Let’s just put aside that this IU team likely would not even be sniffing the top ten a few years ago. Does Gonzaga deserve to be number two in the country? In both polls, even? Well, surprisingly, I find it hard to argue. And this is in a season where there was probably even less buzz around Gonzaga than there has been in many years. And this is when they grace the top three. Surreal.
As of today, Gonzaga is 27-2, which is actually better than both Indiana and Duke, who both have three losses. Now, we all know that not all schedules are created equal in any college sport. There are just too many teams for that. And, clearly, the WCC is not the Big Ten, or even the ACC in a down year, as it seems to be this year. So, let’s delve just a little deeper here into who has played who.
Gonzaga’s two losses this year were an eleven-point home loss to then #13 Illinois and a road loss to then #13 Butler. You might remember that Butler game. Butler is a good team that didn’t quit playing, but you would be hard pressed to say Gonzaga didn’t choke that game. Especially how that final shot went down to clinch the 64-63 victory for Butler. A lazy inbound pass leading to a fast break as the clock expired. If not for that loss, Gonzaga is likely your number one team in the nation right now. Even so, Gonzaga finishes up their year against a very good 20-win team in BYU* and then hosting a not-as-good Portland team. If there’s a slip up there, it certainly would seem to be against BYU in Utah. Still, Gonzaga beat BYU by twenty in Washington, so you would think they will find a way to win. And they would be the favorite to win the WCC tournament, seeing as they are undefeated in conference play.
*I’m a little curious how they aren’t ranked with that record, but I don’t have time to really get into that right now.
But, that’s not really the question people will be asking. The better question will be, who have they beaten? Well, as I said, they beat the crap out of BYU, and they’re a pretty good team. Outside of that, their best wins are over Kansas St. (on a neutral floor, and currently ranked 13*) and on the road against then-22-now-15 Oklahoma St. Not exactly a barn-burner of a schedule, especially with a weak WCC schedule, but it wasn’t all cake walks. Again, if they could have held on against Butler, that would have been a nice boost to the resume. But, given how everybody else keeps losing, maybe it won’t sting too bad.
*Funny how many times 13 is coming up in this article.
How does it compare to IU and Duke’s schedules? Well, out of conference, Tom Crean schedule yet another cakewalk, something of a specialty of his dating back to Marquette. The only at-the-time ranked team the Hoosiers faced before conference play was North Carolina, and they clearly are not as advertised. Outside of that, their best games were a loss to Butler (in Indy) and an overtime win in Brooklyn against Georgetown. Both of those teams are now ranked, it should be noted. And, as alluded to earlier, you can get away with that more when you play in a conference like the Big Ten. Especially with the conference being consistently rated far above any others this year.
To me, the “travesty” here is Duke. They played the toughest out-of-conference schedule out of the three and came through unscathed. They had wins over (at the time) the number 2, 3, and 4 teams in the country in Louisville, Kentucky, and Ohio St. Granted, Kentucky turned out to be much like North Carolina, but it’s there. Duke’s three losses seem to make more sense and Indiana’s, too, coming against a ranked NC St. team and a much, much better than expected Miami team. Maryland was more of a surprise. Still, it’s by a matter of degrees.
So, yeah, all in all, I don’t really have a problem putting Gonzaga at number two. I personally would have put Duke at 1 or 2, Indiana at the other slot, and then Gonzaga, but It’s hard to feel too bad when you’re shuffling teams between the top four slots, seeing as they should all get number one seeds come March Madness.
Still, it’s just hard to get too worked up about any of it as a Purdue fan. I’m just hoping the NIT is interested in us. And if not, you can bet I’m going to get all worked up about the robbery in MSG against Villanova all over again.