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The Gonzaga Bulldogs don't choke in March, they are more just unlucky

Gonzaga if often thought of as overrated because of lack of success in March. But is that a fair assumption to make?

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The age-old saying goes, "Defense wins championships". That is usually true, but defense doesn't win NCAA Tournament championships. That requires a bit more. It requires good offense, but it also requires a lot of luck.

The NCAA Tournament is as much about seeding and who is hot at certain times as much as it is about the actual better team winning. That is the beauty of the tournament. Often times, the better team isn't winning. Often times, the better team finds itself jumping and skipping its way to a portion of the tournament it appeared to have no business being in.

That was Gonzaga once, way back in 1999, when the team won the hearts of the nation and became a Cinderella story forever. That year was the beginning of national recognition for the tiny Bulldogs from Spokane. That year, Gonzaga advanced the farthest it has ever gone in the NCAA Tournament and everyone heard the call that spawned the name of this blog.

Since 1999, the criticism has always been there. Gonzaga, despite being a great team in the regular season, chokes when it comes to March. That, more than anything, is what drives this negative reaction every week that the polls are released. It will drive that negative reaction if the Bulldogs are given a No. 1 seed for the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

The question is whether or not all this negative reaction is justified. It isn't like teams just waltz into the Final Four as if they were tying their shoes. Gonzaga is hardly the first team to be upset either. Let's take a look at all of the March losses and separate them from the really bad ones to the expected ones.

Since the 2000 NCAA Tournament, Gonzaga has been the higher seed and lost five times. The Bulldogs have been the lower seeded team and lost 10 times. Let's break down the upsets first.

The bad

1) 2002, No. 6 Gonzaga 66, No. 11 Wyoming 73

This game was terrible to watch, because Gonzaga shot one of the worst games ever. Just that alone made it seem clear that the Bulldogs wouldn't win. Go figure, they didn't. As a team, Gonzaga shot 27 percent from the floor. Without Dan Dickau's 26 points, this would've been a blow out.

2) 2004, No. 2 Gonzaga 72, No. 10 Nevada 91

Gonzaga had absolutely no answer for Nevada's offense as every member of the Wolf Pack starting five scored in double figures. Gonzaga shot 37 percent from the floor and was a painful 3-of-22 from beyond the arc, including Blake Stepp shooting a miserable 1-for-12 from three point range.

The painful

1) 2005, No. 3 Gonzaga 69, No. 6 Texas Tech 71

This game was decided by two points in Albuquerque in a decidedly pro Red Raider arena. Upsets happen and they aren't fun, but they happen. This was just one of those.

The justifiable

1) 2008, No. 7 Gonzaga 76, No. 10 Davidson 82

Gonzaga ran into a Stephen Curry led Davidson team that was two-points away from upsetting No. 1 Kansas in the Elite Eight. It was hard to swallow at first, but with every loss it was easier to take as Davidson also took down No. 2 Georgetown and No. 3 Wisconsin in the process.

2) 2013, No. 1 Gonzaga 70, No. 9 Wichita State 76

Hear me out on this one. A lot of people peg this as the penultimate Gonzaga March meltdown. It definitely sucked watching this. But this game was essentially the coming out party for Wichita State. This game was Wichita State's "Slipper Still Fits" moment. And as the Shockers marched straight into the Final Four and into a routine spot in the top 10, it became clear that the win over Gonzaga was hardly a fluke -- just a sign of things to come.

So there you have it on the upsets. A whole lot of two of them. Now, let's take a look at the games where the Bulldogs were the underseeded team and how that loss shakes out.

The bad

1) 2006, No. 3 Gonzaga 71, No. 2 UCLA 73

The game that shall not be named.

The painful

1) 2003, No. 9 Gonzaga 95, No. 1 Arizona 96

This game is merely dictated as painful because Gonzaga was so close to the biggest upset in school history. In the real world, no one thought Gonzaga had a chance entering this game.

The expected

1) 2000, No. 10 Gonzaga 66, No. 6 Purdue 75

People forget that Gonzaga upset No. 7 Louisville and No. 2 St. John's to reach the Sweet 16 here.

2) 2001, No. 12 Gonzaga 62, No. 1 Michigan State 77

Again, Gonzaga made it to the Sweet 16 thanks to an opening round upset against No. 5 Virginia.

3) 2007, No. 10 Gonzaga 57, No. 7 Indiana 70

The higher seed won.

4) 2009, No. 4 Gonzaga 77, No. 1 North Carolina 98

Another Sweet 16 appearance, another loss. Let's just ignore the fact that North Carolina rampaged to the title that year, winning its games by an average of 20 points.

5) 2010, No. 8 Gonzaga 65, No. 1 Syracuse 87

Are you starting to get the feeling that seeding is probably the most important part of the NCAA Tournament?

6) 2011, No. 11 Gonzaga 67, No. 3 Brigham Young 89

Again, don't forget that Gonzaga pulled the upset here before losing to a Jimmer Fredette led Cougar team.

7) 2012, No. 7 Gonzaga 66, No. 2 Ohio State 73

The bracket played out as it should have here.

8) 2014, No. 8 Gonzaga 61, No. 1 Arizona 84

Please, I'm begging anyone, please try and tell me the thought process for how losing to a No. 1 seeded team in the second round of the tournament qualifies as choking. Because Gonzaga found itself losing to its third No. 1 team in three years.


And there you have it folks. The Bulldogs essentially have what would qualify as three bad losses in the NCAA Tournament. One of them was due to a huge second half collapse and the other two due to overall lack of play. The narrative that Gonzaga can't win in March will exist until Gonzaga wins in March. This is easy to understand.

But to perpetuate the notion that Gonzaga chokes under pressure is a lazy way to go about it. The Bulldogs made their name like a lot of small schools do -- by upsetting their way into the collective hearts and minds of a nation. Gonzaga has done plenty of that throughout its career, but it is overshadowed by the fact the Bulldogs haven't made it to the Elite Eight since 1999. It is easy to harp on that point and ignore the fact that five losses came to a top seeded team.

And yeah, 2013 happened. But so did the analysis that followed. If you still want to call this a bad loss, go on ahead. I'm not looking to waste my time on ignorance. Because, realistically, the people that hold Gonzaga as an overrated team are the people that look to make lazy quips on Twitter and not use 140 characters to back up any point. Even if Gonzaga finally wins, that probably still won't change their minds.