I may be in the minority, but prior to last Saturday night I was not really in the camp that thought Gonzaga should be a No. 1 seed. I was probably lukewarm to the idea, though it had been looking like a better case of late. It’s probably moot now that BYU beat them in Spokane, but should they sweep their way to a West Coast Conference championship, the subject will probably come up again.
Gonzaga has been a trendy team to speak of as a Final Four contender and a No. 1 seed as well. It’s understandable why; since the late 1990s they have ruled the West Coast Conference and annually play a loaded non-conference schedule, one where they win enough to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament whether they win the WCC or not. Last year might have been an exception, as I’m not sure they would have been in without a WCC championship, but they won, so it was moot.
Gonzaga has a top ten RPI, but that’s not the only consideration for a No. 1 seed. You need more than that. Let’s look at the Bulldogs’ splits for a little more.
The Bulldogs are 1-1 vs. top 25 teams, beating SMU and losing at Arizona. They are 5-2 vs. top 50 teams, with the other loss being against BYU. Two of those top 50 wins are over other bubble teams – BYU and UCLA (three if you count St. John’s as a bubble team). Their best win is over SMU; the next best one is either St. John’s or Georgia, depending on how you feel about those two. Saint Mary’s is a bit outside the top 50; whether they can rise up into the top 50 without beating Gonzaga along the way in Las Vegas is debatable.
Let’s say they beat BYU instead of losing. Then they go to 6-1 vs. top 50 teams, but BYU is a bubble team, so it would not have been another win over a tournament team. It would marginally improve their candidacy for a No. 1 seed.
That’s all pretty good; there’s no question they should be in the tournament and a pretty high seed. But No. 1? Consider me a bit underwhelmed.
At this point, Kentucky, Virginia and Duke look like three of the four No. 1 seeds. That leaves Arizona, Kansas, Villanova and Wisconsin as Gonzaga’s chief competition for the last one. All have more top 25 wins (though Wisconsin has just one more) and more top 50 wins than Gonzaga; had they beat BYU neither reality would change. Should they win the West Coast Conference Tournament this weekend, they won’t add another top 25 win and will likely add no more than one top 50 win to their resume.
Let’s look at their top competitors:
- Arizona beat San Diego State at a neutral site, Gonzaga and Utah twice – the only team to beat the Utes in Salt Lake City.
- Kansas has knocked off numerous good teams: Michigan State (neutral), at Georgetown, Utah, Baylor twice, Iowa State, Oklahoma and West Virginia – and their worst RPI wins are against Texas Tech.
- Villanova blew out VCU (neutral) and has knocked off Butler, Xavier and Providence twice each, along with Georgetown and St. John’s.
- Wisconsin has wins over Oklahoma, Georgetown, Michigan State, Iowa (twice) and Boise State, plus many more of teams a notch below those.
Gonzaga will be in the NCAA Tournament and should win games. It wouldn’t be shocking if they made a Final Four run. But the case for a No. 1 seed, even had the won against BYU last Saturday, seems a bit shaky.