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Gonzaga Basketball

Best of the West: Gonzaga on fragile (NCAA) ground ahead of second showdown with Saint Mary’s

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

Gonzaga’s second, but perhaps not final duel with Saint Mary’s does not qualify as a must-win affair, but it’s close.

The Zags have participated in the NCAA Tournament for 24 consecutive seasons (excluding 2020, when it was canceled). But in stark contrast to their normal standing this time of year, they are not guaranteed a berth.

The cleanest path would be to win the West Coast Conference tournament and claim the league’s automatic bid.

Otherwise, they must play the resume game and hope the NCAA selection committee deems Gonzaga’s profile good enough for the at-large pool.

At this point, it’s not — at least not compared to Saint Mary’s.

The Zags are 1-5 in Quadrant I games; the Gaels are 4-2.

The Zags have just three combined wins against Quadrant I and II opponents; the Gaels have seven.

Perhaps more alarming for the Zags, 86 percent of their victories are against Quadrant III and IV foes (the lowest quality), compared to just 68 percent for the Gaels.

There is no comparison: Saint Mary’s has a tournament-worthy resume regardless of the result Saturday night in Moraga; Gonzaga does not.

But it’s not a zero-sum game, either.

If the Zags fail to earn the WCC’s automatic berth, they will be compared to a plethora of teams in similar situations — teams on the bubble, teams with flawed resumes, teams that have left their fate in the hands of an unpredictable committee.

For Gonzaga, the showdown Saturday night is, above all, an exercise in risk reduction.

To the latest Best of the West rankings …

1. Arizona (21-6/12-4 Pac-12)

Last week: 1

Results: lost to WSU 77-74, beat Washington 91-75

NET ranking: No. 4

Next up: at Arizona State (Wednesday)

Comment: Arizona should root for WSU to finish second or third in the Pac-12, thus ensuring the Wildcats would avoid their Kryptonite until the finals of the conference tournament.

2. Brigham Young (20-8/8-7 Big 12)

Last week: 2

Results: lost at Kansas State 84-74, won at Kansas 76-68

NET ranking: No. 10

Next up: vs. TCU (Saturday)

Comment: The massive victory in Lawrence ended KU’s 19-game home winning streak and super-charged BYU’s resume. (All the Cougars had to do was rally from a double-digit deficit early in the second half.) Now, they have four days to forget and re-focus.

3. Saint Mary’s (23-6/14-0 WCC)

Last week: 4

Results: beat San Diego 88-62

NET ranking: No. 15

Next up: at Pepperdine (Thursday)

Comment: Colorado State’s late-season stumble (see below) is undermining SMC’s resume given that the early-season victory in Fort Collins stood as one of the Gaels’ best results.

4. Washington State (21-7/12-5 Pac-12)

Last week: 5

Results: won at Arizona 77-74, lost at ASU 73-61

NET ranking: No. 36

Next up: vs. USC (Thursday)

Comment: Plenty to like about WSU’s resume — except the non-conference schedule, of course — but we’re hesitant to declare the Cougars a lock for the NCAAs. If the post-Tucson hangover continues and they get swept by the L.A. schools, it’s back to the bubble.

5. San Diego State (22-7/11-5 MW)

Last week: 6

Results: won at Fresno State 73-41, beat San Jose State 72-64

NET ranking: No. 18

Next up: at UNLV (Tuesday)

Comment: The Aztecs have just one double-digit defeat and are a few timely baskets away from being alone in first place. Regardless, their spot in March Madness is secure.

6. Gonzaga (22-6/12-2 WCC)

Last week: 7

Results: won at Portland 86-65, beat Santa Clara 94-81

NET ranking: No. 21

Next up: at San Francisco (Thursday)

Comment: The Zags can’t get caught looking ahead to Saint Mary’s, or they risk a loss to the Dons, who dropped the first head-to-head matchup by just five points in Spokane.

7. Oregon (18-9/10-6 Pac-12)

Last week: 8

Results: won at Stanford 78-65, lost at Cal 69-64

NET ranking: No. 62

Next up: vs. Oregon State (Wednesday)

Comment: Is this the final rivalry game for Oregon’s Dana Altman or OSU’s Wayne Tinkle? Unknown. The more intriguing question is whether it’s the final rivalry game for both coaches.

8. Boise State (20-8/11-4 MW)

Last week: Not ranked

Results: Won at Wyoming 92-72 and Air Force 79-48

NET ranking: No. 26

Next up: vs. New Mexico (Saturday)

Comment: The Broncos are simply pummeling opponents. Their average margin of victory during the four-game winning streak is 26.8 points. But their finish (New Mexico, Nevada and SDSU) is rugged.

9. Colorado State (20-9/8-8 MW)

Last week: 3

Results: lost at New Mexico 68-66 and UNLV 66-60 and to Nevada 77-74

NET ranking: No. 29

Next up: vs. Wyoming (Saturday)

Comment: The selection committee no longer emphasizes performance in the final 10 games and instead treats November results with the same weight as February outcomes.

10. Utah State (23-5/11-4 MW)

Last week: 10

Results: won at Fresno State 77-73

NET ranking: No. 35

Next up: vs. Air Force (Friday)

Comment: Technically, the Aggies are tied with Boise State atop the Mountain West. In reality, they have a one-game advantage rooted in sweeping the season series. They would win the tiebreaker, if it comes to that.

11. New Mexico (21-7/9-6 MW)

Last week: 9

Results: beat Colorado State 68-66, lost to Air Force 78-77

NET ranking: No. 25

Next up: at Boise State (Saturday)

Comment: There have been a slew of bad losses in the wild Mountain West. But we aren’t sure anything comes close to the Lobos losing at home to Air Force, which is 2-13 in conference play.

12. San Francisco (22-7/11-3 WCC)

Last week: 11

Results: beat Pepperdine 92-68

NET ranking: No. 56

Next up: vs. Gonzaga (Thursday)

Comment: After devoting many words to Gonzaga’s prospects for making the NCAA field as an at-large team, we can offer four on the Dons: They have no chance. On The Hilltop, it’s WCC title or bust.

Also considered: Colorado, Eastern Washington, Grand Canyon, Nevada, Santa Clara, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UNLV and Utah