Zags are back, baby!

Remember how a coupla weeks back, I said I’d never been more excited for an NBA basketball season?  Well hey, the Raps are 9-2, tops in the East…aaaaaaand they even beat the league-leading Grizzlies last night.  But I gotta say, halfway through the first full week of college hoops, I’m even more excited for NCAA basketball right now.  In fact, I’ve never been this excited about my Gonzaga Bulldogs since, well, March of last year, when they finished the regular season atop the AP polls.  And yes, I even bought the t-shirt–more than one!

No need to talk about that year’s tourney; let’s just say I hate Wichita State more than Adam Morrison hates UCLA, and leave it at that.  But hey, this season’s Zags could be even better than either the Morrison or Kelly Olynyk-led squads–hell, none other than ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, the Nate Silver of seeding teams, has them in his preseason Final Four.  Perhaps the fact that they utterly annihilated his alma matter last night had something to do with it?

Granted, it was a late tip on the East Coast, but I went to bed with Gonzaga leading St. Joe’s 48-10 at the half.  And the Hawks (no, not Seattle) wouldn’t even get 48 points the entire game, as the Zags handed them the worst loss in the entire history of their basketball program, 94-42.  Mind you, that St. Joe’s team lost a lotta key players since last year’s tournament appearance…but said soul-destroying defeat came just two days after GU dispatched 22-ranked SMU with relative ease, holding the top-25 school to just 56 points in the process.  Hell, the team that’s put up the highest score against Gonzaga so far was lowly Sacramento State.  They lost 104-58, BTW.

But we’re not just doing it on defence.  This team scores mad buckets, with the kind of post presence not seen since the Harris/Olynyk/Dower days.  Przemek “Polish Shaq” Karnowski, a 7’1″ freshman on that top-ranked team, has started to come into his own in his junior year–but so far, he’s been outshone by a current frosh, Lithuania’s Domantas “Son of” Sabonis.  (Perhaps you’ve heard of his dad?)  Add in the inside/outside threat of 6’10” Kyle Wiltjer, who transferred from Kentucky to Gonzaga to become the next Olynyk, and you’ve got a three-headed monster that would eat Duncan, Robinson and Will Perdue for breakfast!  (OK fine, probably just Will Perdue.)

And that’s not to overlook the backcourt, anchored by four-year starters Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin “Captain Canada” Pangos.  Andrew Wiggins gets all the hype, but if you’re looking for the next Steve Nash, look no farther than Pangos.  The kid has lit it up since Day One, dropping 33 points and nine threes in just his second college game.  He’s also had a spot on the Cousy Award watch list his entire career, and now that he’s fully healthy, Pangos might actually win the thing–provided that Gonzaga goes deep in the tourney.

Hey, I know I went to Vegas to see the 2012-13 team, but this season, I’ve got Seattle on my mind.  No, I’m not talking about that game against Cal Poly…but rather the second/third rounds of the NCAAs, where the Zags should have the home-state court advantage, as long as they secure a top-four seed.  Right now, that doesn’t look to be an issue, but there’s still lotsa games left to play.  Personally, I’m practically shittin’ mah britches for their Dec. 6 tilt against second-ranked Arizona–a possible Final Four preview, perhaps?

Don’t even ask me what I’m doing the Saturday after next, cuz I’ll be watching college basketball!

(OK, so I might only need one screen that time…)

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For Gonzaga, the road to the WCC championship has a great big bump in it…

In NCAA basketball, it generally doesn’t matter if you win your conference cuz it’s all about the Big Dance.  Y’know, March Madness, the NCAA Tournament–arguably the most exciting event in organized team sports.  But when you’ve won 11 conference titles in a row, and are trying to tie a record set by John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins (winners of 13 straight in the Pac 8), winning the conference does matter.  They’ll likely make the Tourney regardless, but the Gonzaga Bulldogs and their fans (myself included) certainly want to keep this streak alive.

If they get there, it’ll be due in large part to the performance they put in on Thursday, beating the 16th ranked Saint Mary’s Gaels behind a big performance by Canadian point guard Kevin Pangos, who poured in 27 points, hitting five of six three-pointers in the process.  (I still can’t buy his jersey online, though!)  Vancouverite centre Rob Sacre added 12 points and nine boards in a game that should’ve been shown on The Score instead of an ugly Pac-12 blowout that, last time I checked, didn’t showcase the future of Canadian basketball.  But I digress.  Having lost to Saint Mary’s and WCC newcomers BYU on the road, the Zags still need to win one more conference game than the first-place Gaels for a share of the conference title.

This won’t be easy, as Gonzaga definitely has the tougher schedule, with games remaining against the next best WCC teams in Loyola Marymount (tonite at 8 Eastern) and BYU, while St. Mary’s plays LMU at home, but has already dispatched the Cougars twice.  Both teams also travel to San Francisco (not much of a trip for the Moraga, CA-based Gaels), who’ve been known to pull off an upset or two on their home court.  The Gaels also have a big game remaining in Murray, Kentucky against the no-longer-undefeated Murray State Racers that has no bearing on their conference, but should certainly affect their NCAA tournament seeding.  Unlike last year, when a late-season loss to San Diego and a conference tournament setback against the Zags sent St. Mary’s to the NIT, it’s safe to assume that both these schools will be going to the Big Dance–barring an epic collapse by either over the next five games.  And regardless of what happens in the Bluegrass State, the Gaels just have to win out in the WCC to end Gonzaga’s streak.  Furthermore, they (just barely) got San Diego out of the way last weekend, which can only serve as a good omen.

Assuming that each team takes care of the 0-11 (8-16 overall) Santa Clara Broncos and wins heavily-favoured road games in San Diego (Zags) and Portland (Gaels) respectively, it’s going to come down to two common opponents: Home to LMU and @ San Fran.  Of course, Gonzaga has the added onus of avenging an 83-73 loss to BYU as well, but if the Zags match the intensity they played with on Thursday, I think the Cougars will find they’re not the only team that’s virtually unbeatable on their home court.

Likewise, the Zags should still be hyped up from the win two nights ago as they host the 9-3 (16-9) LMU Lions tonite.  It’s definitely worth noting that LMU is 6-0 on the road in conference play, including an upset win @ BYU, and that they took Gonzaga down to the wire in L.A. about a month ago.  If Coach Few’s smart (and he clearly is), he’s not going to let off the gas pedal, knowing this game is just as big as the last one.  On the other hand, the Gaels host LMU three days before they take that much talked-about trip to Kentucky.  It might be easier for them to overlook the third-placed team in the conference…

On the other hand, Saint Mary’s travels across the Golden Gate Bridge on February 25th, when the conference will be all but decided–unless they lose to the Lions.  Looks like the Zags have their work cut out for them these next two weekends, and they’re gonna need a little help as well.  In a conference comprised of faith-based institutions, would it be wrong to ask for a little divine intervention–say tonite in Moraga, where the SCU Broncos are still in search of their first conference win?  Santa Clara, what was she the patron saint of, again? ;)

No matter what happens, I’ll still be rocking my outdated number 23 jersey from here till March Madness…


UPDATE 10:55 PM: Gonzaga gets the job done, jumping out all over LMU early and never letting up.  Final score: 78-59 Zags.  Saint Mary’s and Santa Clara tip off at 11, but I’m not getting my hopes up…

UPDATE 1:05 AM: And Saint Mary’s wins by 15.  We’re not gonna catch ‘em this week!

UPDATE 2/16: Dunno how I missed this last nite, but LMU came through, beating Saint Mary’s 75-60 in their own gym.  Now the ball’s in Gonzaga’s court.  If they win out, they keep the streak alive!  Go Zags!

UPDATE 2/18: Heartbreaking one-point loss for Gonzaga on the road @ USF.  Forget about the WCC title, they need to beat BYU on Thursday to avoid falling to third place! :( :( :(

He’s his team’s leading scorer, one of the top freshman on the west coast, and quite possibly the best Canadian PG since Steve Nash–but you can’t buy Kevin Pangos’ jersey online!

It’s a big game for the Bulldogs tonite, as Gonzaga travels to Moraga, CA to take on heated conference rivals Saint Mary’s in WCC action.  The Gaels are off to another great start, posting a 15-2 mark with a 4-0 record in conference play.  And while newcomers BYU should have a say in the conference standings, it’ll probably come down to Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s again this year, which makes this evening’s matchup one to watch–even with an 11 o’clock tip on the east coast, you know I’ll be tuning in!

For the occasion, I’m suiting up in my Gonzaga #23 jersey that I bought online five or six years ago.  Suffice to say that they’ve changed styles a couple times since then, and nobody wears 23 on this year’s team–mind you, I can’t even remember who wore it back then.  I figure it might be time to change my look; some of the stitching is coming apart, and everything…  So when I buy a new jersey, I know whose number I’ll be wearing for at least the next four years…

“Starting at point guard, six-foot-one, from Newmarket, Ontario…  Kevin Paaaaangoooos!”

The Canuck frosh has taken the NCAA by storm, leading his team with 14.2 points and 3.5 assists per game this season.  That said, I was somewhat shocked not to see his number 4 amongst the options at the Gonzaga Bulldogs Shop.  There are a handful of the new-style jerseys with “Go Zags” embedded on the back available in home white, road navy and even black, but taking a look at the numbers, I see:

  • 00, Robert Sacre: A solid senior centre from Van City.  The time to buy his jersey was two years ago, though–unless I wait till next year, when they go on sale.
  • 20, Elias Harris: The team’s second-leading scorer, the junior, German-born swingman is also Gonzaga’s best pro prospect.  I’d probably buy his jersey if it had his name on the back (the Zags don’t do it as per school tradition, however).
  • 35, Sam Dower: The lefty sophomore centre from Minnesota earns a lotta minutes off the bench already, and will fill Sacre’s shoes in the starting lineup next season.  I like Sam, just not that much.
  • 11, David Stockton: Yuuup, he’s the son of the school’s most famous alum.  The sophomore backup PG has great court vision, racking up assists and steals in limited minutes–and shoots an outstanding 48.4 per cent from three.  Too bad he’s only 5’11”, 152.  Do they even sell this one any bigger than a medium?
  • 2, Marquise Carter: Though he came up big in the conference tournament last year, the senior 2-guard has struggled this season, and lost his starting job to freshman Gary Bell, Jr.  Incidentally, you can’t buy Bell’s number 5, either…
  • 41, former Zag Steven Gray: Last year’s senior leader went undrafted, and apparently he’s now playing in Latvia.  That said, his jersey still sells for the same price as the others.  Hmm.
  • 1, NOOOBOOODY!: Ronny Turiaf famously wore this number in his college days–but then again, he graduated in ’05, before they switched to their current look.  You can’t rock a Turiaf jersey if it’s not a throwback, son!

So there you have it, seven numbers to choose from, but their starting backcourt is left out in the cold–as is starting 3-man Mike Hart, but let’s face it, only his mom would wear his number 30.  (Well okay, maybe his dad, too.)  I suppose I’ll hafta wait till next season to update my wardrobe–though I’m somewhat surprised that they didn’t start selling Pangos jerseys the day after he dropped 33 on WSU.  You’d think they’d have ‘em in Spokane somewhere, at least…

Can anybody hook a brother up?