The Gonaga Bulldogs have earned the 11th seed in the Midwest Region of the NCAA tournament and will play No. 6 seed Seton Hall (25-8) in Denver on Thursday
If not for the fact that they’d clinched an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament by winning the West Coast Conference tournament title last week, Sunday afternoon would have been excruciating for the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
The Zags were the final team to hear their name called on CBS’s two hour-long selection show.
“It was a great feeling just knowing we were in the tournament, but we were very anxious about who we were going to play and where we’re going to play,” said senior forward Kyle Wiltjer. “It was a long wait. But we’re excited we know where we are going now.”
The Bulldogs have earned the 11th seed in the Midwest Region of the NCAA tournament and will play No. 6 seed Seton Hall (25-8) at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo. on Thursday night at 7 p.m.
Gonzaga (26-7) has made it to the NCAA tournament for the 18th straight year – the fourth-longest streak in the nation. In that time, Gonzaga has amassed a 22-18 NCAA tournament record. Last season, it advanced to the Elite Eight before falling to Duke, the eventual champion.
This is the lowest seeding the Zags have received in the NCAA tournament since they went into the 2011 West Regional, also in Denver, seeded 11th. That year, Gonzaga beat No. 6 seed St. John’s in the opening round before falling to third-seeded BYU in the second round.
Still, it’s not bad to be the underdog instead of a high seed, said Gonzaga coach Mark Few.
“In some ways, it’ll be kinda nice to be a double-digit seed,” Few said. “We haven’t done it in a while and it’ll be kinda fun to play that role, and I hope our guys embrace it and really take advantage of it.”
The Zags are 3-2 all-time against No. 6 seeds in the NCAA tournament. This year, they’ll face a red-hot Seton Hall team that goes into the tournament fresh off a huge upset win over Villanova in the Big East conference tournament championship game that likely ended the Wildcats’ chances of getting a No. 1 seed.
Seton Hall won the Big East tournament title for the first time in 23 years and will be making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2006. The Pirates are led by sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead, who had 26 points in the Big East finals against Villanova on Saturday night, and was named tournament MVP.
Wiltjer said he watched the second half of Seton Hall’s big win over Villanova and noted that the Zags’ next opponent is “very athletic.”
“I wasn’t watching thinking we were going to play them, but (Whitehead) had a great game, he’s a talented guard, he gets out in transition well and he’s explosive,” Wiltjer said. “We know it’s a team effort trying to limit it, and to make it tough on them.”
The Bulldogs don’t know yet whether center Ryan Edwards will be able to play against Seton Hall. Edwards injured his knee in the first half of the Zags’ WCC quarterfinal game and has not played since.
“He’s starting to move around. He ran a little bit today and will continue to get better and better as we progress, but it’s moving pretty slow,” Few said.
The Zags were the only WCC team to make it to the tournament this year. Saint Mary’s, whom the Bulldogs beat in the WCC title game, had an outside chance at garnering an at-large bid, but was left out of the tournament when the bracket was revealed on Sunday afternoon.
If the Zags get past Seton Hall, they’ll face the winner of the first round game between No. 3 seed Utah (26-8) and No. 14 seed Fresno State (25-9).
Utah finished No. 2 in the Pac-12 after losing to West Region No. 1 seed Oregon in the title game, while Fresno State upset San Diego State to win the Mountain West title.
Gonzaga and Kansas are the only two teams in the country that have won their opening-round NCAA tournament games for each of the last seven seasons.
If the Zags make it out of the first two rounds, they’ll head to Chicago for the Sweet Sixteen. Virginia (26-7) earned the top seed in the Midwest region.
Breaking down the matchup: