According to BracketMatrix.com, a site that aggregates pretty much all of the brackets out there, the Gonzaga Bulldogs still sit a bit on the outside of the elite teams. As of Monday, Bracket Matrix has Gonzaga as the second No. 5 seed.
Despite top 10 rankings in most of the predictive advanced analytical readings, the Zags’ RPI is a drag this season, something we have talked about already. Because of that, if you figure the top four seeds are the relative sweet spot to hit, the Zags are on the outside looking in, and honestly there isn’t going to be much they can do about it.
By nature of the WCC Tournament bracket, the best RPI boost the Zags can get is Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament final. That means realistically, the Zags are pretty much stuck in the mud at the No. 5 seed until the top shakes down for them to rise.
Luckily, for Gonzaga, there is plenty of movement that can happen above. The four No. 4 seeds all finish out with relatively easy schedules, excluding Wichita State, which has a contest at home against Cincinnati. After that, however, the respective conference tournaments will give plenty of opportunities for the Zags to move up.
If, for example, Arizona falters early in the Pac 12 Tournament, that will provide some room for Gonzaga to slip in. Out of the four No. 4 seeds, the only school that is probably safe thanks to the strength of its conference is Wichita State—but an early loss to one the lesser schools in the American Conference Tournament will send the Shockers down a notch or two. Clemson and West Virginia, both in the tough ACC and Big 12 respectively, can ill afford an early loss in their conference tournaments.
Of course, fellow No. 5 seed Ohio State has a good shot at moving up as well. The Buckeyes are sitting second in the Big Ten standings, and another win over Michigan State or Purdue would certainly send them up a line or two. Kentucky is in a different boat. Although the Wildcats have a solid RPI, they are lacking in Quadrant 1 victories, sitting at just three. Rhode Island is in the same boat. The Rams only have two Quadrant 1 wins. It would take something impressive for either of those teams to rise above Gonzaga to a higher seed line.
Either way, the Zags are going to be a dark horse favorite in the NCAA Tournament based on their seeding, supplemented by their KenPom ranking. Remember last year when the Zags entered their Sweet 16 match-up against West Virginia as a near underdog, despite being the No. 1 seed? Much of that had to do with the fact that the Mountaineers were a top 10 KenPom team with one of the best defenses in the nation, yet were just a No. 4 seed.
If the Zags enter the tournament as a No. 5 seed, they are essentially the only top 10 KenPom squad that is anywhere remotely considered under-seeded. The same argument still applies, to a certain extent, if the Zags enter as a No. 4 seed.
Either way, when the NCAA Tournament rolls around, look for the Bulldogs to be in the midst of the teams thrown out as under the radar Final Four contenders. If anything, it’ll be the bold proclamation that will drive the clicks for the masses.