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Blanchette: Believe it, Mark Few should be favorite for national coach of the year

Gonzaga head coach  Mark Few has pieced together a 29-1 record despite losing a big chunk of the team’s scoring and rebounding from last season. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few has pieced together a 29-1 record despite losing a big chunk of the team’s scoring and rebounding from last season. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

No, the timing of this proposition is not spectacular.

The biggest still-rippling story of the college basketball week is Gonzaga’s slipping on a banana peel placed by BYU on the final rung of that 30-0 ladder last Saturday night. But that’s only because Baylor women’s coach Kim Mulkey delivering the most toxic Senior Day speech in history isn’t about basketball, but simply about a hole in her soul.

Anyway, the Bulldogs leaving a standing 7 pin after rolling 11 strikes has the Gonzaga commonwealth in a funk and the I-told-you-so-ers telling us so, not that a Zags victory would have altered their message. So no one will much want to hear this:

Mark Few is college basketball’s Coach of the Year anyway.

Yeah, I know. Awards. Who needs ’em? Who cares?

The Hollywood folks screwed theirs up so badly on Sunday night that next year Warren Beatty will receive the Lifetime Achievement as a Punchline Oscar from the academy.

But since people will keep handing out awards anyway, they might as well get them right.

Now, it’s not that Few has put up a new shelf in his den and needs another tchotchke to put up there. On Tuesday, he was named West Coast Conference Coach of the Year for a record 11th time, and he even has one of these national ones. Basketball Times swam against the Jim Larranaga tide and named Few its COY in 2013.

Nor will there be outrage and indignation here if the various voting gaggles honor Jay Wright of Villanova or Sean Miller of Arizona or even Chris Collins of Northwestern instead. All fine choices.

Besides, everyone’s outrage is on call 24/7 elsewhere these days.

Like the emailer who skipped his Mensa meeting Tuesday to reach out to a Spokesman-Review operative with the sentiment that both Few and BYU’s Dave Rose should be demoted to coaching Saturday morning hit-the-rim-for-a-point YMCA games, or worse – Few for losing to the Cougars, and Rose just for falling behind 18-2 in the first six minutes.

The problem with Coach of the Year voting – like that for most halls of fame or, for that matter, president – is that the criteria move with the moods of those casting ballots. And in this case, the winner can’t just be the guy who won the national championship – you know, the logical choice – because the major COY awards are all based on the regular season and announced before the Final Four.

(Yes, I hear those “That’s perfect for Gonzaga” hoots from the cheap seats. Thanks for playing.)

Some voters prefer the overachievers whose teams made preseason projections look silly, or in some cases took traditionally unaccomplished programs to new, or rare, heights. Or those – like Miller – who maneuvered through injuries, defections and ineligibility.

This is why Collins is in the running – Northwestern being on the verge of its first NCAA tournament bid. Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears weren’t in any Top 25s when the season tipped off. It’s the kind of thing that properly earned Tony Bennett the distinction at Washington State in 2007 – the Cougs having lost 183 games in 10 years before going 26-8 his first season.

Or you can just win the most. Or win them all.

Only once since 1959 has a coach who ran the regular-season table not been the consensus COY – UNLV’s Jerry Tarkanian in 1991, mostly because everyone expected him to do just that. And maybe because he was still basketball’s shady uncle.

No, I didn’t forget – Few and the Zags lost their finale. As Charles Comiskey said in “Eight Men Out” to Black Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte, “Twenty-nine is not 30, Eddie.”

But the same thing happened to Illinois’ Bruce Weber in 2005, and he was the unanimous COY.

And the Zags did win the first 29 – did someone predict that? – against a schedule that impressed the NCAA committee enough to make them a No. 1 in the bracket tease a few weeks ago. Few also had to replace two players who’ve logged NBA minutes this year – Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer – and 70 percent of GU’s scoring and 65 percent of its rebounding from 2016. He did it by procuring a diverse roster of transfers, freshmen and holdovers and then conjuring the proper alchemy.

The construction of a team is coaching, too. As is keeping talent on task.

“I don’t know where he’s at in the race for Coach of the Year (nationally),” Bulldogs guard Nigel Williams-Goss said, “but he definitely should be in the running.”

It’s not just an in-house sentiment.

“I don’t think anybody in the country – you can take Duke or any of them – has done a better job than Mark and Gonzaga,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “The players have changed, the coach hasn’t. He’s done a heck of a job.”

A Coach of the Year job, in fact.

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