March is here. Can the Zags' magic survive the madness?

click to enlarge YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo

It’s March, the most wonderful time of the year. A month made even better when the year to date has been nothing short of wonderful, too.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs head into the postseason with a sparkling 29-2 record and a nice big No. 1 ranking next to their name. Barring any madness, for which the month is known, the Zags will earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their path to the Final Four, and beyond, is as clear as ever and this team is built for the journey perhaps better than any of its predecessors.

But, March is fickle. Madness is an inevitability. Gonzaga could play eight more games before season’s end. Or they could play just two. Even though the former is far more likely than the latter, the following should be noted: The highs and lows of the final month shouldn’t overshadow the season as a whole. Especially a season like the one we’ve just watched.

Gonzaga has been a nationally relevant college basketball program for two decades. But sometime in the early 2010s, the Zags became a bonafide powerhouse. It was late in the 2013 season when Kelly Olynyk’s flowing locks led Gonzaga to the top spot in the AP Poll for the first time in program history. They’ve now spent 11 weeks in that position over the course of three separate seasons, four weeks of which have come this season alone.

This decade, only Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Villanova have spent more time ranked No. 1 in the country than Gonzaga. This season, only Duke has spent more time in that spot. And, Gonzaga beat Duke when the Blue Devils were ranked No. 1.

You can’t play the top team in the country every night. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be just as impressive, regardless of the opponent.

Gonzaga wrapped up an undefeated conference season on Saturday with a 69-55 win against arch-rival Saint Mary’s. In conference play, the Zags won their 16 games by an average of 27 points. That’s the largest average margin of victory in West Coast Conference history. The previous best, 26.2 points, was set by Gonzaga just two seasons ago.

The Zags’ winning-ways go back to before the start of conference play, though. They’ve won 20 consecutive games, all by double-figures, which is the longest winning streak in the country. The Zags’ dominance this season has reached historical levels.

Ken Pomeroy, a stat guru who runs, has been tracking college basketball since the 2001-02 season. According to his numbers, Gonzaga’s offensive efficiency rating this season is 125.1 — that is, essentially, the average number of points the team scores over 100 possessions. Since he started tracking the sport, no team has posted a rating that high and only five others have finished a season above 120.0.

Offensive rating data for teams that played in seasons before Pomeroy’s archive ranges from incomplete to nonexistent. So, it’s impossible to make an “all-time” claim about Gonzaga’s offense in that regard. But, over the nearly two decades he’s been tracking the data, efficiency numbers for the top teams have trended upwards. Meaning, you probably won’t be wrong if you wanted to make an all-time claim about it anyway.

Gonzaga’s had an absolutely magical season. A season we should never forget. But, now it’s time to see if that magic can survive the madness that comes as the calendar turns to the month of March.

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