I’ve been writing, talking and tweeting about Gonzaga for months -- after each big win, following most steps toward what will likely be an undefeated regular season, randomly during random days of the week. And it’s always met with some pushback.
Gonzaga is overrated!
Gonzaga would get smoked in the ACC!
Gonzaga always loses early in the NCAA Tournament!
It’s so frustrating, and here’s why: Fake news!
Too many people, as the President of the United States might say, believe fake news about the top-ranked Zags. These folks are either innocently ignorant or willingly ignorant. Either way, they don’t have any idea what they’re talking about. So in an attempt to dispel the myths connected to this West Coast Conference team and program, here are some bolded words college basketball fans often insist about Gonzaga followed by me explaining why they’re simply untrue.
Gonzaga is overrated
No, actually, Gonzaga is not overrated. The Zags are first in KenPom and first in the Sagarin ratings -- meaning they’re properly rated while sitting atop the AP poll, Coaches poll and CBS Sports Top 25 (and one). They’re 27-0 with 24 double-digit wins. They’ve beaten the Arizona team that’s in first place in the Pac-12 standings, the Florida team that’s in first place in the SEC standings, the Akron team that’s in first place in the MAC standings, the Iowa State team that won at Kansas, the Tennessee team that beat Kentucky -- plus Saint Mary’s twice.
Gonzaga has seven top-50 RPI wins.
That’s the same number as Kansas and more than five other schools -- Arizona, UCLA, Oregon, Louisville and West Virginia -- ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll. And the Zags’ adjusted efficiency rating of +34.87 is not only the best in the country, it’s the second best in the history of the KenPom era that dates back to the 2001-2002 season, which is among the reasons why Gonzaga is the favorite to win the 2017 NCAA Tournament, according to VegasInsider. In other words, the computers love Gonzaga and the oddsmakers love Gonzaga. So anybody still doubting Gonzaga as a legitimate force is either stubborn or stupid or both.
Gonzaga always loses early in the NCAA Tournament
No, actually, Gonzaga does not always lose early in the NCAA Tournament. Truth is, the Zags have won their opening game in the NCAA Tournament each of the past eight years and been to the Sweet 16 each of the past two seasons. And they made the Elite Eight in 2015. Furthermore, when you break down all 17 NCAA Tournament appearances under coach Mark Few, what you’ll find is that Gonzaga, on average, has done what Gonzaga’s seed has suggested Gonzaga was supposed to do.
Few has coached 38 NCAA Tournament games. He’s won most of the games his seed suggested he was supposed to win and lost most of the games his seed suggested he was supposed to lose. He’s won as a lower seed seven times and lost as a higher seed seven times. He’s advanced exactly as far as his seed suggested he was supposed to advance when the bracket was released seven times, advanced further than his seed suggested he was supposed to advance when the bracket was released five times, and lost earlier than his seed suggested he was supposed to lose when the bracket was released five times.
So what does all that mean?
It means Gonzaga usually performs as expected in the NCAA Tournament. The Zags are neither consistent overachievers nor consistent underachievers in March. I realize that makes for a boring tweet. But it is at least an accurate sentence.
Gonzaga has never made a Final Four
This is true, of course. But people who point this out usually point it out in their argument against the idea of the Zags making the 2017 Final Four, which is dumb. I mean, Steve Kerr’s Golden State Warriors had never made an NBA Finals before they made the 2015 NBA Finals. But did anybody insist that would prevent them from making the NBA Finals one month before the start of the 2015 NBA Playoffs?
Basketball seasons are all played independent of each other. No school’s past has anything to do with any team’s future as it relates to a single-elimination tournament of 40-minute games -- and that’s especially true with Gonzaga considering its top five scorers weren’t even in uniform for the Zags during last year’s NCAA Tournament.
This is a new group -- one featuring three former top-50 national recruits, which, by the way, is more than the Villanova team that won last year’s national title had on its roster. So don’t talk to me about Gonzaga’s lack of talent. No, the Zags don’t have multiple future first-round picks like Kentucky and Duke. But the Zags’ talent this season is comparable to the talent Villanova had last season. And if it was good enough for the Wildcats to cut nets in April, it can be good enough for Gonzaga too.
Beyond that, do you realize Gonzaga has only been a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament once? So when people yell about the Zags’ lack of Final Fours, what they’re failing to realize, or purposely ignoring, is that Gonzaga has only actually been expected to make the Final Four once in the history of the school.
Thus the proper way to frame things isn’t to yell about Gonzaga’s lack of Final Fours, it’s to simply say, “Gonzaga is 0-1 when seeded in a way that suggests Gonzaga was supposed to make the Final Four.” And let’s talk about that one time for a moment.
The year was 2013.
Gonzaga was 32-2 on Selection Sunday and tabbed as the No. 1 seed in the West Regional. The Zags beat Southern in the Round of 64, which set up a Round of 32 matchup with Wichita State. And Gonzaga lost that game. Yes, Gonzaga lost 76-70.
But the details matter.
In the moment, I agree, it seemed like an embarrassing upset. But hindsight paints a different picture because what we now know is that Wichita State was far from just a plucky little Missouri Valley Conference team. What we know now is that Wichita State went on to advance to the Final Four, where the Shockers played the eventual national champion (Louisville) closer than anybody else.
Also: Wichita State had three future NBA players!
Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker each scored 16 points in the win over Gonzaga while Fred VanVleet added 13. And Wichita State, as a team, made 14 3-pointers. So is it really fair to use that early exit as an indictment of Gonzaga’s program? I don’t think so, because here’s what I think: I think that Wichita State team that made 14 3-pointers in that game and was led by three future NBA players would’ve also beaten literally every other college basketball team on that day, Louisville included.
Bottom line, Gonzaga’s NCAA Tournament history has nothing to do with Gonzaga’s NCAA Tournament future ... and, either way, Gonzaga’s NCAA Tournament history isn’t what most seem to believe. Again, on average, the Zags have done about what they’ve been expected to do in Mark Few’s 17 NCAA Tournament appearances. And the only time they didn’t make the Final Four when they were actually projected to make the Final Four was the time when they lost to a team that A) got uncharacteristically hot from the perimeter, B) was led by three future NBA players, and C) went on to give the eventual national champion fits in the national semifinals.
No shame in that.
And if the Zags fall short of the Final Four again this season, so be it.
No shame in that, either.
Big single-elimination tournaments are always filled with upsets. Nature of the deal. So I’m not promising Gonzaga will make the Final Four for the first time this season any more or less than I’m promising anybody will make the Final Four this season. All I’m doing is educating those who insist the Zags can’t do it or won’t do it for reasons that are mostly dumb or illogical.
It’s all fake news.
Stop spreading your fake news.