With David Stockton‘s reverse layup with 1.5 seconds left giving the Gonzaga Bulldogs (26-6, 15-3) a 77-75 win over the Santa Clara Broncos (14-19, 6-12), I think it’s safe to now that the Zags are in the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens from here on out. Although the Zags were given quite the quarterfinal test by the Broncos, even trailing 37-31 at the half, Mark Few‘s boys got their act together in the second, and Santa Clara’s Jared Brownridge (18 first half points) lost his.
Gonzaga was very much on the bubble heading into last weekend’s two-game road trip to wrap up the regular season and that’s because they did something Gonzaga rarely does: lose two games in a row.
A week before the Zags had a firm grasp on their 15th straight NCAA appearance, but dropped a 73-65 trip at their newest conference rival, BYU. The loss was not a total blemish to Gonzaga’s NCAA resume, as BYU has a resume sure to grab the selection committee’s attention, but the bubble got bigger when they lost their next game 69-66 at San Diego.
Within four days, the Zags went from one-loss conference leader and lock for the postseason to a squad barely hanging on to their NCAA hopes. This is not your typical Gonzaga team in 2014, though, for they have no non-conference wins of note (their 80-76 win at West Virginia on Dec. 10 is their best win) and got through the conference slate in less than dominating fashion.
But talented, well-coached teams get their act together when they need it most, and Gonzaga swept their final two road games in convincing fashion. Gonzaga won by 17 at Pacific and 28 at their rival and WCC younger brother St. Mary’s. Not to mention the all-important ranking by the selection committee, the RPI, has the Bulldogs firmly in at 27, the equivalent of a No. 7 seed.
In the end, there are just not enough bubble teams that have better resumes than the Zags. While a No. 7 seed will be too high when the brackets are revealed March 16, Gonzaga’s seed won’t be too far off. And although Gonzaga had a season peculiar compared to the norm, I am calling for a usual Bulldogs appearance when it comes to how far they go in March.
That would be a second round (yes, the NCAA calling the final 64 teams in the bracket is ridiculous; call the “First Four” the “opening round” and the final 64 the “first round”) win as a nine-seed and a drubbing in the third round by likely the West region’s top squad. Chances are that squad would be Sean Miller‘s Arizona Wildcats. That has been the case for four years, so why not a fifth.
Regardless of what happens Sunday and possibly Monday, the Zags are after their win over Santa Clara, and right now, that is all that really matters.