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John Blanchette: A Baylor-Gonzaga matchup now would only spoil the possibility of a historic clash in April

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 25, 2021

By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

Impatient to get the COVID-19 vaccine? So am I.

Desperate for Gonzaga and Baylor to find a date to play basketball in the next couple of weeks? Not so much.

Some things you need now and some things can wait.

Gonzaga and Baylor can wait.

Until April, for that matter.

Now, Mark Few doesn’t call for scheduling advice, and if Gonzaga’s head coach says he’s keeping in touch with Baylor’s Scott Drew and has the charter plane idling on the tarmac should a mutually agreeable spot on the calendar become available, so be it.

It’s not like I’m going to watch cornhole reruns on one of the shirttail ESPNs in protest if they do manage to make it happen.

But though Gonzaga and Baylor was undeniably a great idea back when it was scheduled for early December, it is something less than that now.

Now that they’ve built up all the drama.

Yes, that seems like throwing the logicmobile into reverse at a backed-up stoplight, but let the insurance take care of that. Let’s motor on.

The Bulldogs and Bears have managed to reach the downside of the season unscathed – Gonzaga at 15-0, Baylor at 14-0. They are 1-2 in the polls, 2-1 in the NET, 1-2 in the KenPom hieroglyphics, 1A and 1B as examples of excellence. The college basketball punditry is unanimous in proclaiming that they have separated themselves from the rest of the field, so by the natural laws that govern sports watching that has made a whole bunch of everybody antsy.

Let’s settle it now, they clamor.

Super Bowls can wait through two weeks of twaddle, but not this.

What’s given this notion even more fuel is the new quick-pivot nature of college athletics during this time of COVID – and the principles’ own openness to the idea.

After decades of plotting football games, well, decades in advance and locking in on the inviolability of a basketball schedule, schools and programs are calling all manner of audibles and drawing up new plays in the dirt. Opponent A has to pause the program on Tuesday? No problem. Line up Opponent B for Thursday.

Few has been an especially adept practitioner. As the pandemic took batting practice on his prized megaton games in the November and December, Few rustled up replacements, and then replacements for replacements. A schedule that once included heavyweights like Arizona, Tennessee, Texas and Texas Tech plus the crowded marquee of the Orlando Invitational wound up included four completely different top 15 teams in the space of a month.

Baylor was the one that got away.

This, of course, was to be the game of the year – a Saturday on CBS between Nos. 1 and 2, a pairing struck because, “We knew it was going to be really good for college basketball,” Few said, “and probably what college basketball needed.”

And it was. After having March Madness canceled in 2020 and the start to this season pushed back, the college game was desperate for a B-12 shot.

But positive tests and contact tracing put the Zags in a pause that morning. Both coaches pledged to hunt for a makeup date, but Gonzaga’s shutdown lasted two weeks, leaving a shrinking calendar before the onset of conference play for both schools.

And there’s no pivoting out of that. It’s a for-better-or-worse thing.

The Zags are on their two-a-week West Coast Conference diet. Even if a COVID cancellation opened up a day – a Saturday, if they wanted the requisite splash – the Bears are even busier. In addition to Big 12 games, they also have to play an SEC Challenge date against Auburn – and late in February will play five games in 11 days.

But any urgency has dissipated anyway.

Because now the intrigue is in seeing two undefeated teams play for the NCAA championship – seeing as it’s happened exactly never.

Only 19 teams have reached the tournament unbeaten; only seven have finished it that way, and none in 44 seasons. The footnote to Indiana’s perfect run in 1976 was that Rutgers also reached the Final Four without a loss – the only season two unbeatens were in the field. But the Scarlet Knights were shut down by Michigan in the semis before perfect could meet perfect.

Wouldn’t Gonzaga and Baylor getting to the final act undefeated make for better theater than a hasty blind date in February?

Yes, surely you’re numbed by the sameness of GU’s blowout victories and, yes, it could all go very wrong very quickly. COVID hasn’t gone away – Michigan, No. 4 in the polls with but a single loss, just had the state shutter its program for up to 14 days. Just think what a Petri dish Indianapolis might be in March. And then there are the usual potholes: Baylor still has six games against Top 25 opponents before the postseason, and the Zags still have some tests, no matter how heavily favored they are to ace them.

Oh, and then there’s the matter of winning five games in the NCAA Tournament.

I can’t wait to see it. That is to say, I can.

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