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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A Grip on Sports: With everything that happened Saturday night, we are finally over having to worry about Bracketology

A GRIP ON SPORTS • We thought a long time about hardly touching Saturday’s college basketball results in today’s column. Maybe write about the Sounders’ inability to score and how it’s undermining years of goodwill. Or how we didn’t win any writing awards again. Or maybe we would take a look at the NFL Combine’s quarterback day. But, nah. It’s the best time of year. And we’re obligated to deal with it.


• Deal with it. Ha. Let it envelop us. Wash over us. Bury us. A snowstorm of results, performances and, yes, bracketology.

Let’s start with that last one first. There is a cynical member of our household who believes Joe Lunardi’s exercise in prognostication isn’t really that. Who thinks it is just ESPN’s masterstroke of marketing, meant to drive viewership, drive up ratings and earn the 500-pound gorilla of college hoops even more moolah. After hearing them out last night, we can’t argue. Makes sense.

After all, the answer to every question in every human endeavor is money.

So how does that work in the weird science of bracketology? Let’s take two local schools and their recent push to ensure a place in the NCAA’s 68-team field.

Washington State is, after once again finding a way to win Saturday night and pulling away from UCLA late to earn a 77-65 decision, comfortably into the tourney, according to Lunardi. Has been for a while, thanks to the 19th-ranked Cougars’ recent surge. And a 23-7 record.

On the other hand, No. 23 Gonzaga went into Saturday night’s West Coast Conference showdown with 17th-ranked Saint Mary’s teetering on the edge of the tournament, according to the ESPN savant. Despite a 24-6 record. A winning streak that reached eight games after its easy 70-57 victory in the Gaels’ bandbox.

The difference? Oh, sure, there are analytical ones, though most of them fall in Gonzaga’s favor. The NCAA’s selection committee uses the organization’s NET ranking for help. In that all-encompassing formula, the Zags entered the day 19th and jumped to 17th. The Cougars? They started 38th and finished 37th. How about Ken Pomeroy’s rating system? Gonzaga 15th nationally, WSU 39th.

Sure, the Cougars have their edges as well. They have posted a 6-3 mark in Quad 1 games, part of the NET rankings that tells the committee how schools have done in the toughest games. The Zags are just 3-5 in that area, with two of those wins coming over the weekend.

If we were being honest, and we always try to be, we would have declared weeks ago both schools would be in the tournament. Oh, wait. We did. Back in early February. No fear or favor. Just look at the resumes, the teams, the future schedule and predict. Washington State and Gonzaga had shown on the court they were NCAA-caliber teams. Anyone with no dog in the hunt recognized that.

But there is a difference between GU and WSU. It has to do with how they fall on ESPN’s hierarchy of importance. The Cougars? After-thoughts. Most of their games are on the soon-to-be defunct Pac-12 Networks. The ones ESPN picks up usually are against one of the Blue Bloods, so the Cougs’ plucky nature is the emphasis, not their NCAA prospects. Might as well project their seeding where they really belong.

The Zags? A different story. ESPN uses them to anchor its late-night broadcasts. The early March conference tournament coverage. Having turned into a national brand over the past 20 years, they are important to the bottom line. It’s a must to drive eyeballs to the games.

The best way to do that? Build up a narrative they are on the outside looking in. That they are facing must-win games. That missing their matchup with USF or Saint Mary’s will be something you will regret come Selection Sunday, when they are outside looking in. Heck, they are on the edge right now, don’t you know?

Except, they weren’t. Everyone with any sense of what’s happened in the past knew that a couple weeks ago. Not with the Zags’ numbers. No one in this recent iteration of NCAA analytics – the NET era – has carried a number anywhere near the one GU had (and has) and missed the tournament. The Bulldogs punched their ticket when they won at Kentucky three weeks ago.

Funny thing about bracketology, though. It doesn’t matter. Not in December or February. Not even in early March. Hours before the NCAA committee announces its selections and seeds, the bracketologists will release their final product. It will be almost perfect, with a miss here or there. Why? The real bracket is not that hard to predict at that point. But the trumpets will blare, the confetti will fall and backs will be patted among the folks who predict the outcome.

You could say the committee has so many parameters and guidelines, the outliers can be accounted for and the questions are few. Besides, every college basketball fan is going to watch the selection show. No need to build in drama. It’s already there. Unlike some slow week in late February.

• You know what would be special two weeks from today? If we were typing away that Sunday morning knowing three men’s teams from the Inland Northwest were headed to the tournament. It’s possible. And we’ll know for sure in 10 days.

The Big Sky postseason tournament, with its automatic berth on the line, finishes up around 10:30 p.m. PDT in Boise on March 13. If Eastern Washington, which finished its 14-3 regular-season march through the league, wins, this area will have three representatives in March Madness. That’s not happened before.

Sadly, they could be scattered throughout the nation. WSU in Salt Lake City. Gonzaga in Memphis. Eastern in Brooklyn. No one in Spokane.

It’s a basketball fan’s dream. And a nightmare for the budgets of local television stations and the newspaper that pays us.


WSU: We watched enough of the Cougars’ win to see, in order, UCLA look dominant, Washington State show its resilience, a punch to the groin that, rightly, led to an ejection, some masterful Cougar shot-making and a crowd of 8,096 that didn’t exhale until late. You never know, right? Not in the Pac-12, where margins are tight. Greg Woods was in Beasley and has this game story. … There is also a photo gallery from Geoff Crimmins. … UCLA wasn’t happy after a loss that dropped the Bruins below .500 for the season. … The women picked up a quality win in Boulder, topping No. 13 Colorado 72-63. The key here is WSU showed it can win against an NCAA-caliber team in a hostile environment without Charlisse Leger-Walker. The selection committee should take note. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, in what is more-than-likely the last weeks of Mike Hopkins’ tenure in Seattle, Washington lost another close game at home, this one 82-75 against USC. The Huskies head across the mountains for their final matchup with WSU on Thursday. … Utah put it all together in an 88-59 rout of visiting California. … Oregon’s final shot to earn NCAA at-large brownie points fell flat as the Ducks were dominated by No. 6 Arizona, which won handily, 103-83 on Senior Day. … On the women’s side, Washington upset No. 18 Utah to end its regular season on a high note. … No. 11 Oregon State welcomed back a key player, routed California and will get a Pac-12 tourney bye. … Oregon finished with a 13-game losing streak after No. 4 Stanford rolled 76-56. The Ducks finished last. … UCLA dominated the boards and routed Arizona 64-41 in Tucson. … In football news, the quarterbacks were on the field yesterday at the Combine. Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix did well. In the former’s case, he’s got a history with the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator. Could there be a reunion? … Finally, we can link Sally Jenkins’ column about the NCAA and AIAW today in the S-R. We linked it earlier this week when it was on the Washington Post site.

Gonzaga: The key players last night? Two guys who were in other uniforms this time last year and one who watched more than played for GU at that time. Ryan Nembhard and Graham Ike dominated the Gaels – both had double-doubles – while Ben Gregg supplied to extra oomph – and 12 points. Theo Lawson has the game story, Jim Meehan adds a look at the bracket implications and the difference makers, while Tyler Tjomsland presents the images from Moraga. … We watched from home and add our TV Take thoughts. The biggest upset last night? Sean Farnham didn’t mention the Davenport Hotel once. At least not that we caught. Or maybe it was his calling-out the idiocy of Gonzaga’s bubble status. … The folks in the office put together a recap with highlights. … We can pass along coverage from the Bay Area as well. … Elsewhere in the WCC, Santa Clara ended its regular season with a 69-62 win over visiting USF. … San Diego continued its surge with a win over last-place Pacific. The Toreros have a new athletic director.  

EWU: The men outscored Montana State at home Saturday, winning 108-104 in overtime. The women out-defended the Bobcats in Bozeman, winning 52-50. Dan Thompson has this story that covers both outcomes. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, Northern Colorado picked up two wins against Idaho State, with the men winning on the road. … Weber State split with Northern Arizona, as the Wildcat men won in Ogden. … Same with Sacramento State and Portland State, with PSU’s women winning at home.

Idaho: The Vandal men had no chance against Montana in Moscow last night, losing 80-57. Peter Harriman has this game story, which also includes the women’s loss in Missoula against Montana.

Whitworth: The Pirates’ season ended in a 69-67 NCAA round-of-32 loss to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps at Cal Lutheran. Ethan Myers has the coverage. Whitworth was again without NWC player of the year Jojo Anderson, who couldn’t make it back from a late-season shoulder injury.

Preps: State title time. There were a handful of opportunities for Spokane-area schools to win championships but none materialized at the large-school level. Dave Nichols was in Tacoma and has this story on Gonzaga Prep’s girls falling in the 4A final, Mead’s girls in the 3A final and Mt. Spokane’s boys picking up third in the 3A. … In Yakima, Deer Park’s girls lost the 1A final to top-ranked Nooksack Valley. … Here in town, two local schools took home the gold ball. In the 2B boys, Colfax capped an undefeated season with a 65-52 win over Columbia Burbank, which also came in without a loss. Greg Lee has the game story. … Wellpinit won its second consecutive 1B boys title, topping Mossyrock 60-56. Dan Thompson has that story. … Greg also has coverage of the 2B girls title game. … There is also a roundup of other State B games. … All the stories can be found here.

Chiefs: A former Spokane player hopes he has more opportunities with the Penguins.  

Mariners: Julio Rodriguez returned to the lineup Saturday but the M’s fell as their bullpen struggled.

Kraken: This time of year, as the NHL standings tell the tale of what could be ahead, any loss hurts. But Seattle’s loss last night hurt even more. … How will the fanbase take not making the postseason if that happens?

Sounders: Seattle didn’t lose last night in their home opener. But it didn’t win either. Didn’t score in fact. The scoreless draw wasn’t all that exciting. And the empty seats at Lumen Field may indicate the fanbase isn’t happy with the lack of scoring.


• Sorry about the bracketology rant today. It’s just gotten so weird. We’ll give some ESPN analysts props, though. Folks like Farnham seem more willing to call out the nonsense. We wonder if that causes them some problems in Bristol. Until later …