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Blanchette: No better way to pass time until Selection Sunday than ‘what-if’ bracket buster

 (Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

Could sophomore Kevin Pangos handle senior Kevin Pangos? Would the most embattled Gonzaga team of the last decade have a shot against the only Bulldogs to climb to No. 1? Would Adam Morrison go off for 40 points on Kyle Wiltjer – and vice versa?

And who were the dolts who seeded a 28-3 team that climbed to No. 3 in the polls behind their Bulldog brothers who never cracked the Top 25?

Have we got a debate for you.

Welcome to the bracket of Zag on Zag.

Since there is never enough nattering this time of year about seed lines, RPI, strength of schedule, Top 50 wins, bubbles and balderdash, here’s an exercise to goose the conversation and amp up the noise.

As a public service, naturally. And for entertainment purposes only.

Next week, Coach Mark Few will take a Gonzaga team to the NCAA Basketball Tournament for the 16th consecutive year. Such a nice, round number – in a tournament bracket sense – seemed to call out for comparisons and conjecture.

Also, there’s time to kill before Selection Sunday.

So the Spokesman-Review has constructed a hypothetical Zag bracket, seeding and matching all of Few’s Gonzaga teams – including the current one, whose NCAA fate remains to be seen – in a Bulldog fan’s ultimate Sweet 16.

And we’re going to declare a winner. Feel free to declare your own.

Apologies go out to the 1995 Zags, the first Gonzaga team to crack the NCAA bracket, and the 1999 team, which started this Spokane obsession with its captivating run to the Elite Eight – still the benchmark for all Gonzaga tournament teams. The Few years simply made for the most convenient cutoff.

Besides, this isn’t the NCAA. We don’t do play-in games in Dayton.

Of course, because it is not only physically impossible to get all of the bands back together to play, but would require some Doc Brown time transference to pit Turiaf vs. Turiaf, Bouldin vs. Bouldin or even Ryan Floyd vs. Colin Floyd, expert assistance has been enlisted to guide fans through the metaphysical gymnastics and come up with a winner.

Meet our panel:

Jeff Brown, former West Coast Conference player of the year and linchpin of the early 1990s teams that provided the jumping off point for Zagmania.

Tom Hudson, radio voice of the Bulldogs since 2002 with a front-row seat for nearly the entire run, and a TV sports anchor who covered the team prior to that.

Jim Meehan, Gonzaga beat writer for the S-R since 2007 and contributor to the paper’s tournament coverage for more than a decade.

Stephanie Vigil, KHQ news anchor, with a perspective that there’s more to the Zags than just jump shots and transition defense.

• And me, second-guesser of coaches and selection committees since James Naismith nailed up the first peach basket.

Speaking of which …

Just one question for the brain trust that built the bracket, S-R sports editor Joe Palmquist and deputy design director Ralph Walter:

The 2003-04 Zags a No. 3 seed? Really?

Somebody’s been spending too much time watching the Cougs and the Eags.

How can a team that was a No. 2 seed in March Madness be a 3 in March Zagness? Did the 28-3 record not make an impression? The four wins over NCAA Tournament teams? The RPI of 17?

Yes, the ’03-04s were upset in the second round of the NCAAs by Nevada. Such a humiliation. Only three of those Wolf Pack players saw time in the NBA.

Looks as if being overly influenced by one game was an occupational hazard for our seeders. How else to explain the 24-9 Zags of 2002-03 being a No. 2 seed in our fantasy tournament other than losing that remarkable double-overtime war in Salt Lake City to NCAA No. 1 seed Arizona?

In fact, NCAA Tournament success seems to carry enormous weight. The Sweet 16 teams of 2000 and 2001? Both No. 2 seeds in our tourney, but double-digit seeds in the real one. Meanwhile, the 2008 team that got hosed with a date against Stephen Curry and Davidson in the Wildcats’ backyard is a No. 4 seed, even with wins over six teams that made the for-real bracket.

Does the phrase “body of work” ring a bell, fellas?

Well, maybe we’re taking this too seriously. After all, the current Zags were accorded a top seed – though this was before the loss to BYU and the WCC tournament.

And besides, the voting panel can straighten all this out. But will it?

You can follow via daily videos as the Fab Five winnows down the bracket, herded along by moderator Jess Walter – known for his basketball exploits at East Valley High School, and other fiction.

And you can have your own say in the outcome by casting a vote at www.spokesman.com/zags/.

All will be revealed in Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

It’ll give a whole new meaning to Selection Sunday.


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