Even before last year’s meltdown against Wichita St. I have heard lots of grumblings from college basketball fans and casual March Madness followers over the past four of five years that after putting together solid regular seasons Gonzaga chokes every year in the NCAA Tournament. I myself have expressed this sentiment more than once. But I am here now to dispel that myth. A look at Gonzaga’s recent tournament history dating back to 2006 demonstrates that almost every time the Zags lost, they lost to a higher seed, or a team they were supposed to lose to. Yes, I am a Gonzaga law school alum and fan. You may think that I am just being a Zags apologist here but take a look at some recent history with me and then come to a conclusion.
First lets get last year out of the way. Last year was an absolute unadulterated choke job. No two ways about it. As a #1 seed the Zags nearly lost to #16 seed Southern and then fell to Wichita St. in the Round of 32. Yes, Gonzaga choked last year. But they did not choke in the previous seven seasons.
Lets go back to 2006. I chose 2006 as a starting point for two reasons. One, I think eight seasons is a big enough sample size for purposes of this discussion given that Gonzaga has played in the tournament every year since 2006 (they’ve actually played in the tournament every season since 1999, 15 straight, more on that later) and second, 2006 is the year I got accepted into the Gonzaga University School of Law and truly began following Gonzaga basketball. You can see the Zags entire tournament history here.
In 2006 Gonzaga was a #3 seed and made it to the Sweet 16, losing by two to #2 seed UCLA in the Regional Semifinal. This was Adam Morrison’s senior year at GU. A disappointing end to a great season but definitely not a choke job or an upset. They lost to a higher seed and a UCLA team that went on to the Final Four. No shame in that.
In 2007 Gonzaga was a #10 seed and lost in the Round of 64 to #7 seed Indiana. Not an upset or a choke job. Indiana was supposed to win this game and they did. Gonzaga can’t be expected to pull off an upset every year just because you pick them to in your bracket.
2008 was the only time in this eight-year span before last year that Gonzaga was upset in the tournament. Gonzaga was a #7 seed and lost to #10 Davidson led by Steph Curry. Davidson went on to the Elite 8 that year. Gonzaga was merely in the way of a small school on a hot streak led by a deadly shooter who continues to kill opponents with his shot in the NBA. Call this a choke job if you want but on the Richter Scale of upsets in the 2008 tournament this one registered about a 2.9.
2009 saw the Zags return to the Sweet 16 as a #4 seed where they lost to #1 seed and eventual national champion North Carolina. Seriously, only die-hard Zags fans had GU pulling the upset in this one. I wasn’t even die-hard enough to pick it. Its always disappointing when your team loses in the tournament but this loss was not unexpected.
In 2010 Gonzaga was a #8 seed and lost in the Round of 32 to #1 Syracuse. Last time I checked #1 seeds are supposed to beat #8 or #9 seeds (unless you are Gonzaga of course). Not a surprise that Gonzaga lost here. If you picked GU to beat the Cuse that year, it’s not their fault that you are crazy.
In 2011 Gonzaga was a #11 seed and got ran over by the Jimmer Train and BYU in the Round of 32. BYU was a #3 seed a trendy mid-major Final Four pick that year. Disappointing loss? Yes. Unexpected? No. Choke? Absolutely not.
In 2012 Gonzaga was a #7 and lost to #2 seed Ohio St. in the Round of 32. Again, a #2 seed is supposed to beat a #7 seed. I am sorry if you picked GU to win this game, but I am not sure why you would. No surprise here. Nothing to see. Time to move on.
I’ve already touched on last year’s choke job. Yes, last year was a choke job, but that doesn’t mean that every year before was too. Which raises the real issue at hand, why, even before last year was Gonzaga seen as a perennial disappointment in the NCAA Tournament? In looking at the past eight seasons Gonzaga was only upset twice. Does the real disappointment lie in the fact that Gonzaga didn’t pull off any upsets like they did in 1999 through 2001 when they reached the Elite 8, Sweet 16 and Sweet 16 as #10 and #12 seeds? Gonzaga set the bar high in that magical three-year run that started their ongoing streak of 15 straight NCAA Tournaments, now 16 after winning the WCC Tournament yet again. Is Gonzaga a disappointment because they haven’t duplicated that three-year run of an Elite 8 and two Sweet 16s? If so, that is a brutal standard. Before applying such a standard lets look at how some other recent upset minded teams followed up their Cinderella seasons.
George Mason went to the Final Four in 2006. Heard anything from them recently? Nope. Won’t even make the tournament this year. Davidson went to the Elite 8 in 2008. They do anything of note after Steph Curry left? Nope. VCU went to the Final Four in 2011. Haven’t done much since. They did lose by 30 to Michigan in the Round of 32 last year…oh wait, that’s not good. Butler did make it to back-to-back Title Games in 2010 and 2011 so that makes them the new standard bearer, but they fell off the map this season after moving to the Big East and won’t be dancing this year. Wichita St. followed up last seasons Final Four run with an undefeated regular season but we all know no one will remember that if they don’t make another deep run this year. Their 2014 story is yet to be written. So where is a Cinderella of recent past that has followed up their run of upsets with more and more upsets year after year? Answer, there isn’t one.
And then there is Gonzaga. After their back-to-back-to-back Cinderella seasons they have made the NCAA Tournament every season since, the fourth longest active streak, including two more trips to the Sweet 16. Last year the high expectations and subsequent disappointment was justified. But you know what? There are a lot of schools around the country (including every school in the state of Utah where I hear all the anti-Gonzaga speak) that would love to have Gonzaga’s tournament history in the 21st Century. The “Gonzaga is a perennial disappointment” stance just isn’t justified. Last year notwithstanding, Gonzaga has been pretty damn good since 1999. Since 1999! How many other schools have been that good for that long?
Oh and just to prepare you, Gonzaga will likely be seeded anywhere from #7 to #10 in this year’s tournament, which means that they should and probably will win their first round game and they should and probably will lose in the Round of 32, so I wouldn’t pick them to pull off upsets and make a deep run this year. That way they won’t be a “perennial disappointment” right?
Posted by Hatch