A week later and I am still left scratching my head. Last Saturday night the number one ranked team in the country in Gonzaga went down to red hot Wichita State, who are now in the Elite 8. As I searched for words to best described the outcome, it only seemed appropriate to resort to a derivative of Wichita’s mascot itself…shocking. The Zags were arguably in the least challenging region, the West. Although 2-seeded Ohio State, who is now in the Elite 8, comes out of a highly competitive Big 10 conference, much of what remained after them seemed and has proven to be inferior. Was Gonzaga really as vulnerable as many analysts and fans alike proclaimed them to be? At two loses on the year going into the NCAA tournament, were they really overrated as a number one seed? These are questions that I have been thinking about this past week and I’d like to share with you what I came up with.
I can imagine it wouldn’t be enough to tell those in Bulldog hater nation that the Zags have guys who can flat out play. Starting with power forward Elias Harris, who played for the German national team, Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr., and David Stockton join him as guys who can play with anyone in the country. I would gladly welcome any point of view that says otherwise. This, of course, goes without mentioning Player of Year candidate Kelley Olynyk, who literally went from rags to riches for the Zags from his time as a freshmen up until now. The only player that could come close to comparing to the progress Olynyk has made in this short amount of time would be ex-Connecticut guard Kemba Walker. These players were average players at best in their first years on campus, but they put in the time necessary to develop to their potential and it paid huge dividends. Walker is in the NBA and Olynyk will be too. In the end, there is no arguing the personnel side of things for Gonzaga.
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few has made the NCAA tournament in all 14 of his seasons with the Bulldogs. His teams have won 13 regular season championships and 11 conference tournament championships. On top of that, he’s made one Elite 8 and five Sweet 16s. There is no mistaking that the 10-time WCC Coach of the Year is one of the best active coaches in college basketball. He took an sub-par mid-major and transformed it into a national powerhouse. The evolution of Gonzaga basketball with Few at the helm has been nothing short of remarkable. There is no arguing Few as a top notch coach and as his assistants are now getting recognized with the appointment of Ray Giacoletti who got the head coaching job at Drake, it will only be a matter of time before Few has another breakthrough.
The West Coast Conference as a whole is average at best, but with the addition of BYU two years ago, the quality has the potential to quickly turn. With the addition of the Cougars, it guarantees Gonzaga at least four quality games in conference. The other obviously comes at the hands of St. Mary’s. This WCC tri-fector in these three schools represents mid-majors who have tasted NCAA tournament success and as a result, wins in conference play should be highly recognized when any of these names are mentioned. Non-conference games is where Gonzaga and many other mid-major tournament teams get a bad a rap. Much of the discussion and criticism surrounding Gonzaga as they cruised through the ranks and achieved the number one ranking was that they hadn’t played anyone. Any rational college basketball fan would be able to see that this frame of thinking couldn’t be further from the truth. The Zags beat Oklahoma, Davidson, and Kansas State, all of whom were in the field of 68. Is the over/under for having legitimate non-conference wins in a season four because the last time I checked there have been a plethora of non-BCS teams over the years that have made NCAA tournaments without that many quality wins outside of their conference. The conclusion that Gonzaga didn’t played anyone is as short-sided as it is inaccurate.
By this point you may be thinking that I am beating a dead horse for a team that is no longer in the tournament, but I ask that you look at it in a different way. With over a decade of success in and out of the WCC, Gonzaga is now viewed as a measuring stick for many other mid-major schools. They recruit in and out of the country, they have a walk-on kid named David Stockton whose father is a Hall of Famer, and they do things the right way. Few has done an extraordinary job in maintaining high standards, while avoiding the negative spotlight that so many of his counterparts have fallen victim to. It’s time to change the mindset that mid-majors are overrated more times than not. For what the NCAA tournament is to this day, where any team can beat anyone at any time, all that it takes is one good game to move on.
This isn’t a desperate plea to recognize a brand of basketball that challenges my ability to be ethical and fair in my sports writing practices. It’s simply a plea to recognize the 2012-13 Bulldogs for what they were, which was a great team that fell to a Wichita State Shocker team that couldn’t miss down the stretch in third round NCAA tournament game. It goes without mentioning that the Shockers are a mid-major themselves.
Stop the hating, start the recognizing.