For the past decade or so, the Gonzaga Bulldogs have been labelled as overrated, especially when it comes to March. They’ve been labelled as choke artists, and therefore devoid of any such current appreciation that should come with having a good season. Because obviously, if you have never won been to the Final Four before, you can never be a good team in the future.
But let’s ignore that for a second, because Jay Bilas really hit the nail so hard on the head that the nail cracked in two and we have to start all over.
I'm confused...we killed Gonzaga for failing to make a Final Four. Now, we're acting like it's a miracle the Zags made it as a 1-seed?— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) March 27, 2017
This is how the simple-minded average college basketball fan works. And if you see the replies to his tweet, you see a lot of those simple minds in action. I’ll spare you the blood, but if you want to see for yourself, go ahead.
This argument that the Zags are less deserving to be in the Final Four, because IF THEY PLAYED IN THE SOUTH REGION THEY WOULDN’T HAVE MADE IT OUT OF THE SECOND ROUND is hopelessly inane. Yes, North Carolina has had some good games. They also played their No. 8 seed rather tightly. They then drew Butler (a No. 4 seed), before playing in that fantastic game against Kentucky.
The one difference? The No. 11 Xavier Musketeers upset the No. 2 Arizona Wildcats. So Gonzaga played its No. 11 seed instead of its No. 2 seed. That one game has completely changed the narrative between the two teams (let’s ignore the fact that last year, North Carolina beat a No. 16, a No. 9, a No. 5, a No. 6, and a No. 10 seed to make the title game).
The issue with saying that the Zags have had an easy run to the title is by placing so much faith in that useless little number in front of each team name. Is Xavier a bad team solely because they are a No. 11 seed? They sure looked better than their No. 2 seed opponent in the Sweet 16.
For a better look at it, I recommend taking a look at this article by Luke Benz on the Yale Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group. He took a look at how often each seed beat each seed since 1985 to determine a Game Difficulty Rating, and then he added all of those up. Low and behold, Gonzaga is sitting at No. 21 at the moment, with four Duke titles coming easier.
But even this is a bit flawed, because even though the number works a bit better for Gonzaga fans, it still relies on the gross oversimplification of determining how good a team is by seeding. I doubt that Florida, Baylor, or Duke think South Carolina is a “middle of the pack” team. I highly doubt that Arizona, Maryland, or Florida State think that Xavier is a lower-end team.
Gonzaga may have played the No. 11 seed in the Elite Eight, but Xavier had to earn its way there by beating “better” teams. By picking such a generic argument and lobbying all your hatred behind it really detracts from the teams that Gonzaga has, and maybe will, beat.
If Gonzaga lands in the NCAA Tournament title game by beating South Carolina, be my guest and lob your complaints. You can go ahead and tell Frank Martin and the rest of the Gamecocks they aren’t a good team. You can tell Chris Mack and the rest of the Musketeers they shouldn’t have been in the Elite 8. Hell, while you are at it, tell Huggy Bear and the Mountaineers they are a pile of garbage for merely being a No. 4 seed. Then report back to me with all your bruises.
Unfortunately, welcome to life as a Gonzaga fan. This program is now at the point where it will be criticized for what it does do and what it doesn’t do. As a fan, all we can do is just drown out and ignore the haters. As a non-fan though, perhaps you can donate all that time and energy into something a bit more fruitful?