Gonzaga and Baylor can’t seem to get away from each other this season.
It started in late October when they scrimmaged in Oklahoma City, a well-timed trip that allowed Gonzaga to watch ex-Zag Domantas Sabonis play his NBA home opener in his rookie season with the Thunder.
The scrimmage was essentially a tossup, a development that worried Gonzaga coach Mark Few.
“I got after our guys pretty good because at the time I don’t think we realized how good Baylor was,” Few said. “I came down on the guys pretty hard, and I really didn’t appreciate how good (Baylor forward Johnathan) Motley was, but it was a good source of motivation for our guys.”
Gonzaga schedules scrimmage opponents for specific reasons.
“We don’t get an opportunity all the time to see that type of length and athleticism,” Few said. “We knew we were going to face it down in Orlando, obviously, with Florida on our side of the bracket (at the AdvoCare Invitational), we’d see it against Arizona, San Diego State. Tennessee is not so long but quick on the ball.
“That’s why we do it, just to try to get a feel for what we’re going to see.”
The teams have enjoyed program-record seasons since the scrimmage. The Zags (22-0) are ranked No. 1 in both major polls for the second time in school history. Baylor, unranked in the preseason, is No. 2 in AP and No. 3 in USA Today.
They were the last two unbeatens in Division I. Baylor was 15-0 and ranked No. 1 for the first time in program history before falling at West Virginia three weeks ago. The Bears (20-1) are the only one-loss team remaining.
When Baylor reached No. 1, NBCsports.com’s headline: “Is Baylor really the No. 1 team in college basketball?” The day before GU reached the top spot, the headline on the same website: “Why you should have Kansas at No. 1, not Gonzaga.”
They have their share of detractors, but both teams possess impressive credentials. Gonzaga has defeated three teams in the NCAA RPI top 19 and three more in the 40s. Baylor has five AP top 25 wins, including three top 10.
The Zags start two seniors, two juniors and a redshirt sophomore. The Bears start the only senior on their roster along with four juniors. Both teams are projected No. 1 seeds by most bracket gurus.
No wonder their seasons have followed a parallel arc from October to present day.
“When we all got home and went through the film and tallied it up, the field goals, percentages and all that, you look down at the score at the bottom, basically even,” Few said. “Hmm, how crazy is that?”