The Zags drew a No. 4 seed and face 13th-seeded North Carolina-Greensboro in the West Region first round Thursday. If they advance, and fifth-seeded Ohio State does as well against South Dakota State, Gonzaga and the Buckeyes would meet in a second-game Saturday, and that would be a rematch of their first-round PK80 tournament game Thanksgiving night, won by GU, 86-59. ESPN analyst Dan Dakich: “If Gonzaga beats Ohio State, I think Gonzaga goes to the Final Four.”
If I were the Zags, I’d pretty much hate a game with the Ohio State under those circumstances, but the selection rules don’t protect against second-round rematches. Seems to me the psychological edge would be with the Buckeyes, although (a) the game would be in Boise, vastly favorable to Gonzaga, and (b) it’s not like Ohio State would be especially appealing to the non-Zags in attendance. Ohio State, enrollment 66,000, football colossus, would be a difficult embrace as cuddly underdog.
Of course, there’s also the potential for Gonzaga to meet No. 2 seed North Carolina -- which denied the Zags a national title last April -- and the Zags could eventually face, for the right to go to the Final Four, Xavier, precisely the two who met for the same Holy Grail last March when GU advanced convincingly.
More random thoughts on the bracket and the Zags:
-- Let me be the 73rd millionth person to say I hated TBS’ revised Selection Sunday format. Consider: We went from an elongated format in which CBS revealed a quarter of the bracket, then kept everybody on edge while it had to discuss that quartile. What it was doing was withholding the news. So now we’re shuffling out the participant field -- in a very anticlimactic, yawning fashion. What would be wrong with striking a balance -- reveal each quartile briskly (get the news out of the way) and then go back and analyze it in depth?
-- Oklahoma’s inclusion drew the heaviest derision, based on its sagging finish. Which surely dulls the shine on the Sooners, but the selection rules explicitly say the finish means nothing (the last 10 used to be a factor). For what it’s worth, Oklahoma went 6-9 against other teams in the field and jilted Oklahoma State went a comparable 8-11.
-- Stop with the conspiracy theories, that the system is rigged, yadda, yadda, yadda. There’s too much money at stake and too much integrity on the committee -- not always perspicacity, but integrity -- to put that enterprise at risk.
-- Zags coach Mark Few just extended his NCAA record to 19 consecutive appearances in the tournament to start a head-coaching career.
-- The night of Feb. 10 in Moraga, Calif., Gonzaga stole something from Saint Mary’s, and the Gaels never got it back.
-- You’d think that repeated brushes with the bubble would drive the point home to SMC coach Randy Bennett, but it doesn’t. It has to upgrade the schedule, even if it means going on the road with no return game.
-- Texas Southern started 0-13 and didn’t win a game until New Year’s Day. And it’s in the NCAA tournament. What a country.
-- TSU’s win in the Southwestern Conference tournament means Gonzaga beat four teams in its non-league schedule -- TSU, Ohio State, Texas and Creighton -- that made the NCAAs. As noted previously in this space, the average for GU in its 20-year golden run is 2.47 such wins.
-- Over and over, we hear pleas for more reliance on the eyeball test as an undervalued tool for the committee, but I’ve never bought in. For one, anybody knowledgeable will tell you matchups are critical, and you might be seeing a team against an opponent that’s a bad matchup. Or you might be catching a team on a night when it simply mails it in. Seems to me, it’s dangerous to have a subjective element that can’t be backed with facts.
-- On that mail-it-in subject: I saw Washington beat Kansas early in December, and haven’t been able to shake the recollection that the Jayhawks looked like the most disinterested outfit imaginable. I know they’re a No. 1 seed that’s had a very nice season: Go ahead and pick them.
-- One coach who has something to prove: Purdue’s Matt Painter. Three years ago, the Boilermakers lost a seven-point lead and dropped their NCAA opener to Cincinnati. Two years ago, they led Arkansas-Little Rock by 14 with 4:06 left and lost in double overtime. Last year, they made the Sweet 16 and then got smoked by 32 by Kansas.
-- It turned out that those RPI-awful matchups with Howard (No. 339) and Incarnate Word (347) didn’t cost Gonzaga. But the Zags need to take more pains in scheduling those guarantee games, so they’re lining up more 200-range opponents rather than the game’s derelicts.
-- The West Coast Conference brass has to be sporting long faces these days. Not only does the exclusion of Saint Mary’s cost the WCC more than $1.5 million over six years (plus that amount each time the Gaels might have won a game), one of the league’s up-and-coming programs, San Diego, just offed its promising coach, Lamont Smith, after an alleged domestic-violence incident.
-- Last time Gonzaga was a No. 4 seed? It was 2009, when the Zags beat Akron and Western Kentucky to reach the Sweet 16. And in 20 years of basketball prominence, Gonzaga still has never been a 5 seed.