When the new Associated Press college basketball poll is released Monday, Gonzaga is likely to be No. 1.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projects the Zags as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in his latest Bracketology.
Neither of these things should happen for this Gonzaga squad. Not this year. Not with this resume and this schedule.
Many of you who know my opinions and my history covering college basketball, know I’m not anti-mid-major or a major-conference snob. If anything, I’m a small-school sympathizer.
I believe the reason for so many 5-seed vs. 12-seed upsets in the NCAA tournament is each year’s most under-appreciated smaller programs are often 12s, while the over-bloated name schools with flaws wind up as 5s.
I believe the NCAA too often pairs mid-majors against each other early, to the point there’s no way it’s a coincidence. The governing body and selection committee don’t want too many mid-majors advancing.
And I believe winning on the road in any league is impressive.
But, when talking about the No. 1 ranking and a No. 1 seed (which means a top four team), Gonzaga hasn’t come close to earning either.
This isn’t to say that by the end of the NCAA tournament, the Zags won’t have proven differently — and they’ll have their chance.
Right now Gonzaga is being rewarded for an easy schedule — the West Coast Conference is easier than the Missouri Valley (nowhere near the depth), less physical than the MAC or Horizon League — and propped up by the stupidity of my media brethren.
Here’s hoping the selection committee is smarter.
If Gonzaga had run through its competition like UNLV did in the early 90s, then OK, there’d be a solid argument. But the Zags lost to Illinois at home and Butler when the Bulldogs were without their top scorer.
Neither is a shameful loss. Yet, you can’t be No. 1 if you’ve lost to a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten squad on your home floor and a team that isn’t dominating the Atlantic 10 — not if that’s the best of your schedule, beyond a road win at Oklahoma State.
I respect Gonzaga’s wins over Saint Mary’s and BYU and elsewhere on the road, albeit in a league coaches consider incredibly soft. But there is a difference between gearing up for a challenge every couple of weeks and going through the gauntlet like each of the top teams in the Big Ten.
If Michigan State, for example, followed its impressive win over Michigan win San Francisco and Santa Clara, the Spartans would be No. 1 in the country. We’d never have known Keith Appling was tired or MSU was due for a slump.
Lunardi, the AP pollsters, the selection committee — they should know this.
Just because there isn’t a dominant No. 1 team this year and more deserving No. 1s have slipped up, doesn’t make an undeserving squad that’s ripped through favorable schedule worthy of being No. 1.