Gonzaga has never been easy to gauge for the NCAA Tournament selection committee and it seems little has changed under the committee’s new guidelines.
That was apparent again Sunday when the committee revealed its current top four seeds in each region with the Zags absent from the Sweet 16. Power conference programs occupied all 16 spots.
The selection committee is utilizing advanced metrics, some of which boost Gonzaga’s case. The Zags are top 10 in KenPom and Sagarin ratings, but fall off in predictive-based KPI (No. 43 as of Feb. 5) and RPI (No. 37 through Saturday games).
Gonzaga (23-4) certainly improved its resume with a convincing 78-65 win over No. 11 Saint Mary’s in Moraga. The committee is putting additional weight on road and neutral-court victories and Saturday’s thumping of the Gaels passed the eye test in 20/20 fashion.
It wasn’t enough to sway the committee, whose last four seeds were Tennessee, Ohio State (which lost by 27 to Gonzaga at the PK80), Arizona and Oklahoma. It was a rough week for three of the committee’s top four seeds. No. 1 overall seed Virginia lost to Virginia Tech. No. 2 Villanova fell to St. John’s. Xavier was No. 3, followed by Purdue, which lost twice.
Gonzaga wasn’t a slam dunk to make the top 16 but it was likely among the first few schools that came up just short.
The committee’s new four-Quadrant system seems to be placing higher value on who teams beat and where they beat them, as well as schedule strength, but it’s drawing criticism because it relies on the much-maligned RPI. The Zags measure up fairly well in several categories with road wins over Washington and Saint Mary’s, neutrals over Texas and Ohio State and a home victory against Creighton.
The Zags have five Quadrant 1 wins (home games vs. teams 1-30 in RPI, neutral court vs. 1-50, road vs. 1-75). Their worst loss, to RPI 129 San Diego State, wasn’t too damaging. Oklahoma limped into the 16th and final spot in the committee’s rankings despite six losses in its last eight games, but the Sooners have six Quadrant 1 wins.
Gonzaga plays the majority of its marquee games before it enters the lightly regarded WCC. Power conference schools, particularly those in the Big 12, ACC and SEC, have far more opportunities for prized Quadrant 1 wins during their conference seasons.
The Zags’ RPI and the amount of national attention it receives tend to drop in conference play. That wasn’t an issue last season when Gonzaga opened with 29 consecutive wins and ascended to No. 1 in the polls.
The committee’s preliminary rankings aren’t set in stone with Selection Sunday still a month away and most teams awaiting 7-8 more games that will be factored into the equation. However, 15 of 16 teams that made the selection’s committee’s preliminary 2017 bracket were still there when the tournament field was announced last season.
The Zags obviously can bolster their credentials with a strong finish to the regular season and in the WCC Tournament.