Gonzaga coaches and players may not have you believing their path back to the Final Four is any easier than it appeared a week ago, but the oddsmakers and number gurus who’d given the Bulldogs only a slim chance of advancing past the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament now find themselves penciling in GU as one of the last four standing when the Big Dance shifts its attention to San Antonio.
The Zags have perhaps inspired some of that belief with their play in Boise, beating UNC Greensboro 68-64 and Ohio State 90-84, and the scoring outbursts from unsuspecting tourney sensation Zach Norvell Jr. haven’t hurt their perception, either. But GU’s heightened chances of getting back to the Final Four don’t have as much to do with the Zags as much as what’s happened North and South of the Zags in the bracket.
Simply put, the West Region minefield doesn’t look as treacherous as it once did.
On Sunday, top-seeded Xavier lost 75-70 to Gonzaga’s next opponent, Florida State, and second-seeded North Carolina also took a tumble, falling 86-85 to seventh-seeded Texas A&M. That leaves third-seeded Michigan and fourth-seeded Gonzaga as the teams with the highest probablity of moving on.
But not in that order, necessarily.
Despite carrying the lower seed, the Bulldogs have a 7-to-1 chance of winning the national championship, according to Bovada. Michigan’s chances are estimated at 8-to-1. Of the remaining 16 teams, only second-seeded Duke (13-to-4) and top-liner Villanova (9-to-2) are given a higher probability of capturing the title. Kentucky shares Gonzaga’s 7-to-1 odds, while Michigan (8-to-1), Kansas (17-to-2), Purdue (16-to-1) and West Virginia (16-to-1) round out the top eight.
Gonzaga must first handle the Seminoles Thursday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles (7:07 p.m., TBS). The Bulldogs are 5½-point favorites in the Sweet 16 matchup. Bovada then gives them the best odds to advance out the West Region, at 7-to-5, and play Kentucky in the Final Four. The Wildcats have 5-to-6 odds of coming out of the South.
According to AccuScore, which simulates matchups thousands of times to emerge with the most accurate outcome, Gonzaga, of the remaining 16, has the third-highest percentage of winning the Sweet Sixteen (69.9), Elite Eight (41.1), Final Four (24.8) and national championship (11.9). Only Villanova (16.1) and Duke (15.8) have a better shot at winning the trophy, per AccuScore simulations.
You’ll find a similar line of thinking from FiveThirtyEight.com. The Zags are given overwhelming odds of beating Florida State – 72 percent – and the 41 percent chance they have of punching a ticket to the Final Four is the highest among teams in the West. Michigan is given a 26 percent chance, Texas A&M is given a 23 percent chance and Florida State an 11 percent chance.
Not everyone is so high on GU’s chances, however. ESPN took the liberty of reseeding the programs that have earned trips to the Sweet 16 and the Zags, seeded fourth originally, landed a No. 3 seed from author Myron Medcalf. Kansas, Syracuse and Purdue are fellow three seeds according to the Medcalf bracket, while Loyola Chicago, Michigan, Kansas State and Florida State all drew No. 4 seeds.
Medcalf wrote the following of Gonzaga: “A pair of significant wins are proof of Gonzaga’s staying power not just in this tournament, but as long as coach Mark Few is on the sideline. Still, the Bulldogs needed a pair of late runs to escape UNC Greensboro and Ohio State. Killian Tillie’s 3-for-12 combined performance in those games didn’t help.”
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