Another journey has lasted 37 games.
Gonzaga started the year 29-0, with wins over power-conference teams in Florida, Arizona and Iowa St. and two over their only worthy conference adversary – a St. Mary’s team that spent much of the year inside the top 25. Then, in the season finale, Gonzaga suffered a loss to a mediocre BYU team, ending the run at perfection. Being the final undefeated team in the country, as the Zags were, isn’t as much of a predictor of future results as you might think. Only three times since 1979 has the last undefeated team won it all. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing to lose?
There was another question: Was Gonzaga too good to win the national title? Since Dec. 4, the Bulldogs had won every game by double-digits, with the exception of a nine-point WCC semifinal win over Santa Clara. How close was that one? The Zags’ win probability never dipped below 95%. There were wins by 29, 30, 35, 37, 47 and 58. Even the wins against the big boys weren’t much of a game in the final 10 minutes. Could all that domination hurt? Teams need to be battle-tested come March. Winning 96-38 might help prepare for a No. 1 vs. No. 16 game, but what does it mean in a regional final? Could Gonzaga close out a game if needed? The only time they had to battle late was against BYU and the Cougars worked them over in the final two minutes – not exactly a good sign for a team unsure of its ability to win games late.
How would the Zags react when, as was inevitable, they were set in one of those classic NCAA tournament games that comes down to a couple free throws, a few inches on a rebound, keeping the handle on a near-turnover and keeping your head about you. Even the greatest athletes have moments of panic, so imagine what a group of 20-year-olds without much close-game experience trying to erase two decades of tournament disappointment would feel when things got tight?