As Gonzaga prepares to take on Ok St this evening, the fifth Big 12 school this season, I wanted to highlight one aspect of Coach Few's scheduling strategy that I particularly like.
Once upon a time, Gonzaga had to upset top flight programs in order to get attention. Not anymore. Gonzaga's consistency over the past 12 years has allowed it to generate its own attention. Unfortunately, this hasn't necessarily translated into recruiting success. Top domestic recruits still avoid Gonzaga for the most part (Gary Bell Jr. being a notable exception). One piece of evidence is that Gonzaga, a top 20 program by any reasonable measure, can't crack the top 40 in recruiting rankings. On one hand, this is a huge credit to Coach Few and the rest of the staff in being able to identify, develop, and win with under-the-radar talent.
On the other hand, Gonzaga is in many ways competing with one hand tied behind its back. Granted, Gonzaga will never be able to match programs like Duke, UNC, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Syracuse, etc. The histories of those programs and tournament successes of those coaches is overwhelming. But should Gonzaga be outrecruited by schools like Arkansas, Iowa State, South Florida, UTEP, TCU, USC, South Carolina, Alabama, etc.? Of course not.
So what to do? Well, schedule the schools we compete with over recruits. And beat them. Defeating schools like West Virginia, Kansas St, and Baylor soundly sends exactly the right signal to potential recruits. (Too bad Illinois got away...) So hopefully next time Coach Few is meeting with a potential recruit who is also considering Ok St., he will be able to say: well, that program has a lot going for it, but last time we played, we beat them. By 20.