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Spokane Arena (and the Zags) take another whack at it

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The NCAA announced future NCAA subregional and regional sites Tuesday, and it was good news for Northwest college hoops fans -- Seattle (2019), Spokane (2020), Boise (2021) and Portland (2022) all got first- and second-round action, which is merely the best weekend in all of sports. Essentially, it means that anybody in three Northwest states can drive to see the Madness.

(I’m not quite sure how the assignment of games to Seattle’s KeyArena would dovetail with two proposals to do massive renovations to the building in the ongoing -- make that never-ending -- discussion of attracting the NBA and NHL to the city. Either players are going to be executing crossover dribbles amid wrecking balls and exposed rebar, or the successful NCAA bid only serves to underscore how interminable this process is.)

This will be the sixth time the Spokane Arena has hosted an NCAA men’s subregional, and the award reminds us of an oddity in Gonzaga’s glory years of 19 straight NCAA tournaments.

Never have the Zags played an NCAA-tournament game there. And they could have.

Sending them elsewhere in years when Spokane Arena is hosting isn't the slam-dunk you might think. Essentially, it could have happened -- more than once -- if three thresholds were reached:

-- The subregional’s host school can’t be one of the eight teams assigned to the site. Gonzaga qualifies there; Idaho is now handling the chores of hosting, while Washington State did it in the past.

-- A school can’t play more than three games at the arena in question -- or that’s considered a home floor, and about three decades ago, the NCAA took tournament games off home floors.

-- A team must land one of the basketball committee’s so-called “protected” seeds -- that is, top four (16 overall). The NCAA couches this in terms of protecting those teams from a “potential home-crowd disadvantage,” but what it equates to is, putting them in the most friendly site available.

Offhand, I can’t think of a much friendlier place for the Zags than Spokane Arena. It’s about a mile and a half from the GU campus.

At any rate, it’s more than a little quirky that, in 19 years of making tournaments, Spokane Arena has never lined up for them.

Consider: Seven times since 2003, the first time Spokane Arena hosted the men’s sub-regionals, Gonzaga has earned a No. 4 seed or better. And five times the Arena has hosted. That’s a bunch of occasions when it could have happened.

Except: Every time Spokane has had the event, Gonzaga has had one of its less dominant teams, falling far from the magic No. 4 seed line.

-- 2003: Gonzaga, a No. 9 seed, played in Salt Lake City, beating Cincinnati and playing a memorable, double-overtime loss to top-seed Arizona.

-- 2007: While Kevin Durant’s brief college career was ending in a blowout against USC at Spokane Arena, Gonzaga, a 10 seed, was getting eliminated in the first round in Sacramento by Kelvin Sampson’s Indiana team, only weeks after Josh Heytvelt’s arrest left GU short-handed.

-- 2010: Michigan State and Maryland advanced to the Sweet 16 in Spokane, while the Zags were sent east to Buffalo as a No. 8 seed.

-- 2014: Michigan State (hello again, Jud Heathcote) and San Diego State reached the round of 16, while Gonzaga went to San Diego as an 8 seed.

-- 2016: Top-seeded Oregon survived a big upset bid by St. Joseph’s in the second round at the Arena, while the Zags were off to Denver (and damn happy to be in the tournament at all) on their way to the Sweet 16.

I always wanted to see the look on the face of some unsuspecting No. 5 seed from three time zones away when it realized it was going to be matched up in a second-round game at Spokane Arena with fourth-seeded Gonzaga, which could pile in a couple of vans to make the road trip.

I wrote about this a few years ago, and I think it still holds. In the era of no home floors for the NCAA tournament, I believe the nearest an NCAA participant’s campus was to a neutral floor was Georgia State, in downtown Atlanta, maybe a five-dollar cab ride to the Georgia Dome. Make no mistake, Georgia State was no protected seed in 1991; it was a No. 16, and got demolished, 117-76, by Arkansas. (The committee must have figured it really didn’t matter.)

The year 2020 seems a long way off. Who knows what Gonzaga might look like in three seasons? Ostensibly, that’s a roster that could include Killian Tillie, Jacob Larsen, Rui Hachimura, Zach Norvell, Corey Kispert and Jesse Wade. Maybe that’s the season of home cooking in March.
#zagsmbb #wcchoops #unitedwezag #theslipperstillfits #zagup

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Zach Collins, We Hardly Knew Ye

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Well, Zag fans, you’ve hit the big-time. You’re now part of the “in” crowd in college basketball, part of a high-rolling, high-wire act just like Kentucky and Duke.

Congratulations, I guess.

When Zach Collins declared Tuesday for the NBA draft, he became the first Gonzaga player in history to do so after putting in a single freshman season. The Zags have had a handful of others leave early, but never after a freshman year.

Have to admit, I never thought it was a given that he’d declare after one year -- even with a productive NCAA tournament. He seemed to enjoy the year greatly, and there’s no doubt he’s not ready for the NBA, not needing weight and strength, not having accounted for seven of GU’s 15 total player disqualifications on fouls this year. Indeed, the understated nature of his year is obvious in the fact he wasn't even a starter, averaging 17 minutes.

But readiness is not the NBA yardstick, and no doubt, Collins’ potential is immense. So, too, are NBA paychecks. Here are some for 2016 draftees in the neighborhood of Collins’ projected draft slot: Domantas Sabonis (No. 11), $2.44 million; Taurean Prince (12th), $2.32 million; Denzel Valentine (14th), $2.09 million; Caris LeVert (20th), $1.56 million.

This is the first of what I expect to be a one-two blow. I’m anticipating Nigel Williams-Goss to follow suit -- even as his NBA prospects are far cloudier -- leaving Gonzaga with some rebuilding on its hands. The departure of NWG, in combination with Collins and the exits of Przemek Karnowski and Jordan Mathews, would strip the Zags of four of their top five scorers.

At the very least, Collins’ decision seems to render the possibility of a repeat run like 2017 highly unlikely.

From what I’m gathering, Zag fans are conflicted. There’s obvious disappointment in forfeiting what-could-have-been scenarios for next year. But some are speculating that Collins’ college drive-through makes the Zags elite and augurs a new era in which they can flourish in recruiting because they’ve now shown themselves to be capable of getting a one-and-done talent to the League.

Of that, I’m skeptical.

Old standards tend to be almost immutable in recruiting. Precedent dies hard. I suppose there might be the random case in which a decorated prep player picks Gonzaga over UCLA because of the aforementioned proposition. More likely, that recruit chooses Gonzaga or UCLA for the same reasons a prospect has always selected Gonzaga or UCLA.

Perceptions affecting recruiting tend to happen glacially. In my research of “Glory Hounds,” Zags coach Mark Few told me he was surprised at how slowly the initial burst of NCAA-tournament success -- seven wins in three golden post-seasons in 1999-2001 -- equated to recruiting gains. It wasn’t until later that the accumulated success began to pay dividends.

Similarly, look at Gonzaga’s recruiting in Seattle, a subject I explored in detail in Glory Hounds. We’re now a generation into the Zags’ golden era -- 19 years straight of NCAA tournaments -- and candidly, it’s had very little impact in inner-city Seattle.

More than Collins’ case, I’d expect the Zags to profit by the increased spotlight through the ’17 tournament run on their success with transfers. And in the wake of Collins’ departure, GU coaches will doubtless have a keen ear to the ground on such prospects in the next couple of months.

Other riffs on the Collins decision:

-- Someday, we may look back on the NBA’s 19-and-under rule as a bizarre aberration of the pro-sports labor market (in fact, if you’re so inclined right now, feel free), a stricture that invites a seven- or eight-month stopover at a university between high school and the NBA. I’d favor a baseball-style revision: Be allowed to go out of high school, or wait two seasons (rather than baseball’s three) to be drafted.

-- I regarded Collins as a stealth candidate for college player of the year, had he returned for his sophomore season. He likely would have been a preseason All-American.

-- The Zags’ deep run might have impacted Collins -- as in, they accomplished everything they could accomplish, short of winning the national title. Also of possible relevance, as he weighed staying: While Gonzaga schedules are demanding, they lose punch in the WCC outside Saint Mary’s and BYU. It isn’t unreasonable to wonder how much Collins would gain by dominating Pepperdine and San Diego.

-- Collins’ move shifts the focus to a couple of returnees -- 6-11 Jacob Larsen of Denmark, who redshirted after a knee injury; and fourth-year junior Ryan Edwards. The train may have already left the station for Edwards, who played mop-up minutes this year (48, fewest of his three seasons on the floor) and would seem to fit the profile of a potential grad transfer.
#zagsmbb #wcchoops #theslipperstillfits #unitedwezag #zagup

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Zags, Monkey-off-Back Edition, Part II: Few and the Hall of Fame

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I can’t tell you a lot about the Naismith Hall of Fame selection process; only by describing its renderings can we begin to interpret its thinking. But I would suggest that with Gonzaga’s recent run to the NCAA championship game, Mark Few ought to have done himself a major favor in someday gaining entry into that lodge.

The HOF’s proceedings are notoriously clandestine. Back when I was U.S. Basketball Writers president in 1992-93, I recall being on an advisory committee. We had a conference call, and representatives from organizations like the NBA and USA Basketball weighed in on candidates. I think we took a vote on them, but it may have been merely advisory. And that was that. I don't think we even knew ahead of time who had been selected.

To my knowledge, there are no hard-and-fast markers to aid in consideration of college coaches, and perhaps that’s the way it should be.

What we do know is that annual classes have expanded, both to accommodate the growth of women’s and international basketball. There also seems to be a trend of recognition of “contributors,” those who gave something considerable to the sport apart from playing or coaching it.

The coaching landscape has certainly changed, and not necessarily for the good of Few’s argument. Of the last 13 Division I coaches to be named, dating to 2002, 12 have won national championships. That statistic is in itself a little chilling, because it seems to say that the committee isn’t looking deeper, at circumstance and setting.

But go back from 2001 to 1985, the year former PLU, Washington State and Washington coach Marv Harshman was selected. There were 15 Division I coaches in that group, and seven didn’t win a title, including Harshman or Oregon State’s Ralph Miller. In fact, neither of those two made a Final Four.

Thus, it’s a moving target, or at least a developing one.

Total victories help, but they’re not a guarantee of anything. In fact, look at Nos. 13-15 and 17 on the all-time total wins list at any NCAA level entering the 2016-17 season: Thirteenth is Eddie Sutton at 806; 14th is Rollie Massimino (793); 15th is West Virginia’s Bob Huggins (791) and 17th is Lefty Driesell at 786. And Massimino has Villanova’s stirring 1985 championship (but a checkered record elsewhere, including his last six ‘Nova teams, which were 48-50 in the Big East).

I’d expect retired Bo Ryan (747 wins at three schools) to find a way in soon. You’d also like to think the committee would have been considering somebody like Mike Montgomery, who was pretty much spotless over 32 years, with 677 wins -- an average of 27 in his last seven years at Stanford -- and a worthy antagonist of powerful Arizona in Lute Olson’s best years.

So . . . Few?

With Gonzaga’s dazzling 37-2 season, he jumped the 500-win mark and is now 503-113, a win percentage of .8165. That leapfrogs him two spots to No. 4 all-time among NCAA coaches at all levels, behind two legendary figures, No. 3 Adolph Rupp and No. 2 Clair Bee. (No. 1? Wait for it -- Jim Crutchfield, who just resigned as head coach of your Division II West Liberty, W.Va. Hilltoppers to take the job at Nova Southeastern in Florida. His win percentage of .855 might get bruised as he rebuilds Nova’s 6-20 team this season.)

But let’s not get consumed with total victories or win percentage. The West Coast Conference is a victory waiting to happen, at least when you’re not playing Saint Mary’s or BYU.

Here’s what should matter: That Few has been the driving force in a long, sustained, organic movement of Gonzaga from college-basketball nobody to national player, a phenomenon the extent of which hasn’t happened in recent decades in the game. And maybe ever.

It should matter that Gonzaga has now gone to 19 straight NCAA tournaments, tied for sixth on the all-time list. And that in winning games in nine straight tournaments, the Zags sit at No. 10 in history in that metric.

As I wrote in the book “Glory Hounds,” it might take a deeper look at the Gonzaga story than mere win-loss records and percentages to assess Few’s impact. The committee did just that in naming John Chaney in 2001, minus a Final Four but with a major contribution to African-Americans in his job at Temple; and Princeton’s Pete Carril (1997), a figure who never came close to a Final Four but forged an indelible stamp on the game with his strategic concepts.

A Final Four will only help Few’s case. There’s work still to be done. But it seems ever more doable.



#zagsmbb #unitedwezag #wcchoops #zagup #theslipperstillfits

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Zags: Monkey-off-back edition, Part I

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Gonzaga’s longest basketball season -- its best one -- ended Monday night in the desert, leaving its fans, well, leaving them a lot of things: Proud, devastated, redeemed, delivered, conflicted.

That happens when you break through long-standing barriers to reach the national-championship game, then lead the thing with less than two minutes left before succumbing.

It was a magnificent, groundbreaking, mind-blowing season by Gonzaga, one that lasted 143 days -- a week short of five freaking months -- from a blowout over Utah Valley Nov. 11 to the final, unforgiving seconds of the 71-65 loss to North Carolina at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Essentially, the Zag season ended with an eerie bit of deja vu, as Nigel Williams-Goss' shot in the lane was rejected by Kennedy Meeks. A year ago, Josh Perkins was denied -- in the lane, by Syracuse's Tyler Lydon, to keep Gonzaga out of the Elite Eight.

It ended 37-2, a ridiculous number of victories even if a lot of them came against the detritus of the West Coast Conference.

This, and the next couple of Glory Hounds blog installments, will deal with the Final Four breakthrough, what it might mean for Mark Few’s chance someday at the Naismith Hall of Fame, and what impact the Zags’ March march might have for the program and the school.

Let’s get to it:

Monday night’s officiating was, to put it kindly, abysmal. It fulfilled a zebra’s dreaded quinella of misdeeds: Multiple missed calls and an overly tight rein that disrupts flow and reduces the production to fits and starts.

Consensus generously concludes that it was bad for both teams. Still, it seemed that it was Gonzaga that had more to overcome with the incessant second-half whistles, its foul peril deepened with fouls against Przemek Karnowski and freshman Zach Collins.

With Karnowski’s shooting problems, it seemed to me the uber-gifted Collins could have become the most important player on the floor. But he drew dubious calls on his third and fourth fouls, bodying Meeks as they jockeyed for a rebound and then getting caught fending off Isaiah Hicks at the high post to free up space going to the block.

“That poor kid (Collins) got 14 minutes,” lamented Tom Brennan, the former Vermont coach, on Sirius radio Tuesday. “Fourteen minutes. That’s just a shame.”

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, while not openly critical of the officiating on the Mike and Mike radio show, said, “There’s certain things that happen in a game, where you can make a case for making the call, and you can make an equally good case for swallowing the whistle. I thought that was the (case) with a number of calls in the game.”

But the Collins foul against Meeks -- his third, with 15:53 left in the game -- seemed to square perfectly with this Bilas assertion: “Just because there’s physicality in rebounding doesn’t mean it’s a foul.”

If Collins was guilty of anything, he could have been more judicious as his foul trouble worsened. His fifth, with five minutes left on a hold against Tony Bradley underneath on a rebound, was an anti-climactic, matter-of-fact way to end his night. And his season. And maybe his college career.

Other thoughts:

On the future of Collins and Nigel Williams-Goss -- I have no inside information on either. But I think Nigel Williams-Goss is gone, and have thought that since about February. Remember, he nosed into the idea of an early departure to the draft while at Washington. He has an undergraduate degree already. And while he’s not considered a prime target by the NBA, this may be a case in which he might not stand to become a lot more attractive by playing his last college season.

Collins? I have no idea. The pros love him. He could clearly user another college season, but we all know that often doesn’t matter. With GU minus Karnowski in 2017-18, he could be a thunderous, double-double All-American force after adding weight and strength.

One NBA scout told me Collins’ father is thought to be heavily involved in his son’s future. Whether he holds sway in this decision, who knows?

On the BYU loss -- I think we can say now that the Feb. 25 Senior Night defeat to the Cougars was a good thing for the Zags. If indeed they were feeling any burden as they forged through Northwestern, then West Virginia, then Xavier, to reach the Final Four, one can only imagine the weight of the additional pressure had they been 34-0 and 35-0, etc.

The Holy Grail of matching the 1976 Indiana team -- running the table all the way through the NCAA tournament -- is simply not the stuff of mere mortals, including this Gonzaga squad.

On the path through the tournament -- There are yard-barkers out there who -- wait for it -- are questioning the “easy” path Gonzaga had to get to the Final Four, and the championship game.

Zip it, folks. The Zags had to take out Northwestern, which, as a virgin in the tournament, suddenly was everybody’s darling. Then they outslugged No. 4 seed West Virginia in a street brawl.

So what if they met Xavier, an 11 seed, and South Carolina, a No. 7, to reach the final? Remember, seeding is based on a four-month portfolio, and what happened in November or December, even January, often has little bearing on the snapshot of what a team is now. And what Xavier and South Carolina were when Gonzaga faced them is probably the hottest two teams in the tournament.

Funny how, once those teams are ousted, revisionist thinking takes hold in some minds, and meh, Xavier and South Carolina suddenly weren’t any good.

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Zags: Monkey-off-back edition, Part I

thread
Gonzaga’s longest basketball season -- its best one -- ended Monday night in the desert, leaving its fans, well, leaving them a lot of things: Proud, devastated, redeemed, delivered, conflicted.

That happens when you break through long-standing barriers to reach the national-championship game, then lead the thing with less than two minutes left before succumbing.

It was a magnificent, groundbreaking, mind-blowing season by Gonzaga, one that lasted 143 days -- a week short of five freaking months -- from a blowout over Utah Valley Nov. 11 to the final, unforgiving seconds of the 71-65 loss to North Carolina at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Essentially, the Zag season ended with an eerie bit of deja vu, as Nigel Williams-Goss' shot in the lane was rejected by Kennedy Meeks. A year ago, Josh Perkins was denied -- in the lane, by Syracuse's Tyler Lydon, to keep Gonzaga out of the Elite Eight.

It ended 37-2, a ridiculous number of victories even if a lot of them came against the detritus of the West Coast Conference.

This, and the next couple of Glory Hounds blog installments, will deal with the Final Four breakthrough, what it might mean for Mark Few’s chance someday at the Naismith Hall of Fame, and what impact the Zags’ March march might have for the program and the school.

Let’s get to it:

Monday night’s officiating was, to put it kindly, abysmal. It fulfilled a zebra’s dreaded quinella of misdeeds: Multiple missed calls and an overly tight rein that disrupts flow and reduces the production to fits and starts.

Consensus generously concludes that it was bad for both teams. Still, it seemed that it was Gonzaga that had more to overcome with the incessant second-half whistles, its foul peril deepened with fouls against Przemek Karnowski and freshman Zach Collins.

With Karnowski’s shooting problems, it seemed to me the uber-gifted Collins could have become the most important player on the floor. But he drew dubious calls on his third and fourth fouls, bodying Meeks as they jockeyed for a rebound and then getting caught fending off Isaiah Hicks at the high post to free up space going to the block.

“That poor kid (Collins) got 14 minutes,” lamented Tom Brennan, the former Vermont coach, on Sirius radio Tuesday. “Fourteen minutes. That’s just a shame.”

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, while not openly critical of the officiating on the Mike and Mike radio show, said, “There’s certain things that happen in a game, where you can make a case for making the call, and you can make an equally good case for swallowing the whistle. I thought that was the (case) with a number of calls in the game.”

But the Collins foul against Meeks -- his third, with 15:53 left in the game -- seemed to square perfectly with this Bilas assertion: “Just because there’s physicality in rebounding doesn’t mean it’s a foul.”

If Collins was guilty of anything, he could have been more judicious as his foul trouble worsened. His fifth, with five minutes left on a hold against Tony Bradley underneath on a rebound, was an anti-climactic, matter-of-fact way to end his night. And his season. And maybe his college career.

Other thoughts:

On the future of Collins and Nigel Williams-Goss -- I have no inside information on either. But I think Nigel Williams-Goss is gone, and have thought that since about February. Remember, he nosed into the idea of an early departure to the draft while at Washington. He has an undergraduate degree already. And while he’s not considered a prime target by the NBA, this may be a case in which he might not stand to become a lot more attractive by playing his last college season.

Collins? I have no idea. The pros love him. He could clearly user another college season, but we all know that often doesn’t matter. With GU minus Karnowski in 2017-18, he could be a thunderous, double-double All-American force after adding weight and strength.

One NBA scout told me Collins’ father is thought to be heavily involved in his son’s future. Whether he holds sway in this decision, who knows?

On the BYU loss -- I think we can say now that the Feb. 25 Senior Night defeat to the Cougars was a good thing for the Zags. If indeed they were feeling any burden as they forged through Northwestern, then West Virginia, then Xavier, to reach the Final Four, one can only imagine the weight of the additional pressure had they been 34-0 and 35-0, etc.

The Holy Grail of matching the 1976 Indiana team -- running the table all the way through the NCAA tournament -- is simply not the stuff of mere mortals, including this Gonzaga squad.

On the path through the tournament -- There are yard-barkers out there who -- wait for it -- are questioning the “easy” path Gonzaga had to get to the Final Four, and the championship game.

Zip it, folks. The Zags had to take out Northwestern, which, as a virgin in the tournament, suddenly was everybody’s darling. Then they outslugged No. 4 seed West Virginia in a street brawl.

So what if they met Xavier, an 11 seed, and South Carolina, a No. 7, to reach the final? Remember, seeding is based on a four-month portfolio, and what happened in November or December, even January, often has little bearing on the snapshot of what a team is now. And what Xavier and South Carolina were when Gonzaga faced them is probably the hottest two teams in the tournament.

Funny how, once those teams are ousted, revisionist thinking takes hold in some minds, and meh, Xavier and South Carolina suddenly weren’t any good.

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