Leon Rice, the 12-year GU assistant, coaches Boise State, which fell victim to No. 10 Nevada, 72-71, on a three-point shot by Cody Martin with 4.5 seconds left – Martin’s first made trey in exactly a month.
Why, you ask, would Zag followers care especially about Nevada’s fortunes?
The answer lies several weeks down the road – possibly – when the NCAA basketball committee convenes to deal out seeds and sites on Selection Sunday.
Today, by consensus, the Zags (16-2) project to be a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Obviously, that’s subject to change. I feel safe in saying that were Gonzaga to run the table and win the WCC tournament, it would find itself in a spirited discussion for a No. 1 seed – dependent partly on future losses by projected No. 1s.
Nevada, 17-1 after the Boise State victory, is generally seen as a No. 3 seed today. That, too, could change, and it would get interesting if Gonzaga stays at No. 2 and Nevada bobs up one line to a No. 2. Or if both become No. 3 seeds. (If one is a 2 seed and one a 3, each can be placed in the West.)
Thanks to the Pac-12 and its de-emphasis on basketball – we kid – Gonzaga and Nevada are the sole contenders for the honor of best-seeded team in the West in 2019. As such, if they happen to be on the same seed line in March, the one the committee judges superior will get to stay in the West, while the other goes elsewhere. Anaheim is hosting the West regional, and Kansas City, Louisville and Washington, D.C., the others.
My belief is, this is a bigger deal for fans than it is teams. Regionals are in large, professional-style arenas in which partisanship is divided. Sure, some teams will be more popular than others, but the backing is nothing like a college venue. Still, for most Gonzaga fans, Anaheim (March 28 and 30) would be a preference, in terms of proximity, access and weather, if their team gets to the Sweet 16.
(The western sub-regional sites, by the way, are Salt Lake City and San Jose.)
How do the two teams stack up against each other today? I was a little surprised to see the Zags with a fairly decisive edge in the NCAA’s new NET metric – No. 6 at mid-week, as opposed to Nevada’s No. 23. The Wolfpack can boast that it has a better road record (5-1 to GU’s 2-1) as well as neutral (4-0, to GU’s 3-1).
But the reason becomes more apparent in their records in the NCAA’s Quadrant 1 reckoning – or combined record against the top 30 at home; top 50 on neutral sites; and top 75 on the road. There’s a lot more meat on the bones of Gonzaga’s schedule, as the Zags are 4-2 in that combination, while Nevada is just 1-0.
In a close head-to-head comparison, the Zags would be able to argue that they operated through most of their non-league schedule without Killian Tillie and Geno Crandall, and if they were to piece together a dominating run through the WCC, that contrast would only become more pronounced.
And regardless of what happens, they’ll hold the big hammer of a victory over a healthy Duke team. Meanwhile, the New Mexico squad that throttled Nevada recently has a NET ranking of only 188.
It’s worth wondering just how much weight the NET will be given by the selection committee, which, no matter its composition, was famous through the decades for saying that the late, unlamented RPI was merely one tool in the process. But given that the NET is more sophisticated – for instance, taking into account things like offensive and defensive efficiency – it makes sense that if anything, it will be relied on more than the RPI.
Lotta dribbles to take place before any of this matters, and even if it does, teams have to survive two games to get to the regional. But for Zag fans, it’s worth a glance now and then at Nevada.