This was supposed to be the year Gonzaga took the last smidgen of suspense out of Selection Sunday.
So why were they still sweating it out at 29 minutes after the hour, Bracket Daylight Time?
Twenty-nine after. That’s when the sketches on “SNL” turn into laughless filler, when the rookie comic pacing in Jay Leno’s green room starts dreading that he’s going to get bumped. It’s when the local anchors start chirping with the weather guy about his choice of necktie.
Now, the Bulldogs weren’t going to get bumped, not completely.
“But it was actually kind of nerve-wracking,” admitted guard Kevin Pangos.
What they were waiting to see is whether the NCAA Basketball Committee had the courage to anoint them with a No. 1 seed or if they’d lose another bracket pageant to a power-conference heavy – which was altogether likely, and something the Zags weren’t prepared to dispute in any event.
But when the end of the East bracket announcement on CBS showed Miami – regular-season and tournament champion of the ACC – a No. 2, Gonzaga assistant coach Ray Giacoletti delivered an air uppercut, and a small roar rolled out of the Herek Room at Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center, where the watch was on. Even though Big Ten tournament champ Ohio State remained, Gonzaga’s status seemed secure. And soon enough, there it was.
And then there it was again.
“I think the committee made a mistake,” yapped resident CBS agitator Doug Gottlieb (who will call GU’s first-round game Thursday against Southern on TBS). “No disrespect to the Zags, but they didn’t play anybody else on the 1 line.”
Is this music to the Zags, or what?
Validated by the people who count, dissed by the people who count web hits and calls from Melvin in Terre Haute.
“That’s just great,” said guard David Stockton. “It gives us something to prove. Gonzaga has always had a chip on its shoulder like that, and this just gives us another one.”
The push-and-pull over Gonzaga’s worthiness as a No. 1 seed has been ongoing since the debate over its claim to the No. 1 ranking hardened in the pan. Fresh outrage is always needed for the next news cycle.
Barely had Gottlieb and the contrarians stopped to take a breath that it was hastily concluded that the West was the weakest of the NCAA tournament’s four regions.
Naturally, that didn’t have anything to do with the team on the top line.
How the last team standing in the Big Ten (Ohio State), the team that won both the regular season and tournament in what was mathematically the toughest conference the land (New Mexico), the Big 8 co-champs and nasty-ass Wisconsin are evidence of weakness, well, you can certainly bet the case will be made again if it’s Gonzaga that survives until Atlanta.
If the Zags win the region, the theory will go, it couldn’t be tough.
Fact is, the Zags will have to be tough to win it. Either possible second-round opponent, Pitt or Wichita State, prefers bull-dogging to dance recitals, and out Big Tenning the Big Ten is mostly an exercise in self-abuse. You can win, but you can’t come away feeling like you did.
This will be Gonzaga’s challenge – summoning the grit the Gottliebertarians still don’t believe the Zags possess.
As if that challenge wouldn’t be there if the Zags had been slotted as second seed.
Really, does the 1 ever win you a game?
Coach Mark Few started calling Gonzaga “a national program” years ago, and it is, so it’s not as if the seed made the Bulldogs something they weren’t.
“I could easily have seen them putting us on the 2 line,” Few noted, “and I wouldn’t have had a problem with that. There’s a lot of worthy teams who certainly deserved it as much as we did. At the end of the day, I don’t know how you pick.
“I think we were maybe rewarded for not having a bad night. We didn’t have one all year where we really laid an egg.”
If they had, the committee would have let them know. A West Coast Conference loss is probably worth a two-line drop.
“It’s the beauty of the process,” said committee chair Mike Bobinski. “It’s the challenge we always have – evaluating teams situated differently in the landscape. Gonzaga was 16-1 on the road, which is spectacular. They get everybody’s best shot. They’re a very complete and strong team.
“They deserve to be there.”
So that’s that. And now on to the real suspense.