By Jim Meehan The Spokesman-Review
SPOKANE — While a dozen or more teams around the country fret over the last four in and the last four out, the question in these parts is if No. 1-ranked Gonzaga will be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Our request to sit silently in the back of the selection committee’s hotel suite in Indianapolis was denied, so we asked ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi, who has made Bracketology part of the college basketball lexicon. He pegged all 65 teams (31 are givens with automatic bids) in 2008 and had 67 of 68 last year.
Lunardi has been correct on 14 of 16 No. 1 seeds the last four years.
“Gonzaga is going to be a No. 1 seed,” Lunardi said earlier this week. “I don’t think they’re going to be No. 1 overall, unless everyone else like Duke or Indiana lose early in their conference tournaments (Duke did, Indiana went 1-1).
“The drumbeat I hear from some people that you can’t be a No. 1 from a league like the WCC is mind-numbingly wrong,” said Lunardi, an assistant vice president of marketing communications at Saint Joseph’s and an analyst for Hawks’ basketball games. “I don’t know what more Gonzaga has to show us to be considered one of the top four teams in the country.”
After Louisville thumped Syracuse in the Big East championship Saturday night, Lunardi’s projected No. 1s were Gonzaga, Louisville, Indiana and Kansas. CBSsports.com, Foxsports.com and SportsIllustrated.cnn.com listed Gonzaga as the top seed in the West. However, the selection committee’s brackets are the only ones that matter and they will be revealed today at 3 p.m.
How important is being a No. 1 seed vs. a No. 2? Historically, very important. No. 1s are 112-0 in the opening round since 1985. Six No. 2s have been knocked off by 15s since 1985. No. 1s (Kentucky 2012, Duke 2010, North Carolina 2009, Kansas 2008 and Florida 2007) have won five of the last six national titles.
Since 1979, at least one No. 1 seed has reached the Final Four in 31 of 34 seasons (exceptions in 1980, 2006 and 2011). The Final Four has featured at least two No. 1s 19 times. The 2008 Final Four consisted of four top seeds.
Nineteen No. 1s have been crowned champions compared to six No. 2s. Of 136 Final Four spots, No. 1s accounted for 55 and No. 2s 30. In the last decade, No. 1s are 76-4 on the opening weekend.
“They went out and played a schedule and won games they needed to win,” ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg said. “I think it would be a reward for what they were able to do and the program Mark (Few) has built.”
As for No. 1-ranked teams entering the tournament since 1979, Kentucky (2012), Duke (2001), UCLA (1995), Arkansas (1994), Duke (1992) and North Carolina (1982) have won national championships.
Few stated GU’s case for a top seed in simple terms.
“We’ve controlled everything that’s been put before us and done an amazing job,” Few said after GU defeated Saint Mary’s to win the WCC tournament. “Watch us and look at what we’ve done, look at our results.”
Greenberg has been high on the Zags since the outset of the season.
“They’ve got (Elias) Harris, a four-year starter and a guy that is a hard matchup and better than people think,” Greenburg said. “I’ve never seen a guy that good that people think he’s underachieving.
“I talked to Mark this summer and he was really excited about Kelly (Olynyk) and his skill level. I’ve always been a (Kevin) Pangos and (Gary) Bell fan. They play kind of connected and that’s important. Their depth – I talked to people overseas about (Przemek) Karnowski and you can bring (Sam) Dower off the bench with those other guys. And (David) Stockton is a great tempo guy.”
Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett called Olynyk Gonzaga’s “x-factor.”
“I like his game, he makes guys better,” Bennett said. “I’ll argue this: Who is better than him in the country inside? I haven’t seen them all. Olynyk plays 27 minutes (actually 25.7 per game) and gets 17 and eight. If he wanted to get 25 and 12 he probably could.”
Greenberg said Olynyk and Harris form one of the most versatile frontcourts in the country.
“I see complete frontcourt players and skilled guards,” he said. “In a year when people don’t make shots, they make shots. And with Mike Hart – I had an assistant at Long Beach State named Matt Hart so I called him Matt Hart on the air the other day — they’re a very complete team and there aren’t a lot of complete teams.”
Greenberg said Gonzaga could have issues against opponents with “big, physical guards, like the Brandon Pauls or Marcus Smarts, and maybe anyone with really physical low-post guys, maybe Michigan State more than an Indiana.”