For the second straight year, Gonzaga earned the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. For the second straight year, the Zags are favored in their bracket occupied with several familiar faces or foes.
For the umpteenth straight year, GU coach Mark Few isn’t thinking about potential eye-catching matchups down the road as he zeroes in on the opening weekend of March Madness.
As expected, the Zags (26-3) were rewarded with the No. 1 seed in the West Region on Selection Sunday. They’ll open against No. 16 Georgia State (18-10) at 1:15 p.m. Thursday at the Moda Center in Portland.
“It never gets old to see your name flash up on that screen,” said Few, whose teams have qualified for the NCAA Tournament every year in his 23 seasons as head coach. “The fact we’re in Portland is great for our fans and families and everybody to be able to get there fairly easy.”
Gonzaga is favored by 231/2 points over Georgia State, which is riding a 10-game winning streak. The Gonzaga-Georgia State winner will face the winner of No. 8 Boise State/No. 9 Memphis.
Leon Rice, Few’s former assistant coach, led Boise State to the program’s first Mountain West Conference outright regular-season title and added the conference tournament championship with a 53-52 win over San Diego State on Saturday.
“It’s tough because you want to root for them every game,” Few said of potentially facing a close friend in the round of 32. “But at this point, it’s the NCAA Tournament so it’s just about who are you going to play next and getting a win.”
The bottom half of the West bracket includes second-seeded Duke, No. 3 Texas Tech and No. 6 Alabama. Gonzaga lost to Duke 84-81 in Las Vegas in late November, fell to Alabama 91-82 in Seattle eight days later and defeated Texas Tech 69-55 in Phoenix on Dec. 18.
Gonzaga would need three wins before potentially running into Alabama, Texas Tech or Duke. Gonzaga’s West bracket last year included No. 2 Iowa, No. 3 Kansas and No. 4 Virginia – three teams GU handled by double figures during the regular season. All three were eliminated before facing a rematch with Gonzaga, which advanced to the championship game.
“They’re so far down the road, we’ll cross that bridge when we have to,” Few said of potential rematches. “We just need to try to win on Thursday, I’ve been in this tournament long enough, you start worrying about games down the road, you’re sitting at home.”
The West Region certainly appears challenging on paper.
“Their path may be a little more difficult because there’s a number of teams in that region that can play with them physically,” ESPN’s Dalen Cuff said. “When you can get up and make them feel you and make them feel you on the interior, which Saint Mary’s did, and on the exterior, which Duke did a pretty good job of taking them out of their flow and even Alabama, there’s a little bit of a blueprint there to slow them down and make them struggle.”
Countered ESPN’s Sean Farnham: “I think their path is one of the easier paths, if not the easiest path for a No. 1 overall seed, as it should be when you’re the No. 1 overall seed.”
Farnham noted that Texas Tech could be a potential stumbling block for Gonzaga.
Arizona, Kansas and defending national champion Baylor earned No. 1 seeds. The only way the Wildcats, coached by former Zags assistant Tommy Lloyd, and Zags could meet is in the national championship.
One of the loudest ovations from the Zags during the selection show came when San Francisco’s name was listed on the bracket.
The 10th-seeded Dons face No. 7 Murray State. Saint Mary’s received a five seed in the East Region and will open against the First Four winner of Wyoming/Indiana.
“We definitely were cheering for them when they made it,” junior forward Drew Timme said. “We were sweating a little bit for San Francisco, that one came down pretty close (to the end of the selection show).”
“We had as many teams make it as the Pac-12 so all this Power Five stuff, you know it’s getting pretty old now.”
Gonzaga’s immediate focus is on Georgia State, which defeated Louisiana 80-71 in the Sun Belt title game to advance to March Madness for the fourth time since 2015. Senior guard Corey Allen, the Panthers’ leading scorer at 14.7 points, was MVP of the tournament. He nailed 11 of 15 3-pointers, 17 of 17 free throws and scored 58 points in wins over secpond-seeded Appalachian State in the semifinals and No. 8 Louisiana in the title game.
No. 1 seeds are 143-1 against 16 seeds – the lone loss in 2018 when Virginia lost to University of Maryland-Baltimore County.
“I think that year I had Virginia going really far in my bracket,” Zags sophomore wing Julian Strawther said. “Coach Few just told us earlier today we can’t look too far ahead in the bracket, you can’t see who you’re going to play the second weekend because there is no next game if you don’t handle the one in front of you.
“That’s our approach. That’s our mind set.”
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