Friday, March 8, 2013

SHOUP SHOTS: The new top (bull)dog

by Nathan Shoup, Sports Editor
History was made on Monday. Yes, the sunshine was brilliant and the temperature reached the mid 50s, but surprisingly that has happened in early March in Tacoma before — could have fooled me. The real news took place on the east side of the state, in Spokane.

The Gonzaga University Bulldogs were voted the best team in college basketball for the first time ever in the Associated Press Top 25 poll that came out Monday.

"Obviously it’s a dream for us, the ultimate accomplishment," assistant coach Tommy Lloyd told reporters.

The Bulldogs received 51 of the 65 first-place votes. The other teams that follow the Zags in order are Indiana (seven first-place votes), Duke (five first-place votes), Kansas and Georgetown (two first place votes each).

Kansas is the lone team in the top five that didn’t receive a first-place vote.

With a record of 29-2, Gonzaga has four more wins than any team in the top 25 and two fewer losses.

But the No. 1 ranking does not guarantee the Bulldogs anything. Gonzaga is the fifth team to be voted the best team in basketball this season after numerous upsets and courts stormed.

The fall of No. 1 Indiana to an unranked Minnesota team last week, cleared the path for the Zags to be voted the best team in college basketball.

With the entire country watching, Gonzaga narrowly squeezed out a 70-65 win at Brigham Young University last Thursday. The win all but locked up the No. 1 ranking for Gonzaga. A loss would have likely resulted in the Zags dropping to No. 3 or No. 4. They almost missed out.

Up next for the new No. 1 team in the country is the West Coast Conference (WCC) Tournament. As the WCC regular-season champions, Gonzaga earned a bye to the semifinals. If the team can win the tournament, they will be a one seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Gonzaga opens the WCC Tournament against a team to be determined at 6 p.m. tomorrow.

Following Monday’s ranking, ESPN college basketball analyst Joe Lunardi listed Gonzaga as a one seed — opening with the winner of Norfolk State and Robert Morris. If Gonzaga avoids becoming the first one seed to lose to a 16 seed, Lunardi says the Zags would play the winner of San Diego State and Cincinnati in the Salt Lake City region.

Outside of Gonzaga, this has been a dreadful season for college basketball fans in the state of Washington.

The University of Washington Huskies have floundered in mediocrity at 17-13, 9-8. In November, the Huskies lost to a no-name Albany team — at home. If you can’t name a single player on Albany’s roster, you’re not alone.

The Washington State Cougars lost nine consecutive games before a 73-61 victory over UCLA on Wednesday and sit in last place in the Pac-12 at 12-18, 3-14. The Cougars don’t have any horrific losses like the Huskies. They just have a lot of losses in general.

Both schools have the chance to create some momentum going into the offseason in the Pac-12 Tournament, which starts Wednesday in Las Vegas. Winning the conference tournament is the only way either team will advance to the NCAA Tournament. Fat chance.

With the fate of Washington and Washington State’s season likely sealed, Gonzaga gives the state hope. The Bulldogs have a legitimate chance to win it all this season.

The Bulldogs are extremely deep, talented, tested and well coached — necessities for a team to make a title push.

With less than 5,000 undergraduate students, according to Gonzaga’s official website, Washingtonians have a chance to pull for the Cinderella — well, the kind-of Cinderella at least, not many would call the No. 1 team in the nation an underdog — and to pull for the relative hometown team.

The NCAA Tournament starts March 19. Selection Sunday, the day seeding is determined for the tournament, is March 17.

No major men’s sports team from the state of Washington has won an outright championship since 1979, when the now-former Seattle SuperSonics won their lone NBA title.

Not the Mariners. Not the Seahawks. Not the Sounders. Not the Huskies. And not the Cougars. Maybe it is time. Maybe a sports team from Washington is due to win a championship.

The sun shone brightly on Gonzaga on Monday. Maybe it will shine on them April 8: the day of the national championship.