Viva Las ZAGas!

Just got back from Las Vegas, and boy are my legs tired.  You don’t realize it till you get there, but stuff isn’t all that close together on the strip.  Sure, you could take a bus, but if it’s less than a 20-minute walk, you’ll probably get there faster on aching foot.

Then again, my soreness of legs could be from all that jumping up and down at the WCC tournament.  There’s no doubt in my mind that Gonzaga solidified its number one ranking with a dominating performance, beating Loyola by 18 and Saint Mary’s by 14 in a couple games that weren’t as close as the final score indicated.  That first half against LMU was awfully gut-wrenching, though.  It’s probably just as well the Orleans Arena was a dry county (something tells me this is BYU’s fault), or they mighta run outta booze by halftime…

Things seemed alright at the opening tip, mind you.



Best thing about live college basketball?  While you’re watching commercials, we’re watching cheerleaders!



After a lacklustre first half by both teams, the guards came out firing in the second, with Kevin Pangos and Anthony Ireland going mano-a-mano and trading some big early buckets.  Thing is, Pangos had plenty of support from his teammates, while the other LMU players combined for just 29 points.  Thus, it’s not hard to guess the winners in this post-game handshake…


Orleans by night.  I took a wrong turn heading out of the arena, and ended up getting lost.  Note to self: Always exit through the casino…


Though I had a decent vantage point for the semis (I stuck around to see St. Mary’s squeak past USD in OT–a harbinger of things to come), I upgraded for the final to a spot behind the basket, about a dozen rows up, giving me a much better view of the warmups.


Note that Harris took the opening tip this time…


(I’m pretty sure he made this shot, too–nice box-out by Hart!)


I was also within shouting distance of the small but vocal Gaels cheering section.  Until their team was faced with an insurmountable deficit, that is. :P


Yes, Gonzaga has male cheerleaders.  These guys could still kick your ass, though…  (Especially if you go to Saint Mary’s!)



The Maries hit a buncha threes in garbage time, but all that did was delay the confetti.


More post-game celebration…



We’re number one!  We’re number one!


OK, so I took that one off the video board behind me.  This is what it looked like from my seat:


With the win, Gonzaga finishes 31-2, 18-0 in conference play as WCC regular-season and tournament champs.  Methinks that should be enough to retain their top ranking in both the AP and USA Today polls–and a top seed in the West Regional.  That said, I won’t be venturing out to see them in their first-round matchup…  I’m saving up for the Final Four. ;)


About these ads

Soooo, what’s there to do in Vegas besides drink, gamble and watch basketball?

It’s official: I’m going to Vegas next month for the West Coast Conference basketball tournament.  This being the best basketball team Gonzaga’s fielded in a long time (if not all-time), I wanted to take the opportunity to see them in person before Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk and Mike Hart all moved on with their lives.  Don’t get me wrong, if Olynyk gets picked by an Eastern Conference team, I’ll be attending at least two Raptors games next year (there’s little doubt in my mind he’ll forgo his senior season)–but I’d still like to see him give it one last college try.

Of course, the WCC tourney, held annually at the Orleans Arena (home of the Las Vegas Wranglers–yeehaw!), sells out well in advance, but I snagged seats on StubHub for the semis and the final for 100 and 125 apiece.  What’s nice about this tournament is the top two seeds get byes to the semis, so fans of Loyola, Portland and Pepperdine are probably putting their late-round tickets up for resale.  You’re not gonna get that for the Final Four!  And even when it comes to the WCC, don’t go looking for those prices anymore; you won’t find them.  Most remaining seats on the site are heavily marked up–but on the plus side, I did save a bundle on my hotel room!

That’s the great thing about Vegas; it’s rarely fully booked.  Even with some 9,500 West Coast Conference basketball fans in town for the weekend, they still have enough remaining rooms at the resorts that I’ll be spending just 28 dollars to rest my head after celebrating the start of a new Gonzaga conference title streak on Monday the 11th.  Mind you, that’s 100 bucks less than I’ll be spending to sleep in the same bed on Saturday.  While charging higher rates on weekends isn’t unheard of in the hotel business, it seems Saturday’s by far the biggest night in LV.  Even my Friday night room reservation is 55 dollars cheaper…

Alas, while I’ll be at the mid-sized O on Saturday and Monday evenings, my Sunday schedule is wide open at the moment.  Seeing as the WCC is a faith-based conference, there are no games scheduled for Sunday.  FWIW, I won’t be attending the prayer session at the Orleans Hotel, so that gives me some time to kill.  I kinda wanna see a show, either a magician or a hypnotist or maybe some dancing girls… but it seems these shindigs don’t start till 9:30 or 10 pm, even on a Sunday.  I’m starting to see why it’s the city that never sleeps!  On a side note, I’m somewhat saddened that I’m missing the Diceman by a matter of days.  His residency at the Hard Rock starts on the 14th.  Hickory Dickory Dock!

But even if I go to a Sunday night show, that still leaves me with some free time in the daytime.  What to do, what to do…  KISS mini golfPawn Stars tour?  Shotgun wedding–complete with shotguns?  Nah, forget it.  Looks like the Pawn Stars tour is sold out on Sundays.  Might hafta go shooting instead…

Incidentally, it appears that the gun range is within, erm, firing distance of UNLV.  Can’t see what could possibly go wrong there, nope.

Anyways, I’ll have you know that the resort I’m staying at offers bottomless beers for 20 bucks at the bar right next to the casino.  So I’m bound to do some drinking–and maybe a bit of gambling, too.  Preferably not in that order, though.  Know your limit, play within it–right, John Daly?

(That said, I could probably use some extra spending money on the Strip.  Just sayin’…)

Is this the greatest Gonzaga group ever? I think it might be time to see for myself…

I can remember the last time I advanced Gonzaga to the Final Four in my bracket, almost like it was yesterday.  The year was 2006, Adam Morrison was rocking the porn stache, and the 27-3 Zags were a three-seed in a region that featured Memphis and UCLA.  Led by Morrison, the nation’s leading scorer, the little school from Spokane dispatched Xavier and Indiana before meeting UCLA in the Sweet 16.  Oh man, do I remember where I was when I watched that game.  While I didn’t cry as hard as The Mustachioed One afterwards, let’s just say that whenever I’m flipping channels and I catch a glimpse of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on an NBA court, I unleash a string of French-language vulgarities.

Do I really need to mention that UCLA went all the way to the NCAA final that year?  Well, I just did.  But in 2013, Gonzaga is looking like at least a three-seed again, while the Bruins are… well okay, they’re 19-7.  But that only earned them eight votes in last week’s AP poll.  As for GU, we’re number five!

Better make that number five with a bullet.  The Zags successfully swept a tough San Francisco road swing, beating arch-rival St. Mary’s by 17 on Thursday and finally getting the monkey off their backs as this senior class (which includes Elias Harris, Mike Hart and NBA-bound redshirt junior Kelly “Big O” Olynyk) earned its first win at USF just a couple hours ago.  Meanwhile, Michigan–who was already two spots behind Gonzaga in the USA Today Coaches Poll–lost by 23 points on Tuesday (to a talented MSU team, mind you).  You would think that as one of two two-loss teams in the country, the Zags should be in the top three.  And on that note, Duke is actually losing to Maryland as I type this.  Whoa.

But ultimately, I’m not all that concerned with the rankings, even though there’s been talk this week of Gonzaga being number one (especially if they could’ve hung on to beat Butler).  What matters, ultimately, is the NCAA tournament.  And considering that there’s only one other school ranked in the top 15 that’s situated west of Kansas (Arizona at number nine), it seems only logical that Gonzaga would be the top seed in the West Regional should they close out the season without losing.  Their conference schedule posts one remaining tough test–at BYU on the 28th–but it’s not inconceivable that the Zags go into the WCC tourney with no more than three losses on their ledger, much like that 2006 team.  Should they come out of Las Vegas with another conference championship, then they ought to be facing a 16-seed in the second round of March Madness.  (Keeping in mind that the play-in games are considered the “first round” nowadays…)

Of course, Gonzaga’s best tournament results came as an underdog.  The closest they’ve come to the Final Four was in 1999, when they lost to eventual champs UConn in the Elite Eight despite entering the tournament as a 10 seed.  The Zags followed that with back-to-back Sweet 16s in 2000 and ’01, when they were seeded 10th and 12th, respectively.  But they wouldn’t make it to the second weekend as a favourite until 2006… and we all know how that ended. :(

That being said, I had always told myself that I wouldn’t travel to see the Zags in the tourney unless they made it back to the Sweet 16.  I even stayed home in Toronto when they played the first two rounds in Buffalo in 2010–and it was just as well, since they got crushed by the ‘Cuse in the second.  But since a top seed in the West bracket should keep them close to Spokane, and a loooong way from Eastern Canada, well, I think I’d like to take in this year’s conference tourney–if I can get tickets.  I’ve seen screaming deals on hotels in Vegas (as low as 35 bucks a night for nice rooms) and I’m pretty sure there are cheap flights, too.  Thing is, the WCC tourney tends to sell out well in advance.  I guess a lotta folks from Spokane hit the casinos that weekend.  But I think it’s time to go see what I can find on StubHub.  Who knows, I might need to check back there for fourth-round NCAA tourney tickets in oh, about a month or so. ;)


Selection Sunday… The Madness Starts Here!

There is no other sporting event quite like March Madness, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.  Thus, there is really no other day like Selection Sunday in the sporting world.  Well, I suppose that soccer has something similar when its World Cup draws are announced, but I’m talking about real sports, not tryin’ to be the best at exercising.  Sure, you sometimes see playoff races go down to the wire, a la MLB this past season, but Selection Sunday doesn’t simply decide the fate of two or three teams, it effectively determines how far you can go in the tourney based on your seeding and the bracket built around you.  If you won your conference tournament, you already know you’re in, whether you’re 15-18 Western Kentucky or 30-1 Murray State.  It’s just a matter of where you’ll play.  For example, it’s highly likely that the WKU Hilltoppers will need to win a play-in game to make the round of 64, whereas it will be interesting to see where the ninth-ranked Racers will be seeded after their romp through a not-so-fearsome Ohio Valley Conference this season.

Mind you, winning your conference tourney isn’t the only way to punch your ticket to the Big Dance.  Although Kentucky and North Carolina lost in their respective finals today, there’s no question they’ll be in the tournament–and both could very likely be number one seeds, although winning their conferences would’ve sealed the deal.  Ditto Duke and Syracuse, who lost in earlier rounds of their conference tourneys, but should still go deep in the NCAAs.  And while Gonzaga also came up short in the WCC final, there’s little doubt that they’ll be dancing, having hung around the edge of the Top 25 for most of the year by playing a strong non-conference schedule.  For the Zags, however, the goal will be to avoid facing one of those number one seeds, especially in the second round.

The Bracket Project’s Bracket Matrix currently has Gonzaga as an eight seed, with most respected bracketologists placing them as a 7 or an 8.  In this case, the difference between a seven- and an eight-seed is instrumental.  Not only does the eight-seed face a tougher opponent in the first round–in fact, the ninth seed has won the 8-9 matchup 54 per cent of the time–but they also get a second-round date with a number-one seed, generally one of the top-five teams in the country.  In 2010, the eighth-seeded Bulldogs got past FSU in the first round, only to be absolutely clobbered by Syracuse in the round of 32.  (In hindsight, I’m sure glad I didn’t make the trip down to Buffalo…)  In fact, since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams back in ’85, only 12 top seeds have lost in the second round.

Statistically speaking, a seventh seed gives a team a much better shot.  Not only have they won the 7-10 matchup 63 per cent of the time, but they’ve also had a 30 per cent success rate in the second round of the tournament–not too bad considering that they’re typically up against a two-seed.  Mind you, first-round success for a seven is far from guaranteed, and the Zags know this all too well.  In the 2008 tournament, Gonzaga had to travel all the way out to Raleigh, North Carolina as a seven to take on the 10th-seeded Davidson Wildcats from nearby Davidson, NC.  The Southern Conference squad boasting future NBA star Stephen Curry bested the Zags 82-76 en route to the Elite Eight.

As it stands, a seventh-seeded Gonzaga squad could potentially face a big-conference foe in ACC members Virgina, the Big East’s Virginia Tech, or even Ivy League champs Harvard, themselves a team that hung around the bottom of the Top 25 for most of the season.  Xavier, who the Bulldogs beat on New Year’s Eve, was also hovering around that 10-11 spot–although a loss in the A-10 championship game today will surely drop them down in the bracket, if not out of the tournament altogether.  On the other hand, an eighth-seeded squad likely faces a BCS school in Purdue (Big 10), Alabama (SEC) or Connecticut (Big East), though The Bracket Project also has the A-10’s Saint Louis Billikens, a team that lost to WCC fourth-place finishers Loyola Marymount, in that ninth spot.  It seems that a WCC-A10 first-round matchup could be Gonzaga’s best bet.

But even if they do beat the Billikens, the Musketeers, the Harvard Crimson or even a big-name program, the second round is going to be a tough test.  Potential second-round opponents include Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina, Kansas, Michigan State, Missouri, Ohio State and Duke.  Not a single softie in that bunch, although Kansas does have a history of choking in the tournament.  If there’s one team the Zags want to see there, other than the Jayhawks, it would have to be MSU.  The two teams played a tightly-contested game back on December 10th, albeit one in which Sparty prevailed 74-67 on Gonzaga’s home court.  Still, that early near-miss has to give the losers some confidence that they can compete with State–they just need to step it up come tourney time.

As far as I’m concerned, if GU plays like they did in their WCC semi-final win over BYU, they have the chance to pull off an upset and advance to the Sweet Sixteen.  If, however, they come out like they did against Saint Mary’s in the final, and fade down the stretch, I think they’re probably one-and-done in a close game against a respectable first-round opponent.  Here’s hoping we see more shades of 2003 (the Zags lost to one-seed Arizona in double OT, but very nearly pulled off the 9-1 upset) than 2008 in 2012.

As for BYU and St. Mary’s, the Gaels are pretty much in the same boat as Gonzaga, staring down a seven-seed, while the Cougs are very much on the bubble, a possible 11 or 12–if they even get in.  For what it’s worth, I’d love to see three WCC teams in the tourney, and would probably advance them all into the second round–but let’s wait till they announce the matchups before I even think about my bracket.

UPDATE 8:50 PM: Well, Gonzaga got a seven seed, avoiding the dreaded 8-1 matchup, but there are definitely shades of 2008 in their first-round opponent.  In order to advance to a tough second-round game against Big 10 co-champs Ohio State, the Zags must defeat the West Virginia Mountaineers in Pittsburgh, a mere 90-minute drive from WVU’s campus.  This is, for all intents and purposes, a home game for the lower-seeded team.  How does that work!?

Meanwhile, Saint Mary’s has Purdue in the first round and most likely Kansas in the second, should they beat the Boilermakers.  Hey, if there’s ever a two seed you wanna see, it’s Kansas, though I’m not quite ready to advance the Gaels into the Sweet 16.  BYU just barely punched their ticket, as they’ll face Iona in a play-in game for a chance to meet Marquette as a 14-seed.  The six on that side of the bracket is none other than Murray State.  Don’t look now, but BYU might have the best chance of any WCC team to make it to the Sweet 16.  They would hafta win an extra game to get there, however…

I’m gonna take a couple extra days to do my homework before making my picks, but I’m not sure that we’ll have three WCC teams in the second round after all.

Zags charge into the WCC tourney final tonite… Gaels are going down!

Man, I gotta say, that semi-final win by Gonzaga over BYU on Saturday nite was the best 40 minutes of basketball I’ve seen this team play all season.  They jumped out to an early lead and never let up, cruising to a 77-58 victory.  The Zags led by double digits for all but the first five minutes of the game, taking a 17-5 lead with 14:47 left in the first half and never looking back.  Kevin “Steve Nash Jr” Pangos stepped it up in the biggest game of his young college career, pouring in 30 points in 33 minutes on 10-for-17 shooting, including 5-of-9 beyond the arc.  (I still can’t buy his fuckin’ jersey, though!)  Let’s just say that if the Zags keep playing like they did on Saturday, they should go deep in the NCAA tournament.

But first, there’s still some business to take care of.  The win over BYU has put Gonzaga back into the AP Top 25, all but assuring them a spot in this year’s dance.  But they can clinch that position, and likely improve their seeding, by winning the conference tournament tonite.  As I expected, they’ll be facing the arch-rival Saint Mary’s Gaels, who ended Gonzaga’s streak of 11 straight regular-season WCC titles this season.  The Zags and Gaels have met in the last three WCC tournament finals–five of the last eight, for that matter–and none of them have been close.  Gonzaga beat St. Mary’s by 12 points last year, 13  in ’04 and ’05, and a whopping 25 points in ’09, while St. Mary’s won the 2010 conference title game by 19 points.  Likewise, neither of this year’s two regular-season meetings were highly contested, with the Gaels winning by 21 in Moraga and the Zags winning by 14 in Spokane.  Of course, this game will be played on a neutral site at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas…

So who wins?  I say it’s gotta be Gonzaga.  The Zags simply annihilated the third-best team in the conference, while St. Mary’s struggled with fifth-seeded San Francisco, eking out a five-point win.  With a solid performance tonite, Kevin Pangos should become the second Canadian–and second freshman–to win WCC tournament MVP, after a kid from Santa Clara named Nash did it in his freshman year back in 1993.  Nash had 23 points in that year’s final and hit 10 of his 13 three-pointers in the tournament.  If Pangos goes 5-for-5 from beyond the arc tonite, he’ll be 10-for-14.  Hey, no pressure, son!  Still, even a 15-point performance would put him well above Nash’s ’93 WCC tourney average of 17 ppg.  Did I mention that Steve only scored eight points a game as a freshman?  Pangos has him lapped at 14–though it must be said that Captain Canada posted some impressive numbers in his final three seasons…

Of course, the tournament MVP usually goes to the best player from the winning team.  But like I said, I think the Zags will take this one–by a lucky 13 in honour of Canada’s finest.  Gonzaga 76, Saint Mary’s 63.


UPDATE 8:33 PM: Of course, this post couldn’t be complete without another amazing illustration from the GU Board:

(I think I’ll stick with my 13-point prediction, though.)

UPDATE 11:30 PM: This just in: Kevin Pangos is not Steve Nash.  A great game by both teams that went into overtime, but the freshman point guard was ice cold.  Upperclassmen big men Elias Harris and Rob Sacre carried the Zags tonite, with Sam Dower chipping in a few big buckets.  Sucks to lose in OT, but at least this time we know both teams will be in the NCAA tournament.  I think both schools will make some noise at the Big Dance, too.  Maybe a Sweet Sixteen rematch?  Stranger things have happened… ;)

March Madness comes a couple weeks early as the Zags and Cougs do battle in the WCC tournament!

Whoa, what a season.  I gotta say, I’ve been cheering for Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament for quite some time, and I used to watch some of their regular-season games on TV when I lived out in Calgary, but this is the first year where I’ve caught just about every one of their games, thanks to a coupla internet streamers and the occasional broadcast on The Score.  Of course, this is also the first time since the turn of the century that the Zags didn’t win the West Coast Conference, finishing a game back of arch-rival Saint Mary’s.  Which means a number two seed in the WCC tourney.  At least they still get a bye to the semi-finals…

Though I didn’t catch the quarterfinals last nite, I see there were two close games, with the pesky USF Dons upsetting LMU and the BYU Fightin’ Mormons getting all they could handle from San Diego.  Being that Gonzaga is the two seed this year, this means they gotta face BYU again.  As I recall, the last game between these two teams was an ugly affair, the Zags hanging on to win by nine despite 20 turnovers and only 16 made baskets.  Were it not for Gonzaga hitting 36 free throws (vs nine for BYU), they probably don’t walk away with a win.  Did I mention that the Mormons were without their leading scorer?

Senior forward Noah Hartsock, who hurt his knee in the previous contest, played only seven minutes for BYU and didn’t shoot the ball.  As a team, the Cougars shot less than 31 per cent.  And of course, the game was at Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center.  There’ll be a lot more Mormons in the crowd tonite, methinks…

The winner of this one will likely face Saint Mary’s on Monday, unless USF does what it couldn’t do on its own Senior Night and pulls off an upset.  But it would be a mistake for either team to look past tonight’s engagement.  They’ll both need to bring their A games to win it–not the C- games they brought on Feb 23rd.  I’m struggling to make a prediction here, so let’s just say this one could go either way–but I know who I’m cheering for, in any case.


Forget about winning the WCC–Gonzaga has to beat BYU tonite to avoid third place!

A couple weeks ago, when I was speculating on Gonzaga’s chances to keep the streak alive, I noted that the Zags had a much tougher remaining schedule than rival Saint Mary’s.  And while the Gaels did ‘em a favour by losing to LMU, the favour was returned on Saturday when Gonzaga dropped a tight game in the dying seconds, 66-65 at San Francisco.  Man, that one felt like a punch to the gut.  After the refs called more charges than I’ve ever seen in 39 minutes, they put the whistle away for the last three plays, which ended up costing Gonzaga the game.  Not that the Zags really played well enough to win, but Elias Harris was definitely hacked on that drive to the basket, and the game-winning shot by Rashad Green only went in after he bumped Kevin Pangos.  Had that play happened two minutes earlier, it woulda been an offensive foul.  Just sayin’…

That being said, the loss effectively halted Gonzaga’s WCC championship streak at 11, the second-longest in college basketball history, albeit two shy of the 1970’s UCLA Bruins.  Saint Mary’s would hafta lose to either Portland or those same USF Dons to give Gonzaga another shot–and the Zags still have some work to do.  In fact, if they lose to BYU tonite, they would drop to third place in the conference, something that hasn’t happened since they made that first run to the Elite Eight so many years ago (1999 to be exact).

The addition of BYU has added some spice to the West Coast Conference, and although they dropped two games to Saint Mary’s and lost a shocker to LMU at home, they’ve still got an outside shot at the Dance.  Beating Gonzaga would certainly help, but they’ll hafta win the conference tournament next weekend to punch their ticket.  And since the top two teams both receive byes to the WCC tourney semi-finals, sealing up second place is crucial for both squads in tonite’s game (tip-off 11 pm Eastern on ESPN2–The Score’s showing another craptacular Pac-12 matchup, so I’ll hafta watch this one online).  Keep in mind that the Fightin’ Mormons beat the Zags by 10 in Utah back on Feb 2, and that one wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.  I actually turned off the TV with about eight minutes to go–hey, it was another 11 o’clock start on the East Coast…

If there’s one great equalizer in college basketball though, it’s the home-court advantage.  Gonzaga’s worst loss of the season came by a 21-point margin at Saint Mary’s, but they avenged it about a month later with a 14-point win at The Kennel.  You also don’t wanna face a good team coming off a bad loss, either.  When the Zags went to Provo, BYU had dropped back-to-back home games to SMC and LMU.  They came out all guns blazin’–as I expect the Zags to do tonite.  I usually save my predictions for hockey, but I’m going to call this one a five-point win for Gonzaga.  Final score?  78-73.  Should be a good one…


UPDATE 8:55 PM: Just logged on to the Gonzaga men’s basketball forum, where this one guy made almost the exact same prediction as I did–only he illustrated his with MS Paint.  Funny shit.

In light of this, I feel the need to award an extra point to Gonzaga.  79-73 Zags.

UPDATE 2/26: It’s official: the streak is over.  Although Gonzaga pulled off victories against BYU and San Diego, St. Mary’s beat Portland with ease and hung on against their cross-bay rivals to win their first outright WCC championship since 1989.  The game at SFU went down to the wire again, the difference being that this time the Dons didn’t make their shots down the stretch, missing some key free throws and a late three pointer, allowing Saint Mary’s to hang on for the win.  Hey, I guess having the second-longest conference title streak in college basketball is nothing to sneeze at…