Gonzaga is used to being the favorite. Gone are the days of the Bulldogs being the plucky mid-major hoping to slay a few giants.
This is a good thing, according to Mark Few.
Zags’ tournament seedings
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» Gonzaga has qualified for the past 15 NCAA Tournaments.
» The Bulldogs advanced to the Elite Eight of the 1999 NCAA Tournament.
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Southern
O At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff » Thursday, 2:10 p.m. TV » TBS
Records » Gonzaga 31-2; Southern 23-9
About the Bulldogs » This is the first top seed for Gonzaga in program history. … The Bulldogs advanced to the Elite Eight in 1999, losing to Connecticut. … No top seed has ever lost to a No. 16 seed. … Bulldogs forward Kelly Olynyk averages 17 points and seven rebounds per game.
About the Jaguars » Southern wasn’t eligible for the postseason last season, due to APR issues. … Malcolm Miller averages 16 points per game off the bench. … Miller has scored 20 or more points eight times this season. … Derrick Beltran averages 15.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. … Beltran made 42 percent of his 3-point attempts.
There was no surprise when the Bulldogs were picked as the top seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament. There are no feelings on that seeding, either way. Gonzaga will go out on the EnergySolutions Arena floor come Thursday afternoon and play against Southern just like it has in its other 30-plus games this season.
"We’ve been the favorite in pretty much every game this year," Mark Few says. "Nothing will change."
The outside world has questioned the Bulldogs since Selection Sunday, picked over their résumé with a fine-tooth comb and wondered if Gonzaga is really one of the top four teams in the country. At the same time, a difficult road through Salt Lake City presents itself in the form of Wichita State and Pitt, two hulking, physical teams with the players capable of making life difficult for the Bulldogs.
It hasn’t fazed Gonzaga one bit.
This is a mid-major team in name and conference only. It’s been well over a decade since the Bulldogs first jumped onto the national scene, advancing to the Elite Eight with Matt Santangelo as its point guard and pushing UConn to the brink with the Final Four at stake.
Since then, the Bulldogs have transformed from media darling into genuine powerhouse. This season has seen Few’s program reach an apex. Gonzaga is now a team expected to make a deep run into the Big Dance.
"I don’t see this as a great weight on our shoulders or anything," power forward Elias Harris said. "I see this as a great honor. We were lucky enough to get the one seed, and we’re going to make the best of it. We’re going to play team basketball and show that we’re worthy of it."
Of course, the Bulldogs have been openly questioned. More than a few observers thought a team like Duke, Miami or even Ohio State should’ve taken the top spot in the region. Analysts pointed to a lack of quality wins as reason why the Bulldogs should’ve slid down to a two seed, a product of playing in the West Coast Conference.
In fact, the last top seed to find itself so openly questioned was the St. Joseph’s team in 2004. That squad — led by future NBA players Jameer Nelson and Delonte West — advanced to the Elite Eight before falling to Tony Allen, John Lucas III and Oklahoma State.
At the same time, none of the Gonzaga players interviewed for this story were even aware of Phil Martelli and the Hawks. Harris, Kelly Olynyk and Kevin Pangos said they weren’t well-versed in past NCAA Tournament lore.
Perhaps that’s a good thing. The players looked loose on Wednesday in press conferences and in the shootaround, like a team that isn’t worried about the challenges that await in the next few days.
Or the pressure.
"We feel like we’re ready to prove ourselves," Pangos said. "We believe in our team and our abilities. We’re confident going into this tournament."
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