Column: Let's rally behind the Zags in the Final Four
Gonzaga has sat on top on the West Coast Conference for a decade. While Portland is trying to break out of being average, the Bulldogs have proven to be elite. The Zags are a fine tuned machine that the rest of the WCC has the challenge of knocking off.
So when they come to town, we fill the Chiles Center to just to watch what often results in a blowout win for them— Portland’s upset win in 2014 being the one blip in the trend— and the cheers of their fans drown out all else.
But whatever jealousy we have because of that kind of basketball dominance, we must stash it away. At least for now. Because the Zags are the first WCC school in 60 years to make the Final Four of the NCAA tournament— the last being San Francisco in 1957. They cruised to victory over Xavier in the Elite Eight on Saturday, 83-59, to punch their ticket to Phoenix.
The win shows just how good Gonzaga is. It’s the best team they’ve ever had.
They were undefeated longer than any other team in NCAA Division I this year— their loss to BYU in the season finale the only blemish in what has otherwise been a perfect season. They claimed the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll for the second time in school history, the prior being in the 2012-13 season. But compared to that squad, and even the 2015 team that made the Elite Eight, this year’s edition is better.
The 2013 team won 13 conference games by more than 10 points. The 2015 team won four conference games by more than 20 points. But the Zags beat WCC foes this season by more than 26 points on average; Their 22.3 scoring margin overall, the highest in Division I.
This dominance is why the Zags represent the WCC’s best hope for a national title in the modern era.
The pundits are always quick to knock the Zags’ hype come March. “They have a weak strength of schedule,” they say. “Five straight second round exits in the tournament from 2010 to 2014; The Zags are just a big fish in the small pond of the WCC.”
But this year, the Zags have gotten over the hump.They’ve shown that they can beat the big boys. They had non-conference wins over Florida, Iowa State, and Arizona in the regular season— all three of which made it to at least the Round of 32 of this year’s tournament. Jordan Matthews’ game-winning three-pointer against West Virginia in the Sweet 16 showed just how poised this group can be down the stretch of a game with high stakes. They’re battle-tested.
This is why I’m pulling for the Zags to make it to the championship game. To see them hoist that trophy on April 3 for the WCC: the mid-major conference that’s more known for it’s academics than producing high-level basketball talent.
So I’m putting my grudges aside until next season, when the Zags come back to Portland and give the Pilots a reminder of how much further behind we are.
Let’s rally behind Mark Few’s squad: Go Zags.