Assessing Gonzaga’s path in the West region, whether the field has tightened up, and the women’s tournament draw in San Antonio
Keith Ybanez: Alright gentlemen, the Zags made it to the tournament undefeated and the bracket is out. What are your impressions about Gonzaga’s draw and who do you have joining them in the Final Four?
Peter Woodburn: Depending on how you look at it, I think Gonzaga’s draw is about as perfect as can be. They avoided the berserkly underseeded No. 8 Loyola Chicago second round matchup, and they have already beaten the No. 2-4 seeds in the bracket. So from that perspective, I think it is a great draw. From the draw of wanting to see teams Gonzaga hasn’t played yet, it was kind of a bummer, but understandable. The committee tries its best to not lump teams in the top seed lines from the same conferences, and with so many Big Ten teams at the top, it made it difficult. I think the expectations going into Selection Sunday were Final Four (or national championship) or bust, and the bracket reveal definitely put that into play. It has to be considered a disappointment if the Zags don’t make the Final Four, which is an absurd state of affairs considering it is called March Madness for a reason.
I still haven’t filled out my bracket yet, so I’m not entirely sure on the rest of the Final Four field, but I’m pencilling in Illinois for sure. They look like one of the best teams in the nation right now and I am currently having nightmares of how the Zags can avoid getting manhandled by Kofi Cockburn in a championship game.
Steven Karr: I think their region is incredibly uninspiring. I know there are certain bracket rules when it comes to conference teams playing each other, but the selection committee certainly could have found a way to not have the 2-4 seeds be three different rematches. I want something different. I think America wants to see something different. And I think Gonzaga wants to see something different. Regardless, I think it’s very favorable and they should roll to the Elite Eight without much of a sweat. I think Iowa would give them a battle if they meet again, but not enough to outlast the Zags. I’ve got Illinois and Alabama joining them for sure. My lean is Baylor in the final region, but I also think there’s a good chance they can lose to Purdue. Not sure if I have the guts to pull the trigger on that upset yet or not.
KY: The West region appears to be ripe for a lot of chaos. We don’t know who may or may not be available for Kansas and Virginia due to their COVID issues last week, and I don’t have to stretch my imagination too much to envision a scenario where neither makes it out of the first weekend. That sets up a scenario where Gonzaga could end up playing the Gauchos in the Sweet 16 with Creighton reeling after getting blasted by Georgetown in the Big East final and dealing with a pretty rocky last month, to say the least…I totally agree about the disappointment of drawing 2-4 seeds that Gonzaga has already seen, that’s a major bummer.
As for the Final Four, I think it’ll be Florida State out of the East, Oklahoma State out of the Midwest, and Baylor from the South. I’m not straying from the Gonzaga-Baylor championship scenario either. I’m also probably going to spend the week talking myself into Loyola Chicago upsetting Illinois in the second round. The fallout from that…lmao
PW: Loyola as an eight seed is absolutely insane to me.
KY: There were some interesting choices made by the committee, for sure.
SK: Gonzaga got the best 8-9 candidates, in my opinion. Baylor having to face UNC or Wisconsin in the second round is brutal, too. Oklahoma and Mizzou, while showing flashes this season, are deeply flawed teams without great three-point shooting.
KY: Jim Boeheim was on ESPN on Saturday and mentioned that while Gonzaga and Baylor were on a tier of their own for much of the season, he believed they came back to the pack at the end of the season. Is Boeheim off base?
SK: I think Baylor certainly has because their defense really isn’t that great. They force a ton of turnovers, but when they don’t, they give up high shooting percentages. They don’t have a big man like Freddie Gillespie to fix a lot of their problems. Flo Thamba and Everyday Jon are not as versatile. Gonzaga has not left the top of the food chain all season.
PW: Yeah, Baylor’s defense absolutely fell off a cliff post COVID. Prior to their stoppage, they were ranked No. 3 by KenPom with a 87.3 efficiency. Today, they are ranked No. 44 at 93.0. They are tenacious on defense, but they can’t grab a rebound to save their lives. It is weird to think that for much of the season the two teams were the given to make the national championship. I’m still pegging Gonzaga in that spot, because ride or die, but I’m not sure I’d wager money on the Bears at this point in time.
KY: I’m truly curious about what the underlying issue for Baylor is at the moment. Their current struggles weren’t problems that they were masking earlier in the year. Whatever it is, I don’t think it’s going to last and that we’ll see the Baylor from November through January when the tournament tips off. Can we also talk about how they watched the Selection Show from what looked like a bar? They were in their own room, but still, a curious choice to make considering what’s at stake over the next few weeks. The Zags will be ready to go. They showed who they are in the second half of the WCC Championship Game. That was class. Boeheim can buzz off.
PW: Hey. Texas is open for business baby.
KY: That’s probably where TV Teddy (referee Ted Valentine) is headed right now. Speaking of Texas, the Gonzaga women won the WCC Championship in the most thrilling and impressive (considering the food poisoning that hit the team the night prior) manner possible and picked up a 5-seed in the Tournament on Monday night which matches the program’s highest seeding (2019). Can they muster some more magic down in San Antonio?
SK: They’ve got quite the battle ahead of them. Belmont shoots an outrageous number of three pointers, which is always dangerous in a winner-take-all game. And then they would have to face an Indiana team that spent most the season inside the top 15 of the AP Poll. But Gonzaga competes with everyone. They have lost one game by more than 10 points in the last three seasons and that was to #1 Notre Dame in an early season tournament. They competed well with South Carolina this season, who got a 1 seed. You know they will defend, it’s just a matter of how good their offense can be down in Texas.
PW: Drawing a potential No. 4 Indiana team in the second round is going to be an interesting game. The Hoosiers are one of the few teams who match up perfectly in the height department with the Zags, owning their own pair of 6’3 forwards in Mackenzie Holmes and Aleksa Gulbe. Holmes, in particular, is going to be a force in that game. The Zags’ defense has been absolutely on point all season, and I don’t think it’ll change that much. What could up end them from making the second weekend is turnovers. The Zags can’t be giving up easy points in the NCAA Tournament, especially against teams that are more than capable of scoring.
KY: Gonzaga can’t afford any of the prolonged offensive droughts that we saw from time to time throughout the season. As good as the defense is, they just won’t have the margin for error to be able to survive 6 or 7 minutes without making a field goal. Here’s hoping they bottled up some of those good vibes from that gritty performance against BYU and can channel it in San Antonio.
PW: I think they have a good chance. As Steven said, the Zags are one of the more tough outs in the nation. The offense isn’t going to be brilliant all the time, but their defense has what it takes to drag them kicking and screaming into the second weekend.
SK: Lisa Fortier mentioned after the WCC Tournament that they love to beat teams with depth and defense. They just wear teams down, and even without great offensive performances, they often pull off wins. If the offense is clicking, they can get to the Sweet 16 for the first time in six years.