There are numerous misconceptions surrounding this year’s Gonzaga Bulldogs. One is that they aren’t as good as their rankings (#3 in the AP poll, #2 in USA Today’s Poll). Another is that if they played in a “real” conference, they wouldn’t be nearly as elite.
This is all fueled by late start times for the folks who live in a world of East Coast bias on America’s eastern seaboard and don’t actually watch Gonzaga. The perception is also fueled by a lack of recent tournament success in recent years and a perceived lack of quality wins.
We’ll start with the conference issue.
The Bulldogs play in the West Coast Conference, a conference which should simply be called Gonzaga’s conference. GU has won every regular season championship since 2001 with the exception of 2012. With the exception of 2003 and 2012, they’ve also won every conference tournament since 1999.
Just by those comments, the perception the WCC is that it’s weak. And while it isn’t the Big East in its prime, it’s still a solid league. St. Mary’s has developed into a high-end mid-major close to, but not on the level of Gonzaga or Wichita State. BYU’s recent inclusion has also boosted the overall profile of the league. And while Gonzaga is the conference’s lone NCAA tournament lock at the present, the league is still a good league.
To judge the WCC’s worth, you have to compare it to similar leagues. Other west coast leagues include the likes of the Pac-12, Mountain West, Western Athletic Conference and the Big West. The WCC is head and shoulders above both the WAC and Big West this season. Additionally, in non-conference games, the Mountain West only won eight of a total 14 games against the WCC. Only three of those games involved one of the West Coast Conference’s top four teams.
Now to compare the head-to-head with the Pac 12.
While it’s true that the Pac-12 went 9-4 against the WCC and two of the WCC’s four wins were by Gonzaga, there’s more to see than simply a 9-4 record. Of those nine wins by Pac-12 teams, five were against WCC cellar-dwellers Pacific, Loyola Marymount and San Francisco. I don’t care what conference you come from, whether it be the SEC or the MAAC, the basement-dwelling teams are going to be bad.
An additionally victory, notched by Arizona against Gonzaga in overtime in Tucson. Gonzaga controlled that game for a majority of the contest.
So you see, the WCC isn’t as bad a people think. Sure it could be a stronger, but it surely isn’t bad.
The Zags have made the NCAA Tournament every year since 1999. In other words, the last time Gonzaga missed the NCAAs, I was two. However, Gonzaga has made the Sweet Sixteen two times since 2002. That run included tournament upset losses to #11 seed Wyoming in 2002, #10 seed Nevada in the second round in 2004, and #10 seed Davidson in 2008. This is where the criticism starts to creep in, with the exclamation point in Gonzaga-disbelievers’ arguments being the team’s inability to take care of business as a number one seed in 2013, losing to Wichita State in the third round.
While there have been some notable upset losses sustained by Gonzaga, it can also be said that the team has been extremely unlucky in the tournament. Of their tournament losses since 2007 two were to phenom-led teams in Stephen Curry’s Davidson squad in 2008 and Jimmer Fredette’s BYU team in 2011. The same “phenom” label can be applied to that 2013 Wichita State team that made the Final Four.
Since ’07, GU has lost to two other Final Four teams, the 2012 Ohio State Buckeyes (a game decided by only seven points) and the eventual National Champion North Carolina Tar Heels in 2009. Gonzaga has also had its fair share of losses to #1 seeds against Syracuse in 2010 and Arizona in 2014.
Lastly, Gonzaga is lambasted for their lack of elite wins. Overly-critical pundits will point to the Arizona loss as just another example of the Zags not being able to get it done against top competitions.
Contrary to popular belief, GU has quality wins. The Arizona game would have been the team’s marquee win, but the loss may help the team more in the long run in terms of removing the pressure of going undefeated.
The Zags destroyed the best team the American Athletic Conference has to offer, beating SMU 72-56. Mark Few and company also boasts double-digit wins over UCLA, St. Mary’s, Georgia and Memphis. They also have a win over Saint John’s on their resume. St. Joseph’s, a school that has beaten bubble teams like UMass and Davidson, lost to Gonzaga 94-42.
Gonzaga may not have the resume that a team like Duke does, but they’re still worthy of a top seed. 26 victories and counting certainly don’t hurt either.
Like it or not (barring a massive) Gonzaga will be back on the top line in the NCAA Tournament. People may not like it, but GU is worthy of the achievement. They don’t actually play in an awful conference, and they do in fact have quality wins.