The Gonzaga Bulldogs fanbase is a tough crowd to please. Just ask the Saint Mary’s Gaels. Outside of completely folding as a basketball institution, there isn’t much they can do to impress the Spokane faithful.
And rightfully so. There is nothing in the bylaws of college basketball that says we have to like all other teams. Saint Mary’s is in a different league for Gonzaga fans, however. Year in and year out, for the most part, they get zero respect. They are a trash team in a trash city made up of trash men.
The funny thing is, that attitude just burns you. There is a good chance it will burn you again this year.
The straw that broke the camel’s back for a lot of people might have been the AP poll released this week, which finally saw Saint Mary’s land higher than Gonzaga for the first time this season, if not forever.
Its not as if that ranking is accidental. The Gaels boast the fourth-best offense in the nation. Their starting five contains one of the top (if not the top) distributing point guard in the nation in Emmett Naar and a bonafide player of the year candidate in Jock Landale. And, oh yeah, they beat Gonzaga in Spokane.
For the entirety of the year, we’ve been holding that WCC coaches slighted us torch. Gonzaga, fresh off a No. 1 ranking, No. 1 seed, and national championship appearance, was somehow the second-best team in the WCC? To hell with that.
The fact of the matter is last year’s Zag team was beyond special. This year’s squad still has the capability to do serious damage in March. But consistency has been an issue virtually across the board. Saint Mary’s looked like maybe they were overrated early in the season after consecutive losses to Washington State and Georgia. They definitely don’t look overrated now. All teams are allowed a few slip ups in November, that is sort of the point of November.
Some people will say blah blah blah scheduling blah blah blah. This is true. Randy Bennett unfortunately schedules as if he is a community college coach, and come seeding time, they will get the 2002 Gonzaga treatment. Remember that year? Gonzaga entered the tournament with a 14-game win streak and a 28-3 record. They were ranked No. 6 in the AP poll. The selection committee awarded those Zags a No. 6 seed.
That lack of scheduling doesn’t make Saint Mary’s a bad team, however, and this is where people are trying to have their cake and eat it too. Saint Mary’s can’t be overrated and beat Gonzaga at home at the same time.
Likewise, the whole, “well if they didn’t have Jock Landale they wouldn’t be good” is an exercise in learning how to waste breath. Pick any team, take out their best player, and say that statement. It is a futile attempt to reconcile what you are fighting your damnedest to avoid admitting.
But the main reason to come to grips with what the headline says is the elephant in the room: scheduling favors Saint Mary’s to finish the regular conference season undefeated. The Gaels have already played BYU both times—Gonzaga hasn’t played BYU once.
The Zags have three, if not four, danger games left on the schedule: Saint Mary’s on the road, San Diego on the road, and BYU at home and on the road. Saint Mary’s has two traps left: San Diego on the road and Gonzaga at home. It is far from certain that Saint Mary’s is able to take down the Zags in Moraga, but the odds are in their favor.
In an interesting way, basketball is a real fickle beast. If the Zags had mounted any real sort of offense in the closing minutes against Saint Mary’s, this post never sees the light of day. Instead, Saint Mary’s outscored the Zags 20-10 in the final 10 minutes of the game to pull the upset, and we are left talking about how there is another really good team in the WCC. At the end of the day, isn’t that what all of us have been hoping for—a little competition in the conference?