Gonzaga Moves up to #2

By James F.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs first burst upon the college basketball scene in 1999 when they went to the Elite Eight with a thrilling Sweet Sixteen win over the Florida Gators. Before that they were only known as the alma mater of NBA Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton. In the years since 1999, the Zags have remained in the upper echelon of college basketball. They have been an NCAA Tournament teams just about ever year since 1999. They have had some really good players such as Adam Morrison, Ronny Turiaf, Dan Dickau and Robert Sacre. But the Bulldogs have watched other mid-majors such as the Butler Bulldogs and VCU Rams go to Final Fours while they have continually come up short.

But this year’s Bulldogs may be the team that finally busts through to get the the Final Four. On Monday, the Zags reached their highest ranking ever in the AP Poll at #2. With Kelly Olynyk, Elias Harris and Kevin Pangos leading the way, the Bulldogs are 27-2 and 14-0 in the West Coast Conference. The Zags have five wins over Big 12 teams including the conference leading Kansas State Wildcats. They also have a win over the Pac 12 Washington State Cougars and ACC Clemson Tigers.

Gonzaga is clearly the best team in the western part of the country. Other west teams that will be favorites in the NCAA Tournament include the #11 Arizona Wildcats, #14 New Mexico Lobos, #24 Oregon Ducks, the Colorado State Rams, the UNLV Runnin Rebels, the San Diego State Aztecs, Arizona State Sun Devils, St. Mary’s Gaels and Colorado Buffaloes. Those teams should be safely into the NCAA Tournament field.

Bubble teams include the BYU Cougars, Boise State Broncos, Denver Pioneers, New Mexico State Aggies and the Cal Golden Bears. It is doubtful any of those teams will get in without winning their conference tournament. And if upsets do occur in some conference tournaments, it may cost a Colorado or St. Mary’s a bid.

Can some of these western teams make Final Four runs? It is entirely possible. Gonzaga is really good. They are probably as good as any team in the nation. Arizona has win over the Florida Gators and the Miami Hurricanes, so they are capable of beating anyone. New Mexico is ranked #3 in between Miami and Florida in the all-important RPI. There are five teams from the west in the top 16 in the RPI.

So while the Big Ten and Big East get a lot of praise, deservedly so, for being the best teams in the nation, do not sleep on the teams out west. You could easily see a couple of them in the Final Four.