March Madness 2019: It keeps getting sweeter for Gonzaga’s big-time program

first_imgThe record seems safe for now — and perhaps forever — because the record is nine consecutive Sweet 16s and Gonzaga has only just passed the halfway point.But yes, that is five consecutive Sweet 16 appearances for the Zags, a streak that no one else in college basketball can match currently, that has only been matched twice in the 35 years of the expanded bracket era, by Kentucky and Kansas. It’s only been exceeded three times, with North Carolina and Duke both enjoying nine-year runs and Duke also producing one of eight seasons. Look at those names! Is everyone catching onto the fact Gonzaga is doing something extraordinary here? And not just extraordinary for Gonzaga, but something that would be amazing for every program in Division I, from the blue bloods on down.SN’s MARCH MADNESS HQLive NCAA bracket | Live scoreboard | Full TV schedule​“It’s awesome to make our fifth straight Sweet 16. We do not take that for granted at all,” coach Mark Few told reporters following the Zags’ 83-71 victory over Baylor in the West Region second round at Salt Lake City. “That is an amazing accomplishment, that the players in this program have been able to execute and come through in the most pressure moments.”It has been 20 years since Gonzaga, led by guards Matt Santangelo and Richie Frahm and forward Casey Calvary, stormed into the NCAA West Region final with victories over Minnesota, Stanford and Florida and nearly upset the eventual 1999 champions from Connecticut. Those three players made such an impression their names roll off the tip of the tongue even two decades later.Coach Dan Monson left for Minnesota after that season, and Few took over with a different idea in mind. Rather than win the West Coast Conference a few times and take a big-time job when it was offered, he decided he’d bring big-time basketball to Gonzaga. It seemed incongruous, but it has worked.Gonzaga has reached 21 consecutive tournaments, the fifth-longest streak of all time and the fourth-longest still active. Only Kansas, Duke and Michigan State have longer runs. They have taken advantage of the fact there are far fewer elite programs in the West and given that part of the country one more — one that doesn’t belong to the Pac-12.So why do they still get hate? Why do so many college basketball fans pretend this all is some gift presented to the Zags because they are members of a mid-major conference?They reached those Sweet 16s as No. 2 seed, an 11-seed, a 1-seed, a 4-seed and this time, again, as the top seed in the West.Many consider their glossy records to be merely a product of competing in the WCC, but during those five years they have compiled a 35-12 record — a .745 winning percentage — against high-major competition.MORE: Don’t equate Zags’ success with WCC company it keepsSome of those occurred in NCAA games, but a lot were during November and December, when Few had to front-load the schedule to have to earn the sort of quality wins that can result in at-large selection, if necessary, and comfortable seeds in the field.He has built a program that talented players want to join, whether it’s wing Zach Norvell of Chicago, guard Josh Perkins of Colorado and transfer Brandon Clarke from San Jose State, or one of the many international recruits, such as Killian Tillie from France and Rui Hachimura from Japan. “I am really blessed to have the chance to come here and play for the Zags,” Clarke said. “Obviously it was tough last year, not playing. But it was something that was huge for me. It is something I wouldn’t change.”Clarke scored 36 points and blocked five shots, and that also put Gonzaga into the company of genuine greatness. Only two players ever in the NCAA Tournament produced at least 35 points and five blocks in a game: Navy’s David Robinson and LSU’s Shaquille O’Neal.It is heady company, everywhere the Zags look.last_img

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