Gonzaga's matchup against UConn in Seattle might be the biggest game of the season

The Zags built another brutal schedule, but it hasn’t helped them as much as normal.

Gonzaga's matchup against UConn in Seattle might be the biggest game of the season
Erick Doxey photo
Gonzaga's guards need to start making shots for them to have any chance to knock off UConn.

It may lack the “Battle in Seattle” moniker of Gonzaga’s 13-year annual tradition of west side games held from 2003 to 2015, but Friday’s matchup with the No. 5 Connecticut Huskies will certainly be a battle for the Zags.

The defending national champion Huskies sit at 9-1 on the season and are as formidable of a foe as the Zags will face this side of March. The game not only offers a test against a high-quality opponent, but it provides a chance to avenge the season-ending loss Gonzaga suffered when getting bulldozed in the Elite Eight by the Huskies in March.

More important than revenge for last season’s tournament, however, is what the showdown means for this season’s NCAA Tournament.

Gonzaga’s tournament resume is lackluster compared to recent seasons. The Zags are not in danger of missing the tournament altogether (they're still ranked No. 10, after all), but they are quickly running out of time to make a case that they deserve a top-4 seed (something they have done for six consecutive tournaments).

Friday’s game will be one of Gonzaga’s last two chances at notching a truly marquee win during the regular season.

As usual, the Zags built one of the stronger non-conference schedules in the sport this season. But despite playing in a Maui Invitational field that was arguably the strongest early-season tournament the sport has ever seen, the Zags don't have the signature wins like in most years. The wins over Syracuse and UCLA in Maui and USC in Vegas are nice, but the upcoming tilt against national runner-up San Diego State now seems less promising (with the Aztecs already dropping games to BYU and Grand Canyon). With the WCC looking down compared to recent years (Saint Mary's has been a borderline disaster), that only leaves UConn and a February trip to Kentucky as resume-building tilts.

Gonzaga’s record of 8-2 is nothing to scoff at, but against teams that fall in Quadrant 1 and 2 of the NCAA’s NET ranking system, the Zags are just 2-2 on the season and 0-2 in the ultra-important Quad 1.

Friday’s game against UConn will fall into Quadrant 1, as should remaining games against San Diego State, Kentucky, and San Francisco on the road. As for remaining Quad 2, there are just two: San Francisco at home and Saint Mary’s on the road.

This situation will change over the course of the season. The NET rankings update every day and as teams move around in the rankings their position in the quadrants can change as well. Where Gonzaga’s opponents land in those rankings only truly matters on Selection Sunday, but checking in on the NET throughout the season can provide an idea of where things may be heading.

For example, San Diego State was No. 29 in the NET as of Wednesday. If they drop just two spots, the Dec. 29 game in the Kennel moves from a potential Quad 1 game to a Quad 2 matchup. On the other hand, if Saint Mary’s can get its act together, the Feb. 3 game at the Kennel could move the other way, from Quad 3 up to Quad 2.

Based on how the NET stands today, Gonzaga’s best case scenario is a 5-2 record in Quad 1 games and a 5-0 record against Quad 2 teams. That would require winning every big game left on the schedule, and the West Coast Conference tournament playing out in the most advantageous way possible.

For comparison, the Zags were 6-4 and 5-0 in those two quads last season, 10-3 and 2-0 in 2022, and 8-0 and 6-0 in 2021.

This situation makes Friday’s game against UConn critical for the team’s NCAA Tournament seeding. Barring an inexplicable midseason collapse, the Huskies are a virtual lock to count as a Quad 1 team come Selection Sunday.

While the Zags can’t control what their competitors do in their other games or their statistical ranking ramifications, they can control how they play in their actual on court, head-to-head matchups.

The ball is in the Zags' court when they play UConn on Friday. A win would go a long way to the Zags' dream of playing NCAA Tournament games in Spokane come March.

UP NEXT

Men

Gonzaga vs. Connecticut (in Seattle) • Fri, Dec. 15 at 7 pm • ESPN2
Gonzaga vs. Jackson State • Wed, Dec. 20 at 6 pm • KHQ & ROOT

Women

Gonzaga vs. South Dakota State • Sun, Dec. 17 at 2 pm • SWX & ESPN+
Gonzaga vs. Arizona (in Phoenix) • Wed, Dec. 20 at 1:30 pm • Pac-12 Network

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