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Zags lament Texas Tech, and a lot of other things

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When Gonzaga and Texas Tech advanced to the Elite Eight the other night, my mind turned to, of all people, Erroll Knight. The Zags were going to be facing a rangy, slashing off-guard in Jarrett Culver, and didn’t really have an obvious defensive antidote, somebody like Knight.

As it happened, Knight was a key figure the last time GU played Texas Tech in the tournament, in the second round in 2005 in Tucson. The 6-6 transfer from Washington went 7 for 8 from the field for 14 points, and the Zags raced to a 13-point lead early in the second half against a Bob Knight-coached team. Ultimately, GU didn’t look inside enough – it had J.P. Batista and Ronny Turiaf and a 44-32 rebounding advantage that day – and Tech scrambled back and won, 71-69.

Texas Tech. In the last 15 years, the Zags have beaten Duke, North Carolina, Indiana and Michigan State, national-championship programs all. For some reason, Texas Tech is beyond them. They also lost a game in the 2008 Great Alaska Shootout to the Red Raiders, just a couple of months before Bob Knight retired. So it’s 0-3 all-time.

Turned out, Gonzaga did fine with Jarrett Culver. It was a lot of other people who beat the Zags, including themselves. Some thoughts:

-- The pace was Texas Tech’s, except for some flashes by Gonzaga in the first half, and the Zags never seemed particularly comfortable with it. The controlled tempo seems especially troublesome to Zach Norvell, who was 1 of 11 against Saint Mary’s and 3 of 11 on this day.

-- Two junctures struck me as important, in an understated way. Strange as it sounds, one of them came when GU led 11-8 and had three straight good looks at threes, two by Norvell and the other by Corey Kispert. All three missed. Make a couple of those, and if the leads expands to say, eight, the game that never saw a margin greater than five until the last minutes might develop differently, especially if Tech had to respect perimeter shooters.

-- The other pivot point for me came with GU up 48-44. Brandon Clarke blocked a shot, Rui Hachimura got the ball and charged down the left side of the floor, head down, and took the ball into a thicket of Tech defenders near the rim. He got it stuffed and seven seconds later, Culver splashed a three for the Red Raiders.

-- A few times, Gonzaga was too casual getting around screens to contest three-point shooters. It was costly.

-- No revelation here, but the Zags’ 16 turnovers was far too many in a low-possession game – some unforced, some fumbled-thumbed against Tech’s excellent defense.

-- The Josh Perkins faux pas became almost larger than the outcome itself, partly because Perkins heaped so much blame on himself. Reality is, it should have been a footnote to the day. Still, anybody feel an eerie parallel to the late-game mistake, Wichita State, 2013, when Elias Harris and David Stockton miscommunicated inbounding the ball and turned it over?

-- One more thing on that touched-ball situation: The punishment – two free throws and choice of shooter – hardly meets the crime. Seems like a situation made for a single free throw, and possession.

-- Who knows about impact, but the Zags suffered on a couple of calls aside from the controversial, late Tariq Owens block and save. Killian Tillie’s foul on an offensive rebound was a head-scratcher (looked like Tillie could have contested the board harder, but it hardly looked like a foul), and Brandon Clarke was rightly agitated over a shot bouncing on the rim that appeared to be goal-tended.

-- Ahead might be the biggest transition in personnel in the 21 years of Gonzaga making NCAA tournaments. I’d imagine there will be a lot of hours put into jigsawing a new roster in place, with an eye to graduate transfers in the backcourt. On the other hand, incoming are three of Rivals.com's top 50 bigs nationally.

-- Among the challenges will be the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, a home date with North Carolina and a roadie with Washington. With the Huskies losing four seniors and likely guard Jaylen Nowell, the look of the Zag-UW game will be dramatically different.

-- For all the overheated criticism of teams that don’t advance, don’t ever forget that the margin is often capriciously and cruelly thin. If Virginia doesn’t come up with a near-miraculous play at the end of regulation against Purdue, in some (lunatic) precincts Tony Bennett will always be a bum whose teams choke before the Final Four.

-- What adds to Mark Few’s melancholy is the fact this looked to be Gonzaga’s best chance to win a national title. And maybe it was. But let’s not be so certain. The bracket tends to have a mind of its own.

#marchmadness #zagmbb #wcchoops #theslipperstillfits #zaghoops #zagup

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Haters gonna hate, and some still dog the Zags

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My late father had an expression for those drivers who didn’t meet his standards, who were going too fast or who made an ill-advised turn.

“All the idiots are out today,” he would say.

Decades later, it occasionally still holds true. Some days, the idiots seem to collect on the roads. When they’re not on Twitter bashing Gonzaga.

So here are the Zags, in another Elite Eight in advance of their Saturday matchup with Texas Tech for a second Final Four in three seasons. And they’re still batting away barbs from naysayers mad at Gonzaga’s seeding, mad at the fact the Zags lost to Wyoming in the first round in 2002, mad, from all indications, at the world.

Duke probably is the most polarizing team in college hoops, by virtue of dominating the sport for three decades. Second in dissenting opinion might be Gonzaga, for reasons only the Twitterati can fathom.

Probably, Gonzaga’s rush onto the tournament scene from 1999-2001 – two Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight – set the whole thing up. There was considerable blowback when, from 2004-06, GU had early, sometimes unseemly, exits from the tournament. So the Zags became the outfit that always choked in the tournament.

Now the narrative has shifted. Gonzaga is the NCAA basketball committee’s favored child, somehow getting undeservedly high seeds, which, of course, guarantees advancement straight to a Final Four interview podium.

Truth be told, I think there’s room for debate on whether Gonzaga should have copped a No. 1 seed in this tournament; its resume is thinner than some power-conference heavies. But on the side of the Zags is a basketball committee now giving considerable weight to advanced metrics and Gonzaga’s portfolio there sparkles.

One Seattle sports-radio jock dogs Gonzaga on the seed issue. So should the Zags have gotten a 3 or a 4? No, the other day he said he would have given them a 2.

Like it would matter. If the Zags have proved anything over the years, it’s that seeding is vastly overrated. In its 21-year run of making the tournament, GU is 18-3 in the first round, and it’s won multiple times as a 7, 8 and double-digit seed. It went to the 2016 Sweet 16 as an 11.

But by all means, let's obsess over something that's maybe 10th on the narratives around Gonzaga basketball.

Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News tweeted the other day, “They built their program to what it is out of nothing. Just some tiny mid-major in an isolated part of the country. It’s the most amazing story in the history of college basketball.”

DeCourcy conceded that any mention of the Zags in his dispatches seems to inspire fury from a segment of the populace.

“Amazing how many people keep insisting this success is all a matter of their league,” DeCourcy added.

Of course, it’s amazing 30-some percent of the country believes the leader of the free world is just an all-around admirable figure.

“Three Elite Eights in five years,” tweeted Seth Davis of CBS Sports. “One of the most amazing stories in all of sports.”

That missive Thursday night after GU’s victory over Florida State unleashed the predictable torrent of critics, as always well-informed and well-spoken. Herewith, some of the snarling, with comment.

“Seems like an exaggeration. They’ve been on the national scene 20 years. Made 1 Final Four.”
And of course, when they stepped onto the national scene two decades ago, they began on the same footing with Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina.

“Seth, they don’t play anyone.”
Indeed, Gonzaga’s been dodging Golden State and the Oklahoma City Thunder for years.

“But not bigger than Butler, back-to-back title games.”
Great story, Butler, and surely one of Gonzaga’s kindred spirits. It made the title game in both 2010 and 2011. But it has missed the tournament three times since then, and the breadth and consistency of the Zags would outstrip the Butler saga.

“Why is this an amazing story? The one and done era in college basketball has allowed small schools to develop strong programs cause they are the senior laden and transfer laden (sic) so I think that amazing story is not a story no more.”
Yeah, all around the country, from Missouri-Kansas City to Stetson to Texas-Rio Grande Valley, the same upstart programs are busting brackets every year.

“That’s a bit hyperbolic, Seth. Good for the Zags but that’s not THAT impressive. It’s not even all that impressive for college basketball let alone ALL OF SPORTS”
Whatever you say. But it’s at least impressive for teams in Spokane County.

“Could be the year they finally make a Final Four”
True. The wait since that last one in 2017 has been interminable.

“(Expletive) that team should’ve not be number 1”
Relatively cheaply, you can find English classes on-line or through junior colleges near you.


#marchmadness #zagmbb #wcchoops #theslipperstillfits #zaghoops #zagup

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Zags: Late bloomers in an old game

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On the occasion of another NCAA tournament, I decided to take a dive into the NCAA Final Four record book, which is full of great information (you can find it on www.ncaa.org, go to statistics and follow the links). With Gonzaga’s tournament success in recent years, I wondered how its all-time record in the event – 31 wins, 21 losses – stacked up nationally.

I already knew this: It’s hard to compile a glittering record in the tournament, simply because you’re guaranteed a defeat unless you win the whole thing. So if you get to the round of 32 – precisely what GU did from 2010-2014, you’re going .500.

Here’s the big takeaway from a perusal of the numbers: As if we didn’t already know it, they’ve been playing college hoops a long time. On the victory list, Gonzaga is only tied for 34th. Of course, the Zags didn’t break through on that list until 1999, and though I didn’t have time to compute this, you can bet they’re top-ten in wins since then.

Have to admit some surprise at the distance between some of those schools and Gonzaga. Obviously, the others had a big head start. But remember, the 64-team tournament didn’t come into being until 1985, so that’s just 14 years of that format before GU began to win.

Before that, it took five wins, four, and – going way back – just three to win the NCAA tournament. In other words, there were far fewer wins to go around. (The first NCAA tournament was in 1939, and Gonzaga didn't playing Division 1 hoops until the 1958-59 season.)

Below is a list of the teams with more victories than Gonzaga’s 31. Thirteen have lesser winning percentages, so Gonzaga ranks 21st among that group. Note that they're listed in order of victories, not winning percentage.

Kentucky, 128-52, .711; North Carolina, 124-46, .729; Duke 111-37, .750; Kansas, 107-46, .699; UCLA 106-42, .716; Louisville, 76-43, .639; Syracuse 68-39, .636; Indiana, 66-34, .660;

Michigan State, 65-31, .677; Villanova, 64-36, .640; Michigan 59-27, .686; Connecticut 59-30, .663; Ohio State, 56-31, .644; Arizona 56-34, .622; Georgetown 47-29, .618; Florida, 46-19, .708; Cincinnati 46-31, .597; Arkansas, 42-32, .568;

Maryland, 41-26, .612; Oklahoma, 41-31, .569; Marquette 41-33, .554; Illinois 40-31, .563; Purdue, 39-30, .565; Wisconsin, 38-22, .633; Oklahoma State, 38-27, .585; Utah 38-32, .543; Notre Dame, 38-40, .487;

NC State, 37-26, .587; Kansas State 37-34, .521; Texas, 35-37, .486; Memphis 34-26, .567; Temple 33-32, .508; UNLV 33-19, .635; Gonzaga 31-21, .596; West Virginia, 31-29, .517.

Some observations:

-- The first 19 schools on the list have won a national title.

-- It’s striking that both Notre Dame and Texas have sub-.500 records in the tournament.

-- West Virginia, the school Gonzaga is tied with, has a pretty rich basketball history, dating to Jerry West.

-- FYI, Washington’s NCAA-tournament record is 18-17. Its first-round opponent this week, Utah State – with a pretty good tradition of its own – is just 6-22.

-- It continues to amaze me that Nebraska, a Power Five school that has pretty solid fan support, is 0-7 in the NCAA tournament.

-- Also 0-7: Boise State.

-- Most wins among Big Sky teams? Surprise, it’s Idaho State, at 8-13.

-- Only Ivy League school with a winning NCAA record is not Penn or Princeton, but Dartmouth, at 10-7.

-- BYU, another school recognized to have a fairly healthy basketball tradition? It’s 15-32 in the tournament.
#zagmbb #wcchoops #theslipperstillfits #zaghoops #zagup #marchmadness

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