat us bad – so it’s going to have us ready to go and give us something to play off of.”

Think about it. March Zagness. Isn’t it needed, now more than ever?

Click here to comment on this story »