The Gonzaga bench reacts after the Bulldogs' win over Portland. (Jed Conklin / Associated…)
These Bulldogs are no longer underdogs. Gonzaga University’s basketball team on Monday rose to No. 1 for the first time in school history.
Gonzaga topped the weekly USA Today coaches’ poll, earning 29 first-place votes.
Indiana is second, followed by Kansas, Duke and Georgetown. Rounding out the top 10 are Louisville at No. 6 followed by Miami, Michigan, Florida and Kansas State.
UCLA, despite defeating Arizona for a second time, still can’t crack the coaches’ top 25. The Bruins rank second this week among “others receiving votes,” right behind Middle Tennessee.
Monday was a big day for Gonzaga, although it must be noted college basketball polls are purely ceremonial, a mechanism to hold the public’s regular-season interest. The more important question is whether Gonzaga can secure one of four top seedings in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
That decision will be up to the NCAA selection committee, which takes computer rankings and strength of schedule into consideration.
Gonzaga is 29-2 overall and just completed a 16-0 regular season in the West Coast Conference. The Zags’ two defeats were quality losses to Butler and Illinois, yet the WCC is ranked only No. 10 among college basketball leagues.
Gonzaga has played only the nation’s 60th strongest schedule. The NCAA selection committee likes to reward mid-major schools that have tried to schedule tough out-of-conference opponents. Gonzaga has certainly done that, defeating five Big 12 schools and losing to two NCAA-tournament-bound teams in Butler and Illinois.
The only other WCC team ranked in the RPI top 50 is No. 41 St. Mary’s. Gonzaga has earned a bye into the WCC Tournament semifinals this weekend in Las Vegas with the strong chance it will face St. Mary’s again in the finals for the automatic NCAA bid.
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