Part of what it means to be a fan of the Gonzaga Bulldogs is to put up with people talking about how bad your team apparently actually is throughout the entirety of the year.
During the non-conference schedule, when teams have an actual choice of their opponent, the chatter is pretty quiet. As WCC play commences, and Gonzaga begins its annual ritual of 20+ point wins, the noise increases, usually reaching a fever pitch on Selection Sunday when individuals are upset that their random school is seeded below the Bulldogs.
This year is an even more interesting year in that regard because the Gonzaga Bulldogs have been the No. 1 ranked team for the entirety of the year. Up until tomorrow, the Baylor Bears have been the No. 2 ranked team for the whole time. The Michigan Wolverines have been on a steady climb as of late, playing arguably the best basketball in the nation.
Of course, we live in a world in which it is impossible for three teams to be really good and we can all appreciate that and wait for some phenomenal games in the NCAA Tournament. Rather, we must determine who is the best team AT THIS VERY MOMENT. As you begin to interact with the raving lunatics in the online world, consider using these quick counterpoints to the most commonly seen talking points.
Argument #1: Gonzaga never plays anyone.
This phenomenal tweet came in yesterday.
.@slipperstillfit from my cousin in Lawrence: "I mean ku has played 12 games vs ranked opponents this year. The zags have a good team but will never get respect they deserve until they play and win vs quality opponents." HELP ME with my argument!— kim (@zagbrewer) February 28, 2021
Fellow writer Keith Ybanez had the appropriate response. But this is the most common shot announced by the random uninformed college basketball viewer. This year, the Zags made it their mission to play as aggressively of a non-conference slate as possible, and they did that with the willing help of Bob Huggins, Tony Bennett, Bill Self, Mark Pope, and all the other coaches willing to schedule on the fly. The results speak for themselves.
At this moment, the Zags are the No. 1 team in the NET rankings, the metric by which the Selection Committee helps determine seeding. At the moment of writing this sentence, only Illinois has more Quad 1 wins than Gonzaga. Ohio State, Alabama, Oklahoma State, and Michigan all have seven Quad 1 wins—the same number as Gonzaga.
In fact, if you look at the NET rankings, Gonzaga also has as many Quad 2 wins as Michigan. This is mainly because Gonzaga did their damage in the non-conference slate, playing the likes of Iowa, Kansas, Virginia, and West Virginia, while Baylor played Illinois and seven other teams, and Michigan topped out against Toledo. The beginnings of this idiot’s argument bleed into the second one.
Argument #2: The WCC is trash.
These two arguments go hand-in-hand. It is true, no one is ever going to make the case that the WCC is as good as the Big 10 or the Big 12. However, the WCC wasn’t half bad this year. BYU is a top 25 ranked KenPom team. Saint Mary’s was loved by the metrics as well. Both Loyola Marymount (103) and San Francisco (104) are right outside of the top 100. Pepperdine, Pacific, and Santa Clara weren’t far behind.
The three worst teams in the Big 12 by KenPom numbers (TCU at 125, Iowa State at 162, and Kansas State at 183) would slot into the WCC as follows:
- Gonzaga (1)
- BYU (22)
- Saint Mary’s (79)
- LMU (103)
- San Francisco (104)
- Pepperdine (121)
- Pacific (122)
- TCU (125)
- Santa Clara (153)
- Iowa State (162)
- Kansas State (183)
- San Diego (195)
- Portland (330)
Of course, the top of the Big 12 is much better than the overall top of the WCC. Hence why Gonzaga’s non-conference schedule ranked No. 104, as opposed to Michigan’s No. 152, and Baylor’s No. 270.
The overall rationale behind this argument is that Gonzaga is only considered a good team because they “feast upon the WCC” and if you put my Power 5 conference team in there they’d also be overly inflated.
So let’s take a look at the KenPom rankings on Dec. 30, 2020, the day after Gonzaga’s last non-conference game.
Argument #3: Gonzaga always underperforms in March.
This is probably one of the more bizarre statements, especially as of late, because Gonzaga has, in general, punched above their weight when it comes to March seeding. Sure, the Zags haven’t won the national championship yet during their 21-year streak of NCAA Tournaments, but no one actively placed realistic title aspirations on the 2000-2012 Gonzaga squads (although yes, the 2004-05 tournament results are full-fledged disappointments).
So, acknowledging that the No. 1 seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs lost to the No. 9 seeded Wichita State Shockers in 2013, and ignoring that the Shockers went all the way to the Final Four that year, the Zags are consistently plagued by this poorly thought out concept of disappointment in March.
In fact, here are the teams who have won the most NCAA Tournament games in the past five years.
- Gonzaga (15)
- Duke (15)
- North Carolina (15)
To get even deeper into it, here is a chart of the odds of each team historically advancing based on seeding.
Now, let’s take a look at this with seed by seed finishes:
- No. 1: Championship Game (2017), Elite Eight (2019), Second Round (2013)
- No. 2: Elite Eight (2015), Second Round (2004)
- No. 3: Sweet 16 (2006), Second Round (2005)
- No. 4: Sweet 16 (2018), Sweet 16: (2009)
- No. 6: First Round (2002)
- No. 7: Second Round (2012), First Round (2008)
- No. 8: Second Round (2014), Second Round (2010)
- No. 9: Second Round (2003)
- No. 10: Elite Eight (1999), Sweet 16: 2000), First Round (2007)
- No. 11: Sweet 16 (2016), Second Round (2011)
- No. 12: Sweet 16 (2001)
As you can see, historically, when the Zags are a lower-seeded team, they have vastly outperformed the mathematical expectations. As a higher seed, for the most part, the Zags are in lockstep with what is expected.
There are examples of failure sprinkled throughout, but that is what makes it March Madness. The 2004 and 2005 teams’ second round exits no doubt were disappointing, but, not only did they happen over a decade ago, when taken with the larger (tiny) data pool, Gonzaga is largely performing above expectations.
Really, the only spot you can drag the Zags on the above chart is underperforming as a No. 6 seed, and not advancing past the Sweet 16 as a No. 3 or 4 seed. Also, because this is just straight math, the results don’t tell the actual story behind some losses, e.g.: 2018 was disappointing but losing Killian Tillie 15 minutes prior to tipoff is never a recipe for success.
I hope you find this guide useful as you head out into the annual world of combatting Gonzaga March Madness misinformation.