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Mike Lopresti | | February 4, 2019

Gonzaga just might have the best shot at the West Coast's first hoops national title this century

Michigan falls in Andy Katz's latest Power 36
Know what the Super Bowl and the Final Four have in common? Besides confetti at the end? Try this: When it comes to the location of champions, the nation is more slanted than the roof of an A-frame house.
In other words, can Gonzaga do for the West Coast on a Monday night in April what the Los Angeles Rams couldn’t do on a Sunday night in February?
It’s about this trophy shortage in the Pacific time zone. The Rams’ loss to New England means there has been one Super Bowl champion from the West in 24 years. One. The result also means 15 of the past 19 Lombardi trophies have gone to the Eastern time zone.
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But it’s even worse in college basketball, where the Great Western Drought goes on. Put it this way: Belgium has produced as many national champions this century as the West Coast. You have to go back to 1997 and Arizona. Even further for the women, 1992 and Stanford.
Meanwhile, at the other end of this lopsided picture, 20 of the past 21 men’s champions were Eastern time zone teams. And with Tennessee, Duke, Virginia, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Michigan State and Villanova all Easterners and all on the contender list this season, is there any end in sight?
The Pac-12, maybe? Unlikely. Seven ACC teams were in last week's top-25, but not a single member of the Pac-12 — though Washington is getting close. The league’s nickname is still the “Conference of Champions,” but if they mean recent years, they’d better be talking about water polo and skiing.
As for basketball, Nevada of the Mountain West is making noise, with a locker room full of fifth-year seniors, and a 21-1 record. Only four teams in the nation remain in the one-loss club. But none of those 21 victories have been against a team currently ranked, so the Wolf Pack still have some boxes to check.
Meet Nevada's Martin twins

Which brings us back to Gonzaga.
Gonzaga, the 21-2 team that beat Duke. Gonzaga, the team that chased No. 1 Tennessee to the wire. Gonzaga, the team that is absolutely steamrolling its league. The Zags own the West Coast Conference lock, stock and Loyola Marymount.
They’ve won 28 WCC games in a row . . . on the road.
They won their first seven league games this season by an average of 31 points. They struggled against San Diego enough Saturday that coach Mark Few noted the calendar afterward and said that “nothing comes easy in February.”

POWER 36 RANKINGS: Gonzaga checks in at No. 3 in Andy Katz's latest power rankings | AP poll
That one, they won by only 16. Trailed three whole minutes. That makes a total of eight, in 320 minutes of WCC play.
We could go on about Gonzaga’s balance, and how it has had at least four players score in double figures in 22 of 23 games. Or its stability, and how the same lineup has started all 23 games. Or the Zags’ consistency, and how they have outshot 83 of 96 opponents since the start of the 2016-17 season. Or their efficiency and power, and how they lead the nation in scoring, scoring margin, shooting and assist-turnover ratio.
Or how a team knows things are going good when its two leading scorers — Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, in this case — are shooting 60.6 and 68.9 percent. And Josh Perkins has only 44 turnovers to go with his 154 assists.

Gonzaga was No. 4 in last week’s AP poll, and per usual custom, has somewhat disappeared from national conversation, as the power leagues stage all their marquee games. But should they run the table in the WCC — it’d be hard to predict otherwise — they could very possibly be No. 1 going into the NCAA tournament. Tennessee, Duke and Virginia ahead of them are probably not making their league journeys without further bruising.
Gonzaga may not have that problem. Traditional threats BYU and Saint Mary’s both have had growing pains, and the Zags are 72-0 against everyone else in the conference since February of 2014.
Can they do to NCAA tournament field what they’re doing to their conference? That’ll be one of the main storylines for March and April. A championship would be history for Gonzaga, and relief for one entire title-starved side of the country.

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That nearly happened in 2017, you might remember, with Gonzaga getting to its first Final Four and pushing North Carolina in the championship game before falling 71-65.  That showed anything was possible. “The Zags keep breaking that ceiling,” guard Jordan Mathews said that night. “I have no doubt in the future, there will be future Zags that get over this hump.”
Maybe this year, unlike the Rams. The West could use the good news, since it has its own tournament hump, which is approaching Himalayan heights. The Zags will have to do something about Duke or Tennessee or someone like that. But at least they won’t have to beat Tom Brady.

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