While it should come as no surprise after former No. 1 Indiana lost at Minnesota last week, Gonzaga has officially earned its first ever No. 1 ranking.
The Zags will get to enjoy the history they’ve made for a while, as the team will be off until Saturday with a bye into the WCC tournament semifinals after a perfect 16-0 in-conference record. While they’ll first have to fend off likely challenges from one or both of St. Mary’s and BYU for the WCC tournament crown, the real question may be, even with a conference championship to follow up a No. 1 ranking, is Gonzaga truly worthy of a No. 1 seed come NCAA tournament time?
Just search “Gonzaga” and “seed” on twitter and your feed will be littered with skeptics who point to the Bulldogs’ weak schedule and the possibility of Gonzaga becoming the first ever No. 1 seed to lose to a 16th seed. While that lack of respect is certainly unwarranted – this team is good enough to go deep – it is important to remember that Gonzaga went 1-2 in their only encounters against ranked teams this season, with a win over Oklahoma State sandwiched between losses to Illinois and Butler.
Having said that, if the Zags can wrap up the WCC tournament after a 29-2 regular season that currently sees them boast the nation’s second most efficient offence and a defence that ranks just outside of the top-25 in a season where traditional powers and other highly touted programs have stumbled time and time again, it will be next to impossible to hold this team back from a No. 1 seed come March 17 (Selection Sunday).
Canadians Kelly Olynyk and Kevin Pangos give Gonzaga a fair share of star power too, as Olynyk, a likely first round NBA draft pick this June, currently leads the NCAA with a ridiculous Player Efficiency Rating of 37.09 while Pangos fires three-pointers at a 42.5 per cent clip.
Sure, Gonzaga is far from a true powerhouse or a traditional dominating No. 1 seed (see 2011-12 Kentucky), but the beauty of the 2012-13 NCAA season is how wide open the chase for a national title is. Don’t knock the Bulldogs for simply taking advantage of that.