College basketball: 20 things to know about the last unbeaten in the nation
What coach was married by his father? What top-10 powerhouse is named after an Italian who died at 23? What college basketball dynasty has not missed an NCAA Tournament in a generation but never produced anyone as famous as the alum who sang “White Christmas?”
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“We are as good as we think we are,” Nigel Williams-Goss said.
Yep. So are we all up on our Zagology?
That can sometimes be a challenge, with Gonzaga a little off the main line, up there near the Washington-Idaho border, a lot closer to British Columbia than its nearest West Coast Conference colleague in Portland, nearly 300 miles away. Since the Bulldogs were No. 5 last week and might be No. 1 soon, perhaps a review is in order.
Here are 20 things we should know about Gonzaga:
1. If you’re going to be named after someone, why not an Italian saint? That’d be Aloysius Gonzaga, born 449 years ago, who died young after caring for victims of a plague. Just think if they had gone with the first name instead. The Aloysius Bulldogs just doesn’t roll off the tongue right.
2. It’s a nice, cozy campus in Spokane, with just over 5,000 undergraduate students.
3. Mark Few has never not gone to the NCAA Tournament in his first 17 years as coach. He has never not gone to the championship game of the WCC tournament. And he has never gone anywhere else to plant his name on a bigger marquee, preferring to stay close to his favorite fishing spots in eastern Washington, down the road from Walla Walla. So it goes for the son of a Presbyterian pastor, whose wedding 23 years ago was officiated by his father.
4. Not that he doesn’t like to win. Few’s 81.3 percentage – 483-111 – is the finest among active coaches. Kansas’ Bill Self is No. 5. The reason to mention them together is they were born within hours of one another on Dec. 27, 1962.
5. Few is also fourth all-time among men’s college coaches who spent at least 10 years on the job. John Wooden, by the way, is No. 7. If a coach is three spots ahead of Wooden in anything, it’s special.
6. Few went 23-11 in 2007. Know why that’s noteworthy? It’s the worst season in his career. Twenty-three wins. The worst.
7. McCarthey Athletic Center’s capacity is a dainty 6,000, which is how Gonzaga can sell out every game and be 81st in Division I in attendance, just behind Hawaii. The Zags have never had an unsold seat since the day the place opened in 2004. Saturday’s romp made them 170-13, so visitors should plan on great views in the Northwest but not victory.
8. While we’re on the subject, Gonzaga is 10-0 at home this season by an average score of 89-60. Of the 400 minutes played, the Zags have trailed for 15.
9. The roster has faces from nine states and five countries. The regular rotation includes Oregon, Colorado, Nevada, Tennessee, Poland, France. About everywhere but . . . the state of Washington. Three of the top four scorers are transfers from other Division I schools. Gonzaga is Second Chance Heaven.
10. The Zags lead the WCC at 85.6 points a game, but don’t have an individual in the top eight of the league in scoring. Seven different players have led the team in points in a game, and six in rebounds. The scoring range for the top seven players range from 15.2 to 8.5 Balance, depth, unselfishness. “That’s who we are,” Few said.
11. Add length to that depth. The rotation is basically eight players. Four of them go 7-1, 7-0, 6-10 and 6-9.
Need a better look? pic.twitter.com/MAmjEqAvSc— Gonzaga Basketball (@ZagMBB) December 22, 2016
12. Gonzaga’s rise to national prominence may go back two decades, but the career leader in points, Frank Burgess, played 56 years ago, and ended up a federal judge. He never saw glory days like these. Neither did the most famous Zag of them all – John Stockton.
13. Yeah, Few is a big man on campus, but will he ever be as big as that old Zag crooner, Bing Crosby?
14. The Bulldogs don’t lose high-scoring games. They’re 81-0 since 2011 when breaking 80. They don’t lose low scoring games, either. They’re 70-0 since then when holding the opponent under 60. They seldom get dragged down from behind. They’re 146-7 since then when leading at halftime. They’ve trailed at halftime 30 times in six years.
15. Going to 18 consecutive NCAA Tournaments is pretty nifty for a program that didn’t go to one in the first 56 years of the event.
16. See the 3-point line? The Zags guard that closer than their internet passwords. Opponents are shooting 29.0 percent. The bigger fish get stuffed like everyone else. Arizona was 1-for-8, Florida 2-for-19.
17. The last unbeaten to fall in 2016 was SMU on Jan. 24. The two seasons before that, Wichita State and Kentucky became the 18th and 19th teams to take perfect records into the NCAA Tournament. Your attention is directed to the first 11 days in February, when Gonzaga must travel to BYU and a return match with Saint Mary’s. If the zero is still on the right side of the Bulldogs’ hyphen after that, we’ll talk about the chance for there to be a 20th.
17-0!— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) January 15, 2017
No. 5 Gonzaga remains lone unbeaten in the nation with 79-56 win over No. 21 Saint Mary's. pic.twitter.com/NE7BV3DVcM
18. Of those 19 unbeaten teams, 13 went to the Final Four. Just in case anyone was wondering.
19. Gonzaga has gone to the NCAA Tournament 18 consecutive seasons. The only other schools who can say that are Kansas, Duke and Michigan State. Those three went to 16 combined Final Fours during those 18 years. The Zags went to . . . well, you know.
20. Yes, Gonzaga it is probably the most conspicuous team without a Final Four appearance. But it is seldom evicted by small fry. Few has lost to six No. 1 seeds. But if this keeps up, the No. 1 seed in their region won’t be a problem for the Zags in March. It’ll be them.