Thursday, February 20, 2014

Zag Watch: Down the stretch edition

Posted By on Thu, Feb 20, 2014 at 4:07 PM

click to enlarge Zag Watch: Down the stretch edition
Young Kwak photo
Mark Few and the Zags look to wrap up the WCC regular season title tonight at BYU.

Zag Watch has been on hiatus for a bit, and for that, we extend sincere apologies. But Zag Watch was on Seahawk Watch for a good stretch and has been celebrating the Super Bowl championship ever since. Then we got into reruns of Bay Watch and things really got off the rails. But we're back, just in time for the Zags to head down the stretch of their WCC regular season.

Tonight, Gonzaga heads into the Marriott Center, a cavernous dome in the middle of Provo, Utah, where 21,000 people hopped up on caffeine-free Diet Coke will dress in matching shirts and scream wholeheartedly in the hopes that doing so will force the Zags to lose. Yup, the Zags are heading back to BYU, their first trip to Provo since that slugfest a year ago that ultimately ended with Gonzaga locking up a No. 1 national ranking.

Now, I'm not a betting man, but it was tough not to notice that the shadowy figures who decide the betting line on college basketball games have BYU as a three point favorite tonight. Sure, the Cougars are at home, where they've won all their games except for a squeaker to then 21-ranked Iowa State back in November, but the Zags already soundly defeated BYU last month in the Kennel thanks to some hot shooting from Kevin Pangos (and everyone else that night). And, there's the little detail that BYU has has some oddly bad losses this season, including a shellacking at the hands of Loyola Marymount (the last-place team in the WCC).

I'm not saying that Few's boys are going to run away with this by any means — a squad that shoots like BYU (see more on their guard Tyler Haws below) and is capable of a break-neck pace can get after you in a hurry — it just seems odd to be thinking of them as underdogs going into this. But perhaps the oddsmakers were figuring that BYU will come out on fire, considering that if they don't win this, they will miss out on an NCAA tournament bid for the second consecutive year.

One thing the Zags will have on their side is the game time. It's set for an 8 pm tipoff (ESPN2) which is 9 pm in the Mountain Time Zone. The late start might make for a smaller crowd...and maybe some sleepy Cougars.

Tonight, Gonzaga has a chance to secure its second straight outright WCC regular season conference championship. They are guaranteed at least a share of the title already, thanks to BYU, St. Mary's and San Francisco (all with five losses) sitting in what's essentially a three-way tie for second place. But the Zags would have to lose all of their remaining games for there to be a sharing scenario.

No, you're probably not a BYU fan, but if you don't get at least a moderate kick out of watching the Cougars' Tyler Haws play, you need basketball fan lessons. He is as deadly an offense weapon as exists in the college game today, complete with the ability to, like he did in a 3OT loss to Portland, drop in 48 points if you let him. Haws is currently the nation's fourth leading scorer with 24.1 points per game. Look for Gonzaga's defensive ace Gary Bell Jr. to spend a lot of time guarding Haws tonight.

Remember a few months ago when this very blog was worrying that Sam Dower's injury was going to hurt the Zags' season? Yeah, that hasn't happened. Sammy Jr. has come back in a mean way over the last few weeks, including a dominant 25 point, 15 rebound game against LMU last Saturday in front of his folks (and former roommate Kelly Olynyk), who flew into town for Senior Day. It's nice to see the big guy finishing his college career strong.

It's a little bit early to start guessing where the Zags might end up come Selection Sunday, but things would have to be bad in a sort of Roland Emmerich disaster movie sort of way for Gonzaga not to make the dance, so it's OK to speculate a bit. Last year, the Zags got some love from the selection committee with a number one seed (which was hard not to give them considering their top spot in the polls at the time). This year, don't expect anything near that high. Right now, ESPN's Joe Lunardi has them as an eight seed.

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Mike Bookey

Mike Bookey was the Inlander's culture editor from 2012-2016. He previously held the same position at The Source Weekly in Bend, Oregon.