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Gonzaga Basketball

UCLA’s loss should benefit Zags’ pursuit of top seed

Gonzaga guard Jordan Mathews drives past Portland guard Jazz Jackson, Jan. 21, 2017, in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Selection Sunday is 50 days away.

Chatter about bracket projections and seeding started picking up volume after the college football season ran its course. College basketball will occupy center stage following the Super Bowl in a couple of weeks.

Chatter about Gonzaga is louder than ever with the Zags’ standing as the nation’s last unbeaten team.

What are the odds the Zags go undefeated in the regular season? Will the Zags be a No. 1 seed if they go unbeaten? Could the Zags be the top overall seed if they go unbeaten?

The most important result Saturday concerning Gonzaga unfolded in Los Angeles. While the Zags were pulling away from pesky Portland in the McCarthey Athletic Center, No. 14 Arizona went into Pauley Pavilion and handled No. 3 UCLA 96-85.

That will likely elevate Gonzaga (19-0) to No. 3 when the polls are released Monday. In the NCAA tournament picture, the Zags and Bruins are chasing the No. 1 seed in the West Region.

Arizona, with the return of standout wing Allonzo Trier from suspension, and Oregon could emerge as contenders. The Wildcats are 18-2 and share the Pac-12 lead with Oregon at 7-0.

But the Zags’ credentials are bolstered by a neutral-court victory over the Trier-less Wildcats in Los Angeles. Gonzaga never trailed and led by as many as 16 before claiming a 69-62 win.

It’s all subject to change with one-third of the regular season left to play, but the familiar pro-con arguments regarding the Zags were encapsulated in a recent debate between CBS college basketball analysts Steve Lappas, Seth Davis and Swin Cash.

Lappas correctly noted the Zags’ biggest remaining obstacle is a road game against Saint Mary’s without mentioning two matchups with BYU.

“So we’re going to have that debate at the end of the year again: ‘Should they be a one seed?’ ” Lappas said. “With the schedule they played it’s really going to be hard to put them there, even if they are undefeated.”

Lappas lost some credibility when he added that he didn’t think the Zags are as good as last year’s team. The 2016 Zags certainly finished strong, but they lost seven regular-season games and were probably NIT bound if they didn’t beat Saint Mary’s in the WCC tournament title game. The debate over this year’s squad is whether they can run the table and secure a No. 1 seed.

“America get used to it,” Davis countered. “It’s going to be very hard to keep a perfect team off that top line.”

Cash sided with Lappas. “For me, it’s the eye test and also the fact of who you’re playing,” she said. “And sometimes unfortunately in their conference you’re not going to get that competition.”

Sounds like a refresher course from the 2013 season, when two-loss Gonzaga was awarded a No. 1 seed, and 2015, when the two-loss Zags landed on the two line.

Get used to it Zag fans. As long as they continue stacking up wins, they’re going to be front and center in the national debate. And it’s only going to get louder over the next 50 days.