Gonzaga, which fell to Saint Mary's in the West Coast Conference tournament, was given a No. 8 seed in the West region of the NCAA tournament, and will travel to Buffalo, N.Y., to meet Florida State.
You make your bed, you lie in it.
But where does it say in the NCAA’s bracketing principles and procedures that the bed is made of nettles, burrs and blackberry vines?
That’s pretty much what Gonzaga discovered Sunday afternoon, when the Zags clicked on their local CBS affiliate to find that the committee had dispatched them to Buffalo, as a No. 8 seed, to play Florida State. The winner gets Syracuse, one of the three teams most frequently mentioned as a national-title contender.
That would also be in Buffalo, which is 152 miles west of Syracuse.
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What, there was no regional in Kabul to send Gonzaga to?
“My first reaction,” Zags guard Matt Bouldin said succinctly, “was, it’s far.”
He got that right. It’s 3,000 miles and three time zones east, or a bit longer than 1.6 miles, the distance from the GU campus to Spokane Arena, where Gonzaga could have ended up.
Not that it should have. The Zags shot themselves in the Nikes at least once too often against West Coast Conference opposition, losing to San Francisco and Loyola Marymount, and then the killer last week, a 19-point no-show in the WCC final against Saint Mary’s.
But … Buffalo?
What this says is that either the popular reckoning that Gonzaga was no worse than a 5 seed before the Saint Mary’s loss was balderdash — no single loss drops a team three lines — or the committee flipped the Zags down a line to accommodate the principles of the bracket. They do that.
On a teleconference, I asked Dan Guerrero, the committee chair, what happened to the Zags. He fell into committee-chairspeak and said, “There are a number of things that come into play, especially when you have a number of teams from a particular region that get factored in. That’s when the principles and procedures come into play. Sometimes things happen along the way as the bracketing takes place.”
Guerrero wouldn’t disclose whether Gonzaga was a “true” 8 seed, or whether the Zags had been flipped one line. But here are a couple of the principles he could have been talking about:
BYU, in the same bracket, had to be assigned a Thursday-Saturday region because it won’t play Sunday. Two other candidates in that same seed vicinity, No. 7 Clemson and No. 9 Louisville, couldn’t be an 8 seed in Buffalo because procedures dictate a Clemson-Florida State matchup or Syracuse-Louisville can’t come in the first two rounds because they are in the same conference.
So, Gonzaga, you’re it.
Mark Few, the Gonzaga coach, said previously he wouldn’t whine over such things, and he didn’t, at least publicly.
“What a blessing it is just to be involved with this thing, when you’re talking about North Carolina and Connecticut and UCLA and Arizona,” he said, clicking off some who didn’t make it. “It just shows you how difficult it is. Before you start worrying about the matchup and all that, the pride is far and away the overwhelming feeling.”
Thus is sustained a little (occasional) tradition, in which the Zags go to open their gift on Selection Sunday, and find it’s a box of geckos. Yes, they were able to ignite their 12-year streak of tournament appearances in Seattle in 1999 as a 10 seed.
But in 2002, as a No. 6 seed, they went to high-altitude Albuquerque, where they exited against the team in the bracket most acclimated to aerie conditions, Wyoming. Two years ago, as a No. 7 seed, they went to Raleigh, N.C., to discover the wonders of Stephen Curry 160 miles from his campus at Davidson.
Let’s be clear on two things: Gonzaga didn’t deserve to play in Spokane. And two, the committee people say it loud and clear in so many words: It isn’t completely an equal-opportunity dance. It protects the first five lines of the bracket, and beyond that, you’ll find all manner of non sequiturs.
After all, the bracket shows the Zags playing in the West. If they happen somehow to get through Florida State and Syracuse, it’s on to Salt Lake City. If they can get there from Buffalo in time.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|Consecutive NCAA tournament appearances|
|Gonzaga is going to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament for the 12th straight year. The longest active streaks:|
|Note: The record is 27, set by North Carolina from 1975-2001.|