Gonzaga University is poised to claim the No. 1 spot in college basketball’s national rankings for the first time in school history when the media and coaches’ polls are released today.
The Bulldogs have a 29-2 record after finishing their regular season schedule with 12 straight victories and a 10th West Coast Conference title. Gonzaga went 16-0 in the WCC and is the top seed entering the league tournament in Las Vegas.
With top-ranked Indiana University (25-4) losing to Minnesota 77-73 on Feb. 26, No. 2 Gonzaga is in position to supplant the Hoosiers atop the Associated Press and USA Today coaches’ polls. It would be a first for the Spokane, Washington-based school, which is the alma mater of Hall of Fame guard John Stockton and has made 14 straight trips to the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s tournament.
“They are a very good basketball team without any weaknesses,” University of Portland coach Eric Reveno said after his team lost to Gonzaga 81-52 two days ago. “They should be No. 1.”
Gonzaga, which has an enrollment of 7,874, had been best known as the school that produced Stockton before rising to prominence by making the round of 16 at the NCAA tournament three straight times from 1999 to 2001.
The Bulldogs have been to the NCAA tournament every year since. Only Duke University, the University of Kansas and Michigan State have longer active streaks. Gonzaga’s 15th straight trip to the tournament may come as the nation’s No. 1 team and one of the four top regional seeds.
“I don’t think we’re too caught up in what number we’re at or what we’re seeded,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few told reporters. “We’re just going to go play. We’re going to go down to Vegas to try to win the thing. We’re going to go into the NCAA tournament trying to win the thing.”
Gonzaga’s next game will be March 9 in the semifinals of the WCC tournament at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
Stockton, who played at Gonzaga from 1980-84 before going onto a 19-year career with the National Basketball Association’s Utah Jazz, grew up in Spokane, as did his son David, who’s now a junior guard for the Bulldogs. Yet the younger Stockton is among only three players from the state of Washington on Gonzaga’s 14-man roster.
The Bulldogs have become an international program during Few’s 13-year tenure as coach. Two of Gonzaga’s top three scorers this season -- 7-foot forward Kelly Olynyk and guard Kevin Pangos -- hail from Canada while second-leading scorer Elias Harris is a senior forward from Germany. Guy Landry Edi, a senior forward who’s started 14 of the 28 games he’s played this season, is from the Ivory Coast.
In addition to a possible No. 1 national ranking, Gonzaga this season is seeking to become just the fourth school since 2000 to earn a top NCAA tournament seeding while playing outside one of college basketball’s six top conferences. The only schools in that span to get a No. 1 regional seed from leagues outside the Big East, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and Southeastern conferences were Cincinnati in 2002, St. Joseph’s in 2004 and Memphis in 2008.
Gonzaga, which played against schools such as Portland, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount in the WCC, has the nation’s 60th-strongest schedule, according to USA Today. Having faced one ranked team since Jan. 1 -- losing 64-63 at Butler University on Jan. 19 -- Gonzaga could end up with the worst strength of schedule rating for an NCAA tournament top seed in nine years, USA Today said.
“We played every game with a huge bull’s-eye on our chest and we played pretty darn well in almost all of them,” Few said. “They’ve been really, really focused. We’ve been so consistent with our effort and preparation. That’s the most impressive thing about it.”