Two of the last four NCAA Tournament champions went through Gonzaga to cut down the nets. As wild and unpredictable as this silly sport is — especially during the madness of March — a month from now in New Orleans it might become three of the last five.
Or maybe, just maybe, this time it will be the Bulldogs propping up ladders and snipping down nylon. Just maybe this year could be the Year of the Zags. (Maybe.)
No. 1 Gonzaga defeated No. 17 Saint Mary’s 82-69 Tuesday to win its eighth WCC Tournament in the last nine years and all but wrapped the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulldogs (26-3) are the betting favorite to take the crown this season at +375 according to Caesars Sportsbook. Being favored to win the title is not an unfamiliar spot for this dynamo program out of the WCC. A season ago, Gonzaga coach Mark Few’s squad was undefeated entering the Big Dance before falling to Baylor in the title game, snapping a perfect season at the last possible moment.
In 2016-17, the Bulldogs were 32-1 entering the tournament before a crushing loss to North Carolina in the title game. They’ve got a knack for being great in the regular season and developed — unfairly — a reputation of not being able to get over the hump.
But this season feels different. And guess what: the numbers suggest this year might indeed be different as well.
So long as we’re talking maybes, the possibility that this Gonzaga team is better than the two that finished as national runner-ups is well within the realm of possibilities. Its scoring margin through 28 games? 22.8 points — 1.5 better than last year. Its adjusted efficiency margin at KenPom.com? 32.66 — 3.82 lower than last year, yet still a wider margin this year (5.21) than the next-best team compared to last year’s nearly undefeated squad. The last team to have at least a 5.0 edge at the top over the second-best team was Ohio State in…