Keith Ybanez: March never disappoints, and this one has been no different with some of the games we’ve seen over the last few days. I fully expect the NCAA tournament to be B-A-N-A-N-A-S, and can’t wait for it to get started. Gonzaga appears to be a near-lock on the 1-line after Baylor and SDSU’s losses over the weekend. With the Aztecs seemingly destined for the 2-seed in the West, is this an ideal outcome for the Zags?
Peter Woodburn: I always thought Gonzaga was the lock for the No. 1 seed and I still think they are going to run through the WCC Tournament so it wouldn’t matter at all. But now, this does help give the Zags a bit of breathing room. All of those two seed teams have been beating the crap out of each other as of late, and with BYU’s meteoric rise through all the rankings, a loss to them in the championship game won’t look as bad. Since SDSU dropped the ball, and Dayton moved in, I think Gonzaga is pretty much safe now, even with a potential loss to BYU. Lose tomorrow night to USF and that is a different story, of course.
Steven Karr: I don’t think there’s a huge difference between any of the two seeds, so I was never really concerned about the opponent as much as I was location. And with SDSU losing, it feels like Gonzaga is locked into the 1 in the West and won’t get shipped out anywhere and I think that’s more meaningful.
KY: With all due respect to the Aztecs, who have legitimately been one of the best teams in the country this year, I’d much rather have Gonzaga set on a (theoretical) collision course with them based on the form they’ve shown in the last few weeks instead of a Florida State or Louisville. From a fan perspective as well, I think it’s more fun to have the potential to see two west coast teams go head-to-head with their respective fan bases present and in full force. Plus, after two consecutive tournaments with Florida State in Gonzaga’s region, it would be nice to get some different blood in there.
Someone is going to send me a screenshot of this when SDSU knocks off Gonzaga in the Elite 8.
SK: At this point, I’m more worried about Texas Tech or Virginia ending up as Gonzaga’s 8/9 seed
PW: Gonzaga vs. SDSU would be an interesting Elite Eight matchup. I called SDSU a mid-major the other day because I am an idiot. But in terms of national narrative, I love the idea of the two teams most Power 5 fans think are garbage playing each other for the Final Four.
KY: Assuming the current seed projections for both the men’s and women’s tournament hold, will next week feature the biggest weekend of basketball in Spokane ever and what can we expect the scene to be like in town?
PW: They are going to have to demolish Spokane Arena and make it 10 times as large.
SK: I can’t wait to see the Arena and the MAC sold out and rocking. The whole city supports basketball like crazy and this is their chance to show it once again. Most people don’t get the chance to watch Gonzaga play in Spokane, so having them play at the Arena is huge for a ton of people. I’m lucky enough to work the women’s games and will be at the men’s games as a fan, so it’s going to be a ton of fun.
KY: Totes jelly. It could certainly be the best weekend ever for local drinking establishments, and both teams will certainly benefit from the extra juice that should come with playing at home for the tournament. It’s a rare opportunity, so I hope Spokane has something in special in store for what should be a very exciting weekend.
PW: The last time the NCAA Tournament was in Spokane was 2016, which coincidentally is also that year that the Zags didn’t make the tournament until they beat Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament. Having both teams be as good as they are is going to make it that much more electric. There is a buzz, for both teams (in different ways), that this year is a year to make a long run. Basketball city USA is going to be on fire.
I also expect the over/under on Hoopfest references per NCAA game shown on TV there will be 3.5
KY: I’ll bet my life savings on the over. Speaking of both teams making a long run, which Zag from each of the men’s and women’s teams is most crucial to making that happen?
SK: I’ll go with Admon Gilder for the men. If he’s playing at a high level like he’s shown at the second half of the year, Gonzaga reaches a different level. His body and strength defensively can be a huge weapon. For the women, I will go with Jessie Loera. With Campbell out, more is placed on Loera in terms of leadership, defense, and three-point shooting. If she can play well without turning the ball over, Gonzaga can reach the second weekend for the first time in five years.
PW: On the men’s side, I want it to be Killian Tillie but I think it is Filip Petrusev. The offense is so focused on him getting the ball down low that if he has a super quiet night, it is more of an issue. Petrusev has only scored less than 10 points twice on the season, whereas the Zags have worked around Killian Tillie’s absences all year, so I think they are better equipped to handle and off night from him. I’m just thinking of it in terms of who can they ill afford to be bad.
I agree with Steven. Loera is the leader of that squad now. I love the Truong twins, but both are freshmen and prone to those sorts of mistakes. Loera has a tendency to turn the ball over quite a bit, but she is a great distributor. If she can tighten up the turnovers, the Zags are a tough out.
KY: We’re all in agreement on the women’s side, as I’m going with the point guards: Jessie Loera and Ryan Woolridge. The necessity for excellent guard play is heightened come tournament time, and both Gonzaga squads will be highly reliant on their points to press the right buttons in each game. The men’s team is built to play inside-out, but Woolridge has the ability to be an x-factor at both ends of the floor, and if he has his A-game the Zags will be an extremely difficult out. With Katie Campbell lost for the season, Loera has to do a little more of everything to pick up some of the slack for the backcourt (though Kayleigh Truong has done a really good job sliding into the starting lineup). Her defensive intensity will be key to set the tone for the squad, and she’ll need to stack good performances and play some heavy minutes with the diminished depth.
PW: The men’s side really needs everyone to come out and do their thing. There isn’t a lot of room for error on the team to have more than one person have an off night. Luckily, every single player on the squad has shown they are a capable of big games this season.
SK: Lou Forsyth needs to hit her threes for the women. Same goes for Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi for the men. Sometimes games simply come down to making open shots, and I would rather not see either team go out going 7-for-26 from deep like Texas Tech last year.