Epilogue to a WCC washout...
Even before the troubling loss in the WCC title game on Monday night, the Zags were facing an uphill battle in securing at least a #4 seed in the NCAA tournament if you place any stock in the Rating Percentage Index or RPI.
GU was at #34 in Monday's polls with a strength of schedule that ranks 119th in the nation. That's tough to believe when you think this team played programs like Duke (#2), Wisconsin (#16) and Michigan State (#25) earlier in the season. What tripped the Zags up was their conference. Other than 43rd ranked St. Mary's -- which played the best game in the history of the program to stun GU on Monday night -- only Portland (#81) makes it into the top 150. Loyola is next at #174.
While the Zags try to figure out their substitution pattern after the loss of valuable reserve Manny Arop to a broken foot -- Coach Few, please try playing Kelly Olynyk, Will Foster or Bol Kong for more than three or four minutes at a time so at least one of them can establish some confidence -- the team will likely be looking at a #6 or #7 seed by the time the brackets are announced on March 14.
If you're looking ahead to possible opponents, don't be surprised if the tournament committee matches GU up with another team from a mid-major conference like they did two years ago with Davidson -- a team like Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley Conference champions) or perennial overachievers like Xavier or Utah State would make sense.
There's also a chance that the Zags could draw a lesser team from a power conference like the Big East or the ACC. Teams like Florida State (RPI #35) or Clemson (#27) are possibilities.
Whatever happens, this team has proven that it can play with some of the best teams in the country when the defense is tuned in, offensive rebounding is a priority and Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray and Elias Harris fulfill their potential as three of the most effective scorers in college basketball.
Take heart, Zag fans. The loss on Monday night will seem like a forgetable practice scrimmage if this team can regroup, remember how good they are and make a serious run in the NCAA tournament. With a few breaks, this is a group that could match the run of three tournament wins in 1999. Then, we'll thank Mr. Samhan and his cohorts for helping us to play with a bit of a chip on our shoulder.