Ronny Turiaf stretching his jersey taut and screaming toward the rafters. Jeremy Pargo soaring up for a tomahawk dunk. Dan Dickau letting fly with a 3 from the Les Schwab logo. Adam Morrison standing atop the scorer’s table with arms raised high. The Kennel Club brandishing Fatheads of Robert Sacre, Mike Hart – and a special memorial image of Fr. Tony Lehmann. Little Meech Goodson leaping to rub the head of Will Foster after the 7-foot-5 giant swats a shot.
Mark Few shaking hands with … Mark Few?
Hey, even March Zagness deserves its own “One Shining Moment” montage.
Capped by a slow-motion picture of a net being draped around the neck of … well, more about that soon enough.
On Planet Real Time, it’s Selection Sunday – the NCAA basketball committee shuffling the deck of 68 teams seeded into its men’s tournament and dealing them out to Columbus, Omaha and Seattle, among other destinations.
But here on Planet Zag, it’s already Championship Sunday – the final reckoning of our let-your-imagination-go bracket featuring the 16 teams coach Mark Few has guided to the NCAAs in as many years.
It’s been an amusing way to pass the week since Gonzaga’s most recent West Coast Conference title. But then, it’s been a way to pass the time ever since the Bulldogs became NCAA perennials and fans have parsed the relative merits of the teams and players who have authored one of college basketball’s most remarkable stories.
The hypothetical tournament was limited to Few’s 16 teams for bracket convenience, so the first NCAA tourney team of 1995 and Dan Monson’s Elite Eight group of 1999 weren’t included, with our apologies. Then an expert (or expedient) panel was enlisted to pick round-by-round winners: former Bulldogs great Jeff Brown, radio voice of the Zags Tom Hudson, KHQ news anchor Stephanie Vigil, Spokesman-Review beat writer Jim Meehan and me, the only panelist old enough to have seen the Zags back when they wore short-sleeved jerseys.
Our out-loud noodling with moderator Jess Walter can be found in round-by-round videos posted at http://www.spokesman.com/zags/.
You were invited to cast your vote, too. And did, with varying rationales.
Reader Brad Dawson was among the many who found it difficult to make up his mind.
“My favorite is the Casey Calvary-led teams,” he wrote. “I LOVE the (Adam) Morrison team, but I would (pick) this year’s squad. Senior guard play is key. The depth on this team would be too much to overcome.”
Michael Barnhart, like a lot of fans, was mystified that the 28-3 Zags of 2004 snagged only a No. 3 seed – and made them his winner, calling it “the best balanced team of all time.
“This team was so deep that Adam Morrison was coming off the bench,” he wrote. “This team would put the 2014-2015 team to shame.”
David Seesholtz went with the Morrison-led 2006 team which lost the Sweet 16 heartbreaker to UCLA.
“I feel like people block it out because of the way it ended,” he reasoned, “but deep down everyone knows that was the best shot at going back to the Elite Eight and possibly beyond.”
The panel found the going no less daunting, sometimes for personal reasons. Hudson, for instance, has shared the broadcast table with Richard Fox, Matt Santangelo and Cory Violette over the years.
“My guys,” Hudson sighed picking against one of them, “are going to kill me.”
Comparing players and teams from different eras is always a fool’s errand, and even over a span of just 16 years you can see the evolution of Gonzaga’s talent pool. Two walk-ons played prominent roles on GU’s 2000 Sweet 16 team, and the stars of that era sometimes had only one other Division I offer. By comparison, Przemek Karnowski of the current Zags turned down a recruiting visit to Duke.
Nevertheless, Gonzaga’s biggest March splashes came early in this run – perhaps reflecting the underdog’s emotional edge, matchups or the level of respect and preparation the Zags now command from opponents.
If this was a fantasy exercise, it mirrored the NCAAs in one respect – carping about the pairings. Not only was that 2004 seeding dubious, a semifinal matchup of the current Bulldogs and the 2006 Zags looked to some to be more of a championship showdown than the ultimate final: 2012-13 vs. 2014-15.
It didn’t help that three key players overlap both finalists, including starting guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr.
Like all Zag fans, Brown loves the early teams – but is overwhelmed by the roster this season, and the combinations Few can put together.
“If you’re talking about Shem (Karnowski) and (Domantas) Sabonis as your 4 and your 5, it’s an eclipse – where’s the sun?” he said. “You can’t see it.”
He noted Byron Wesley’s “unusual knack for scoring in the seams” – a missing ingredient at that position for many GU teams. And as for Bell and Pangos, “you’ll certainly take seniors over sophomores.”
“I think the depth of this year’s team is just so staggering,” Brown said.
He wasn’t alone in his regard. His fellow panelists agreed, and so did the majority of the fan voters online.
So your champions of Mark Few’s Sweet 16 are the 2014-15 Bulldogs.
That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.
But, of course, the closing chapters of their story haven’t yet been written.
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