The Gonzaga game (NCAA Tournament first round)

Gonzaga Bulldogs
Overall record: 23-10
West Coast Conference record: 11-3 (plus 2-0 in the tournament)
RPI: 60
Sagarin: 46
Series record: tied at 1-1


Eight years ago, Gonzaga was nothing but a delightful mid-major feel-good story. The Bulldogs reached the Elite Eight in 1999 and nearly defeated eventual NCAA champ Connecticut in the regional final. After that, coach Dan Monson left for Minnesota, and most expected that Gonzaga would be relegated to the dustbin of history like other mid-major darlings such as Ball State, Santa Clara, Miami of Ohio, Valparaiso, etc. Instead, while playing in the West Coast Conference and at a school that was barely known to the average sports fan a decade ago, Gonzaga has become a legitimate basketball power, even to the point that some have referred to the 'Zags as "Duke West" because of the media's adulation of this admirable program. Who would have guessed that Gonzaga would still be going strong in 2007 while Monson's career lies in ruin?
How have they done it? I really don't have a clue. Some have suggested that Few was the brains behind the whole operation in the first place. That could be true, or it could be after-the-fact rationalization. Whatever Monson contributed to the initial success of Gonzaga, it is clear that Mark Few is an excellent coach and, as importantly, has been willing to turn away power conference programs that have sought his services. Many mid-major schools have meager fan following, subpar academics, or various other flaws. Gonzaga, while it shares a state with two Pac-10 schools, seems to be the only show in town in Spokane, and despite recent success, neither Washington nor Washington State is a traditional basketball power. In other words, Gonzaga has an easier path than a school like Butler, which shares its city with the Colts and Pacers and its state with Indiana, Notre Dame, Purdue, and a host of respectable mid-majors with glass-slipper tournament histories (Indiana State, Evansville, Ball State, and Valparaiso have all made runs to the Sweet 16). Could it be the funny name? Really. Most Jesuit universities in the United States seem to bear the name of their home cities (e.g., Dayton, Detroit, St. Louis) or the names of one of the co-founders of the Jesuit order, St. Francis Xavier or St. Ignatius Loyola . Can't swing a dead cat in this country without hitting a "Xavier" or "Loyola." Instead, the university's founders made the fortuitous decision to name the school for St. Aloysius Gonzaga, an Italian nobleman who gave up his riches and rights of inheritance to join the Jesuit order and died in his early 20s. Would the 'Zags be the 'Zags if the school had been named "the University of Spokane" or "Loyola (Washington)"? Well, sure, they literally would not be "the 'Zags," but would they be in the position they are now? I don't know, but the funny name seems as good an explanation as any for why Gonzaga has been able to not just maintain its position at the top of a non-power conference, but has become a legitimate national power that generates interest and television ratings.


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