While you were readying the fois gras and chateaubriand for your Super Bowl party, the Washington Huskies slipped in a transformative upset of Arizona Saturday night.
Welcome back to college basketball, Huskies. Where ya been?
Even Gonzaga --well, some of Zag Nation anyway -- cheers your re-entry to relevance in the sport, even if it’s less about being kindred Gortex-lovers than the fact the Zags throttled Washington, 97-70, on Dec. 10, at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. And thus, Gonzaga reaps the reflected glory from that night -- at least on Selection Sunday, it assumes it will.
With the Arizona win, the Huskies thrust themselves into the NCAA-tournament reckoning and ought to make it, unless they have some major slips against a less-than-daunting finishing schedule. CBS.com’s Jerry Palm even has them as a No. 7 seed in his bracket this week.
That may carry some significance for the Zags, because Washington could represent a fourth GU victim that should make the NCAA tournament, and that number would rank among the best collection of pelts Gonzaga has assembled in what should, in March, become a 20-year streak of making NCAA tournaments.
Lots of the regular season remains to be played, but if the committee were birthing the bracket today, four teams the Zags (21-4) have beaten would be in the field -- Ohio State (20-5), Creighton (17-6), Washington (17-6) and Texas (15-8). That number figures to be important when the committee goes about seeding Gonzaga, especially in a year when victories over Saint Mary’s could be scarce (the Zags again hunt one at Moraga Saturday night).
How does four non-league wins over NCAA-tournament teams rank in Gonzaga’s history? Glad you asked. Having no life, I researched GU’s annual haul of them since it began putting March Madness on its to-do list in 1999.
In 19 seasons, Gonzaga has had 47 non-conference victories over NCAA-bound teams, or 2.47 a year. So four, if it happens, would be a robust number.
Five times, Gonzaga has had four or more such non-league victims. The only time it had more was the Elite Eight year of 2014-15, with five, and it came with a bit of an asterisk, as Texas Southern won the Southwestern Athletic Conference title to make it. (It could happen again, even as itinerant TSU is 6-17 overall, including an opening-night blowout at the hands of Gonzaga. Arkansas-Pine Bluff currently leads that league with a 9-2 record, but at 9-16 overall with a 312 RPI.)
On four of those five occasions, Gonzaga got a preferred (four or better) seed from the committee. The exception was in 2008, when the Zags got a No. 7 seed and were sent to play in Stephen Curry’s backyard near Davidson, and we all know how that turned out.
So could those four non-league wins this year equate to a preferred seed? Palm actually gives Gonzaga a No. 4 seed in his bracket reckoning. I’d call that unlikely, unless the Zags were to run the table, with two victories over Saint Mary’s.
There are two major hedges to a lofty seed right now: The possibility of no damage done against Saint Mary’s, which was usually inflicted in years past; and the existence of 300-and-above RPI anchors on Gonzaga's resume -- Howard (339), Incarnate Word (348), Pepperdine (328) and IUPUI (316).
During Gonzaga’s NCAA-appearance streak, there has often been a correlation between the number of non-league victims who danced, and GU’s seed; one or two such wins usually means an 8 seed or poorer. Yet it’s anything but iron-clad, because there are other factors at play.
One outlier was the 2005-06 Adam Morrison-led club that earned a No. 3 seed. In a memorable non-league schedule, Gonzaga played three ranked teams in the Maui Invitational and beat two, played Washington to the wire on the road, won against Oklahoma State, Virginia, St. Louis and St. Joseph’s -- and yet, when it was all said and done, ended up with a single non-league victory over an NCAA-bound team. That was Michigan State, in the famous triple-overtime howler in Maui.
Another factoid about the 2017-18 Zag resume: Assuming Washington makes the field, Gonzaga will have two 27-point victories over NCAA-bound teams (Ohio State is the other), neither on GU’s home floor. As it happens, that margin is bigger than any of those 47 non-league aforementioned, save for a 40-point win over Texas Southern in 2014-15.
Just one more imponderable for the committee, as if it didn’t have enough.