History didn’t repeat itself on Selection Sunday but familiarity was in the air.
Gonzaga received an 11-seed and will open the NCAA Tournament against No. 6 Seton Hall on Thursday night at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Five years ago to the day, the Zags learned they were an 11-seed with a first-round date against No. 6 St. John’s, a Big East Conference member along with Seton Hall, at the Pepsi Center.
In both cases, Gonzaga was the last name to be listed on the bracket during the CBS broadcast. One big difference: Thanks to a leaked bracket that surfaced on Twitter shortly after the selection show started, most of the Zags already knew what was coming.
Even that didn’t dampen freshman point guard Josh Perkins’ mood.
“Going home, man,” the Denver native said. “I couldn’t ask for anything else. I wasn’t going to look at (the leaked bracket) but Rem (Bakamus) sent it in a group chat. I opened it on accident and I saw it but it was cool. When I saw Denver, I had a smile on my face right away.”
Perkins lived in Denver through his junior year of high school before finishing up at Huntington Prep in West Virginia. His father, Randy, is president and founder of Colorado Miners, a nonprofit community center located near the Pepsi Center.
“My mom and dad texted me within minutes,” Perkins said. “My phone is blowing up. It’ll be fun going home. I miss it.”
Denver is relatively close to home for Gonzaga, which should make it a little easier for players’ families and Zags’ fans hoping to attend.
“Denver is great for us,” said coach Mark Few, whose 2011 team beat St. John’s before falling to BYU. “Obviously, Perk is from there. That’s about as good as we could hope for, in regards to the bed we made for ourselves.”
Both Seton Hall (25-8) and Gonzaga (26-7), winners of five straight, enter with momentum. The Pirates captured the Big East Tournament for the first time in 23 years by knocking off Creighton 81-73, Xavier 87-83 and Villanova 69-67 at Madison Square Garden. Creighton will play in the NIT. Xavier and Villanova are No. 2 seeds in the NCAA Tournament and were ranked in the top five in last week’s poll.
Seton Hall’s only losses since Jan. 23 were two setbacks to Butler.
“I watched the game (against Villanova) the other night,” senior forward Kyle Wiltjer said. “Very talented, athletic. We’ll get to know them more in the next few days.”
Guard Isaiah Whitehead was a unanimous All-Big East selection, the program’s first first-teamer since 2008. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound sophomore poured in 26 points in the title-game win over Villanova. Seton Hall fans chanted “One More Year” when Whitehead collected the tournament’s most outstanding player award.
“I think they’re guard-driven,” said GU senior guard Eric McClellan, who, along with Silas Melson, will probably draw the defensive assignment on Whitehead. “They’re obviously coming off a tremendous run in their conference tournament, beating Villanova. They’re a team we can’t take lightly.”
Sophomore forward Angel Delgado (10 points, 9.4 rebounds) was honorable mention All-Big East. Sophomore guard Khadeen Carrington (14.3 points) scored 27 points in the tournament win over Creighton and 23 against Xavier the next night. Sophomore forward Desi Rodriguez (12.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, team-high 53 steals) chipped in 12 points and four steals versus Villanova.
Gonzaga reserve center Ryan Edwards, who missed the last two games of the WCC tournament with a sprained MCL, has done some light running and jumping.
“I’m feeling a lot better,” Edwards said. “I’m just waiting to see how this week goes and hopefully I’ll be ready for Thursday. I’m still pretty confident about playing.”
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