Zags want to make their own path to NCAA men’s tourney
LAS VEGAS – Depending on what bracket genius you want to believe, Gonzaga at the moment is an 11-seed (but classified as on the NCAA tournament bubble), an 11-seed and rising, or one of the last four out of the 68-team field.
Those are the projections of CBSsports.com, ESPN.com and Foxsports.com.
No wonder Bulldogs men’s coach Mark Few has pretty much ignored the bracket blather all season. There are a range of projections that stir up attention, but the only opinion that matters is the one revealed by the selection committee on Selection Sunday (March 13).
Gonzaga would like to eliminate the guesswork at the WCC tournament, which begins tonight at the Orleans Arena with No. 5 Portland facing No. 8 Loyola Marymount and No. 6 Pepperdine taking on No. 7 San Diego. On Saturday, No. 4 Santa Clara faces the Portland-LMU winner, and No. 3 San Francisco meets the Pepperdine/San Diego winner.
Second-seeded Gonzaga (22-9) opens Sunday at 7:30 against USF, Pepperdine or San Diego. Top-seeded Saint Mary’s (23-7), projected by most to be in the NCAA field but by no means a lock, will meet Santa Clara, Portland or Loyola Marymount.
“We don’t think about that (NCAA) stuff,” junior center Robert Sacre said. “We really can’t even think about Saint Mary’s. We think about our first game. We’re hungry.”
Gonzaga enters with an eight-game WCC winning streak that helped the Bulldogs earn a co-WCC title with Saint Mary’s, which dropped three of its last four games.
“It’s really wide open,” Few said. “It just seems like it has been one- and two-possession games across the board with the exception that we were able to get some space on teams late and Saint Mary’s was able to early. Those (other) teams legitimately feel they have a chance, where maybe in the past they didn’t feel that way.”
Whether the Bulldogs have entered the conference tourney with an NCAA safety net or perceived to be on the bubble, Few said he hasn’t noticed an impact on his teams’ performances.
“There have been a lot of years we had that uncertainty, including the first one back in 1999 and even the year after that,” said Few, referring to year Gonzaga began its streak of 12 consecutive NCAA trips. “It wasn’t until fairly recently with the nonconference scheduling that we were able to beef it up enough.”
If it goes according to seed, the Bulldogs and Gaels would meet in Monday’s title game. They’ve split two entertaining games that came down to the closing seconds. The Bulldogs have won seven straight since a nonconference loss to Memphis.
“I like how we share the ball, how we communicate and play defense and hold our opponents in the 30s (field-goal percentages),” forward Elias Harris said. “Everybody’s ready to go.”