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Thursday, October 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Grip on Sports: Gonzaga learns its NCAA fate this afternoon

Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Josh Perkins (13) drives the ball to the hoop during the second half of a WCC men's final basketball game on Tuesday, March 12, 2019, at The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Saint Mary's won the game 60-47. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Josh Perkins (13) drives the ball to the hoop during the second half of a WCC men's final basketball game on Tuesday, March 12, 2019, at The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Saint Mary's won the game 60-47. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Their place in the tournament has been locked in since their tournament win in Hawaii, more than likely. But this afternoon the Gonzaga Bulldogs discover their path to Minneapolis, as the NCAA selection committee reveals its 2019 bracket. Read on.

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• The question every Zag fan has been asking themselves since Tuesday is a simple one: Did the loss to Saint Mary’s cost GU a No. 1 seed?

Yes. And no.

Nothing in the run-up to the NCAA Tournament happens in a vacuum. Every win or loss has to be measured against wins and losses elsewhere. The loss to Saint Mary’s in the WCC title game may have been the proverbial straw but it also, if games in other tournaments had different outcomes, meant little.

Say Wisconsin had defeated Michigan State yesterday. That would have been detrimental to the Spartans hopes of a top seed and eliminated another contender for the spot. Instead, Tom Izzo’s team faces Michigan today for a Big Ten title. If it wins, especially if it wins in dominating fashion, that could impact Gonzaga’s chances.

Same with Tennessee in the SEC title game.

For those of you into this type of thing, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Bulldogs as the top seed in the West. And we all know Lunardi’s track record is pretty good. But not perfect. And still must factor in today’s tournament finals.

The Zags’ case for a No. 1 seed is a strong one, revolving around not just their 30-3 record but one other major factor as well.

Before the season began, the NCAA spent a lot of time and money to develop their NET rankings, a computerized amalgamation of statistics and deep analytics. The idea was to replace the outdated RPI system the NCAA selection committee had relied on for years.

The organization was proud of its newfangled toy, developed in consultation with the nation’s coaches and best stat wizards.

And the NET has always liked Gonzaga. In the latest rankings on the NCAA website, the Bulldogs sit second in the rankings, above Duke and Michigan State and Tennessee and North Carolina, other contenders for the coveted top seeds.

It would be pretty tough for the selection committee to ignore the NET not just for one but for two teams – Kelvin Sampson’s Houston team is ranked fourth, which seems awfully odd until you realize the Cougars were quietly 31-2 this season – in handing out the coveted No. 1 seeds.

Other statistical systems have the Zags among the top four as well, including the always respected KenPom ratings (No. 2) and Jeff Sagarin’s (No. 5) system.

All of which points … where, exactly?

Who knows. We will find out, however, a little after 3 this afternoon.

• Eastern once again won’t see its name called on CBS today. The Eagles came up short against Montana for the second consecutive season. Last year they lost to the Grizzlies in Reno. Last night it was in Boise.

But the result was similar.

Eastern leading by double digits at one point. The Griz rallying. The game tightens. It’s decided in the last few minutes. And Montana cuts down the nets.

It may have been disappointing, but in an up-and-down season, which began mostly down, the Eagles’ finish (along with a similar run last year) shows season-long improvement is going to be hallmark of second-year coach Shanta Legans’ tenure in Cheney.

That’s always a good thing.

•••

Gonzaga: The seeding question is also the centerpiece of Jim Meehan’s story in today’s S-R. It will also be the centerpiece of the post-selection coverage as well, I suspect. … Jim also looks back at six games that shaped GU’s season. … Injuries are shaping the outlook for the postseason for GU’s women. Jim Allen looks at how those will impact Gonzaga in the tournament. … The baseball team held off BYU yesterday and won the season-opening conference tournament.

WSU: The Cougars had the go-ahead run in the eighth inning knocked down by an umpire en route to home plate and ended up losing 8-7 against Arizona State. The fiasco changed the trajectory of the game. … At a lunch one summer years ago, former WSU athletic director Bill Moos accused me of saying only Tony Bennett could win in Pullman. As I rightfully pointed out then, and do now, I never said that. As longtime readers know, for years I’ve been advocating thinking outside the cardboard container when picking someone to lead the Cougar basketball program. It’s nice to see others have come along to this philosophy. … Around the Pac-12, Oregon will carry the label of the conference’s hottest team into the NCAA Tournament after throttling Washington in the finals last night. Will the Ducks be joined by one other team (the Huskies) from the conference or two (Arizona State)? I would lean toward the former, but not with a lot of conviction. … Will Colorado end up in the NIT? … Larry Scott spoke yesterday in Vegas and had a lot to say. … There is football news from Washington, UCLA, Colorado, Oregon and California. … Will USC be looking for a new athletic director anytime soon?

EWU: Ryan Collingwood was in Boise and has this game story. … If you want the view from Missoula, we can pass that along as well.

Whitworth: The Pirates swept a doubleheader yesterday.

NIC and CCS: The NWAC basketball semifinals were yesterday, with North Idaho moving on to the finals and the Sasquatch falling to Walla Walla.

Chiefs: Spokane ended its regular season with a 10-1 win over Tri-City. Now the Chiefs will wait and see if it has home ice in its first-round playoff series with Portland. Kevin Dudley has all the particulars in this story.

Mariners: There is a local man and his son tagging along with the M’s on their trip to Japan. But there is more to it than that. A lot more. Jason Shoot tells the story of Rick and Clint Roig, their dad and grandfather and Japanese baseball. … The M’s played an exhibition game in Japan today (I think) and came back to win. … Their Japanese players are a pretty big draw. … Projected closer Hunter Strickland says he’s healthy.

Seahawks: It is going to cost Seattle a lot of money to keep Russell Wilson.

Sounders: The Seattle offensive machine scored twice early and twice more when needed for a 4-2 victory in Chicago.

•••       

• I’ve always wondered about the fascination concerning the bracket reveal. Whether you know at 3:15 or 9:15, it’s not changing. And there are a few days to ponder the significance. But I’ll probably be in front of my TV set too, or at least have the DVR running. Until later …

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