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Blanchette: Starting No. 1 gives Gonzaga critics a head start on their moronic gripes

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 9, 2020

By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

COVID-19 could still shut down the college basketball season before it even gets started. Just look at how the pandemic has college football on the ropes.

But there’s no point embracing a bummer before it happens. Better to grab on to whatever piece of driftwood floats by.

On Monday, it was the first Associated Press poll, and there at the top was none other than Gonzaga. By one narrow point.

Hey, sounds like a mandate. Some politicians think they have one even when losing by four million votes.

It’s AP’s 73rd season in the basketball polling business. In the early years, the first one came out in January and not before any games had been played. Whenever the first vote, Gonzaga’s never been No. 1 from the jump until now, and it’s a happy development even if your Zag appreciation is muted.

For one thing, it should be a holiday anytime a school other than Duke or Kansas or North Carolina or Kentucky is propped up there. It’s not a blow against excellence, but against tedium.

But mostly, the inevitable Gonzaga’s-the-most-overrated-literally-every-year mob can get amped up now – and there can never be enough of that.

No longer will they have to simmer until the Bulldogs climb to No. 1 on the strength of winning a holiday tournament. No more waiting to disparage them through a West Coast Conference run. No playing it close to the vest until laying down the “they always lose in the first round” flush in March.

Twitter can always stand more unhinged comic relief.

Of course, the packaging on this gift comes with warning labels.

Being No. 1 now has little correlation to being No. 1 while they’re playing “One Shining Moment.” The first No. 1 has won the NCAA championship all of 16 times, and more than a third of those were UCLA back when the Bruins actually were the only team in college basketball. North Carolina was the most recent to do it, more than a decade ago.

When you’re No. 1, the only place to go is down. Naturally, we’ve worked up some scenarios.

Nov. 10, 2020: Baylor University announces it will file lawsuits across the nation and demand recounts after the season’s initial poll left the Bears one point behind Gonzaga.

In a hastily arranged press conference in the parking lot of Waco Total Landscaping, lawyers for the school derided the legitimacy of the AP process.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said one. “Polls don’t get to decide who’s No. 1. Courts do.”

Another official said poll watchers were put behind barricades, blocked from observing the count and in some cases not allowed in at all. The AP reported that there have never been outside observers validating the count.

“What did I tell you?” the Baylor official said. “Massive fraud.”

There were also reports of deceased sports writers voting in the poll, but it turned out it was only their careers that were dead.

Nov. 24, 2020: Baylor leapfrogged Gonzaga in a surprise AP poll issued on the eve of the college basketball season that the organization called “a market correction.”

They cited a January poll from the 2020 season when Baylor moved past previously No. 1 Gonzaga even though the Bulldogs hadn’t lost a game that week, a development virtually without precedent.

Now, the Bears have jumped ahead without either team having played a game.

“We’re just kind of assuming that Baylor’s had better practices,” said one AP voter.

Dec. 5, 2020: Gonzaga figures to vault past Baylor after taking down the Bears in a neutral court showdown in Indianapolis, but the blowback on social media at the prospect was fierce.

“If Gonzaga’s résumé is based on beating teams that lost, no wonder they’re the most overrated team in the country,” tweeted @BallDontLie21, who has 13 followers and a Hulk Hogan avatar.

Feb. 16, 2021: Gonzaga slipped three spots in the latest AP poll after weekend games at Santa Clara and San Francisco were canceled due to outbreaks of the coronavirus on both campuses. Interestingly, the three teams that moved ahead of the Zags – Virginia, Villanova and Iowa – all had their games canceled for the same reason.

“It was obvious that those teams all had tougher opponents lined up before the cancellations than Gonzaga,” said one voter.

March 15, 2021: For the second year in a row, the NCAA basketball tournament has been canceled due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“See?” tweeted @BigBlueBot99. “Gonzaga never matters in March.”

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