I didn’t do much on New Year’s Eve, so belatedly, here’s a toast to the phenomenon of Gonzaga basketball.
But accompanying it must be a question: Why the hell would anybody rank Gonzaga right now?
The news that Gonzaga is ranked Number Whatever in the weekly Associated Press poll usually elicits so many yawns. That’s because the basketball rankings don’t carry a lot of cachet – you may have heard, there’s a multi-team post-season tournament that determines some things – and also because the Zags have long been a pretty regular visitor to the ratings.
In fact, this week they snuggled into the AP rankings, at 24th, for the 142nd straight week. (By my calculation, it’s 141 weeks, but AP claims it’s 142. In any case, it’s an awfully long time, dating back to the preseason poll of 2016-17.)
That GU (9-4) is ranked -- despite having a down year, despite its depth problems, despite its guard play, despite its absence of a dependable, go-to scorer, despite its fragile leadership – is a stretch as long as a party limousine going to a New Year’s Eve gala.
I’d put it on two factors: First it’s a testament to what Gonzaga and Mark Few have built over the years in Spokane, a nod to voters telling themselves, “They’ve still gotta be good, don’t they? Don’t they? Gonzaga doesn’t really have down years, does it?”
The rankings are a reflection of inertia, as in, an object at rest tends to stay at rest. Once you've established that you're a fixture, it takes an act of Congress to remove you.
At any rate, a couple of numbers are worth mentioning. In that 142-week stretch, Gonzaga has been ranked No. 1 no fewer than 40 times. And within it, the Zags were once top-10 ranked for 83 straight weeks. Eighty-three weeks covers more than four seasons.
And according to the website Collegepollarchive.com, Gonzaga is but a week away from crashing the all-time top 10 for consecutive appearances in the AP poll. Next week, it would tie for No. 10 Duke’s streak of 143 from 1987-95, back when Coach K was really getting it cranked up in Durham.
It’s an elite list, topped by Kansas at 231 weeks, from 2009-21. Duke makes it a couple of other times, North Carolina and Kentucky twice as well. Those are good people with whom to rub elbows.
Secondly, it’s possible Gonzaga’s home loss to San Diego State loss – tucked away on a night not typically awash in college hoops (last Friday), combined with the Christmas-to-New Year’s preoccupation with football – escaped the notice of every voter. One fellow, in fact, still has the Zags 10th, and to him, I’d say it’s high time to put away the holiday egg nog.
The Zags don’t have a Quad 1 victory, of course. They troubled Purdue for a half in Hawaii, they weren’t much of a challenge for Connecticut in Seattle, and they yakked up a double-digit second-half lead at Washington. What they thought were accomplishments -- beating the LA schools -- are, until further notice, worth nothing as those two stumble aimlessly.
Bottom line, the streak appears to be on borrowed time. If it makes it through January, it’s an upset. There’s not enough oomph in the WCC schedule to impress voters, yet there are potholes that could snag the Zags, like a game at Santa Clara Jan. 11 and the home date with San Francisco Jan. 25.
In other words, the next misstep likely costs them. This season, they're never very far around the corner.