LAS VEGAS – There’s always something to play for, particularly with March Madness around the corner.
For Gonzaga, a 20th consecutive NCAA Tournament trip is a virtual lock, even if it was to stumble in its WCC Tournament opener Saturday at the Orleans Arena against Loyola Marymount.
So what’s on the line for the Zags? Plenty.
Gonzaga (27-4) claimed another WCC regular-season championship and has assembled another quality NCAA Tournament résumé. However, the latter could use a few finishing touches.
The Zags are ranked seventh and could very well reach the top five by the next poll. That means next to nothing in the eyes of the selection committee. Gonzaga was outside the top 16 seeds when the committee did its made-for-television reveal Feb. 10, one month out from Selection Sunday.
Left unanswered: How close was Gonzaga to making the list? It’s reasonable to believe the Zags were a five seed or at worst a six at the time. Gonzaga has strengthened its case since with four more wins, including a Quadrant 2 victory over BYU last Saturday to clinch an outright WCC championship.
The Zags have done about as much as they can with their rating percentage index or RPI, climbing from the mid-50s at the outset of WCC play to No. 29 (subject to daily changes) despite only two other conference teams ranking inside the RPI top 100. The antiquated RPI remains among the selection committee’s tools and it is used in the new Quadrant system. For example, Quadrant 1 is defined as home vs. RPI top 30, neutral vs. top 50, away vs. top 75.
If WCC Tournament seeding holds true and No. 1 Gonzaga defeats No. 2 Saint Mary’s in Tuesday’s title game, the Zags would add another Quadrant 1 win since the Gaels carry a top 40 RPI.
That could be enough to secure a four seed. The committee typically keeps top four seeds closer to home. Gonzaga’s goal, beyond earning the best possible seed, is a favorable matchup/pod and playing in Boise or San Diego, the opening-weekend sites closest to GU’s campus.
ESPN.com projects the Zags as a five seed, facing No. 12 New Mexico State, in San Diego.
“Location is big for our fans and friends and families,” coach Mark Few said, “but you’re going to be playing a really good team no matter what.
“I’m not into seeding that much. It’s more the matchup and who you play.”
Gonzaga is 3-1 in Quadrant 1, 3-3 in Quadrant 2, 7-0 in Quadrant 3 and 14-0 in Quadrant 4. The sheer volume of games in the latter category is the main reason Gonzaga’s strength of schedule ranks No. 131. Michigan State, at 89, has the next worst strength of schedule among teams projected on the top five seed lines by CBSsports.com.
Four WCC teams (LMU, Portland, Pepperdine and Santa Clara) and five of Gonzaga’s non-conference foes (Howard, IUPUI, Texas Southern, North Dakota and Incarnate Word) fall into Quadrant 4. GU’s home win over Pacific was also Q4 because of the Tigers’ 180 RPI.
Still, the Zags carry top 10 rankings in three predictive-based analytics (KenPom, Sagarin and ESPN’s basketball power index) and they’re between 15 and 31 in three result-based metrics (RPI, ESPN strength of record, Kevin Pauga Index). Those are solid numbers and they’ve improved over the last three weeks.
Meanwhile, No. 22 Saint Mary’s (27-4) is listed in most bracket projections but was pegged as a 10 seed by ESPN.com and SI.com at the beginning of the week.
The Gaels have a strong overall record, but they’re just 1-1 in Quadrant 1 and 2-1 in Quadrant 2. They’re listed in the “Safer than Most” category by SI.com. They could quickly become a bubble team with a loss to anyone not named Gonzaga at the WCC Tournament.
BYU appears NIT-bound barring a run to the WCC Tournament title.
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