With the dawn of Selection Monday, the possibilities are almost endless for the Gonzaga women and their fans.
So are their NCAA dreams, which include a single-digit seed, a second-round reunion in Eugene with former GU coach Kelly Graves, and the topper: a sweet return trip to Spokane for the regionals. Hopefully all of the above.
Or they could get shipped back East, relegated to a 12 seed, and face an uphill game against another power conference school.
It’s all in the hands of the NCAA, and coach Lisa Fortier has only so much time to ponder the what-ifs. The West Coast Conference tournament trophy was barely in the GU trophy case before she took a recruiting trip to Texas.
Fortier, her staff and players were back on the practice court last week, “doing some things to prepare for someone more athletic than what we’ve seen, just trying to simulate that,” Fortier said.
The payoff will come Monday afternoon, when Gonzaga’s name will flash on the TV screen. But where?
The Gonzaga women rose to expectations and beyond this year. The preseason West Coast Conference favorites lapped the field, winning the regular season by four games and rolling through the WCC Tournament.
At 27-5 with an RPI of 32, the Zags should reasonably expect a 7 or 8 seed, but Fortier isn’t so sure.
“Our conference hasn’t been respected the way some other conferences have,” Fortier said.
Indeed, the Zags’ strength of schedule rates 104th, the second-lowest among the top 32 teams, the product of 18 games against WCC foes.
Eight of the 10 WCC teams rank 130th or lower in RPI, and the conference ranks 14th overall out of 32.
By contrast, Oklahoma – the team that knocked GU out of last year’s tournament, – is only 16-14, but has played the third-toughest schedule in the nation.
Given that, expect the Sooners to make the field.
So where does that leave the Zags? Experts are all over the board.
For three weeks running, ESPN’s Charlie Creme has stuck the Zags with a 12 seed, shipping them to Stanford for a first-round game against the likes of North Carolina State, Ohio State or Missouri.
College Sports Madness pegs GU as a 10 seed, facing 7th-seeded LSU in a pod hosted by Texas.
RealTimeRPI has the Zags a lofty 7 seed with a very winnable game against Cal, but shipping them to Columbus, Ohio.
In recent days, Gonzaga has ranked as high as a seven seed and as low as a 12. The destinations are all over the map, and in every time zone. Two weeks ago, College Sports Madness had a 10th-seeded GU team traveling all the way to Florida State.
That probably won’t happen this year. Apart from trips to Rhode Island (in 2012) and Texas (2014), the Zags have stayed close to home.
The dream destination for many fans would be Eugene, where Graves has taken Oregon to a Pac-12 title and a probable No. 2 seed. It’s easy to forecast GU as a 10 seed, with a very winnable opener setting up a second-round matchup with the Ducks.
But even with a 12 seed, another attractive choice is the trip to Stanford, where the hosts look more beatable than Oregon. Two wins could send the Zags back to Spokane for the Regionals and a reprise of Fortier’s first year.
“That’s the goal,” she said.
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