Like many of you, I have an opinion of our rivals to the North, the Gonzaga Bulldogs. And it's probably not the same opinion you have. I like Gonzaga. I grew up in Spokane, a place where even your advanced science teachers would keep the first round game on TV during class. The Zags helped me fall in love with college basketball at a young, impressionable age. Casey Calvary shattered backboards, Dan Dickau lit up scoreboards and the Zags became the lovable underdogs -- the Cinderella that never left the dance.
In 2004 I was a WSU student and I had to pick sides - the Zags were coming to town and the thought crossed my mind that I could just wear a Zag t-shirt to the game instead. I didn't. Dick Bennett made me fall in love with man-to-man defense and low scoring games, of which the Zags do neither. I chose crimson and once you go Coug you never go back. I now root for Gonzaga in every game of the season but one. The Cougs even went and made the rivalry respectable. Plus, unlike a certain other state-run school in Washington, WSU isn't afraid to play Gonzaga in the Kennel.
Now I'm a Coug fan first and a Zag fan second, which makes me a Zag fan at the moment because Washington State will not be appearing in the postseason. I was happy to see Gonzaga finally hit the benchmark of a number one AP ranking and their first one seed in the tournament. Both of these things are somewhat meaningless predictors of future performance but are somewhat meaningful "hey look, we did that" moments for a program.
I understand the Zag hate. I do. Some if it comes from the fact that GU has eclipsed Washington and Washington State in basketball success the last 15 years. Pick your metric: wins, conference titles, tournament appearances... Gonzaga reigns supreme as the premier program in the Evergreen State. This has to be a little shocking to older fans who prior to the late 90s only knew Gonzaga as "the school John Stockton went to". Still, I think there is a more reasonable source of Zag hate, as stated in this tweet from Alex Akita that uses a bad word (earmuffs, kids):
It's funny, if you don't like UW or WSU, fans of both schools just take the hate in stride. But if you don't like Gonzaga? Holy shit.— Seattle Sportsnet (@alexSSN) March 19, 2013
Gonzaga is so universally loved that I think the fan base can't even comprehend being disliked. The Zags are darlings on a national level, and have been for so long that they truly cannot fathom the hate. If you're a Duke fan, you're so used to being despised that it's impossible to care anymore. But for Gonzaga, it's the basketball equivalent of someone hating puppies or kittens or Jennifer Lawrence. It's just not possible. Another example might be: Have you ever heard many people say they hate Boise State? No, Idaho fans don't count. I'm talking about randomly hearing a football fan in SEC country say they flat out hate the Broncos with every fiber of their being. Boise State may get some hate in the Northwest, but on a national level hardly anyone hates Boise, or the Zags. The fanbase has taken that and run with it. You would too.
Here's the good news if you hate Gonzaga - the odds are against them making the Final Four. I'm not saying they aren't good enough to make the Final Four, or that they can't handle the competition. I'm just saying the odds themselves are against them. A lot of things have to go right to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament: great team, great talent, a great draw and some good luck. Ken Pomeroy talked about this at the beginning of the month with respect to the Zags. The average number one seed wins 3.36 games* per tournament. You need to win four to make the Final Four. Ergo, the average one seed doesn't even make the final four.
Nate Silver, the man who accurately predicted the 2012 presidential election results at fivethirtyeight went back to his sports roots and determined odds for this year's tournament. Gonzaga only has a 6.1% chance of winning the national title. Furthermore, Silver predicts they only have a 33.4% chance of reaching the Final Four. That's a two-thirds chance they don't make it! If you want to troll Zag fans by making them lose early in your bracket, odds are it won't hurt you much.
The selection committee certainly didn't do Gonzaga any favors. The West region includes the most ridiculous eight seed in this year's tournament - maybe any tournament - in Pittsburgh, who is ranked seventh in the entire country by kenpom. Get past the round of 32 and the Zags' potential opponents include Wisconsin, Kansas State, and Marshall Henderson's Ole Miss. Make it past that and a likely matchup with two-seed Ohio State awaits.
As for my bracket, I have Gonzaga losing in the second round to PItt. Why? So I don't feel as bad if the Zags get knocked out early. I do this essentially every year. Sadly, it proves accurate some years. The Zags' 2-3 zone leaves them open to upset, from the standpoint that any team going berserk from three can take them down. Although, to be fair, any team with hot shooting can take down any other team, which is why upsets happen commonly in the 40 minute college game. Hence the Madness™.
This could be Gonzaga's best team ever. With Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk, Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr., etc., the Zags are a deep, talented team that finally has the frontcourt to match their usual strong backcourt. If they do make the Final Four, I don't think a national championship is out of the question. But they have to get their first. Unlike some Coug fans, I'll be rooting for them to do it.
*-this stat only includes tourney games through 2008, so you can imagine the average may have changed/dropped since then