We hear the same hype every year. They won’t make it past the Sweet 16.
That awful conference doesn’t get them battle-tested for March.
They will never make a Final Four.
All that’s finished now. Forever.
The fortress that Gonzaga basketball detractors have hid behind for nearly two decades came crashing to the ground Saturday night following an 83-59 thrashing of Xavier in the West Regional final. The Zags drilled 12 three-pointers while holding their opponents to 2-of-16 from beyond the arc on a night which felt destined to be theirs from the opening tip on.
A No. 1 seed winning its region and marching on to the final weekend of the tournament typically wouldn’t be worthy cause for extreme surprise and reaction. Gonzaga has never claimed to be typical.
It’s a near certainty that there will be more focus on and more words written about Gonzaga in the week to come than any other top seed (assuming another makes it) headed to Phoenix. There will be stories about big man Przemek Karnowski, about how the Bulldogs don’t look like your standard mid-major because of their power conference transfers, and about how the weight of the world is off head coach Mark Few’s shoulders.
What there won’t be, or at least what there shouldn’t be, are any more questions about validity, or any more demands for excessive proof. Some who have dug themselves too deeply into an anti-Gonzaga hole to claw their way out now will point to the Zags playing an 11 seed in a regional final as justification for continued doubt. They’ll write those stories and hit send while pretending to not feel the evidence that is repeatedly smacking them in the face.
Gonzaga is 36-1. It earned the No. 1 seed it will carry into its first Final Four, and if it wins two more games, it will earn its assigned title of being the best college basketball team in the United States.
“This is what we wanted to do,” Few said moments after locking down his first trip to the national semifinals. “It’s what we set out to do. These guys have been unbelievable. I couldn’t be happier for our group of guys, for all our ex-players, and for the entire Zags Nation.”
They say public opinions and pop culture trends are cyclical, so perhaps the end of the era of disbelief will seamlessly transition into a follow-up era of proper appreciation. After all, that’s where we started back in 1999. It was then that Dan Monson’s Zags made a miraculous March run, knocking off power conference foes Minnesota, Stanford and Florida, and then falling to top-seeded Connecticut in the Elite Eight. Before Saturday’s crescendo against Xavier, Gonzaga’s ‘99 introduction had been the most recent regional final featuring two teams that had never been to the Final Four.
When Mark Few inherited the program a few months later, he was taking over America’s new sweetheart. In the 18 years that followed, he would transform the Bulldogs into a national powerhouse, an NCAA tournament fixture, and the sport’s most polarizing team.
Whether you love the Zags or are annoyed by them, the fact that you have an opinion on Gonzaga basketball at all is evidence by itself that a miracle took place in Spokane.
That run in 1999 was just Gonzaga’s second NCAA tournament appearance ever, its first coming four years earlier when they were bounced in the first round by Maryland in a 24-point blowout. Their conference was a one-bid league that had zero national presence and which rarely produced a representative in the Big Dance that could give anyone a scare.
These are the roots of a program that has now been to 19 consecutive NCAA tournaments, won at least one game in its last nine appearances, and which is now just two victories away from winning a national championship.
The time for demanding further proof is over. The time for showing proper respect has arrived.