You probably figured this out on your own, but…
Gonzaga’s run in the NCAA tournament begins tonight.
It’s the WCC tournament down in Las Vegas that starts this evening.
But make no mistake: The Zags’ performance down the street from Celine Dion and David Copperfield has everything to do with what the NCAA selection committee decides to do with them.
Gonzaga is sitting on a No. 1 seed at the moment, presumably headed for games in the West Region.
Achieving that goal would be handy.
There’s no margin for error, though, considering what the committee members think of the WCC in general.
Even though the conference has had its best year in ages — ranked No. 8 overall by hoops guru Ken Pomeroy — the old boys on the committee have watched the Zags run through the conference with an average winning margin of 27 points.
And they think…
Those guys are still a bunch of creampuffs.
THE BIGGEST lie in history is the statement, repeated every year, that past performances — the regular season and in the tournament — are not considered in either seeding or inclusion in the NCAA field.
The Zags’ record of advancing in 10 straight tournaments (only Kansas has matched that mark) and nearly winning the title game two years ago can’t just disappear from people’s minds.
The Eastern half of the country, however, doesn’t remember so well.
To folks in the ACC neighborhood, Gonzaga should be lucky to grab a No. 2 seed.
Or maybe something below that.
The committee, meanwhile, is caught between that notion of a weak WCC and Gonzaga’s track record of playing up to its seeding.
Can the Zags finish their local business by winning the WCC tournament?
At times in the past, they’ve struggled in the semifinals, and you wonder about tonight — nine days off against a hot Pepperdine team that has strung together enough upsets to climb from the No. 8 seed to this duel with Gonzaga.
Frankly, I wouldn’t take this game or the final — assuming the Zags make it, likely against Saint Mary’s — for granted.
Yes, the Zags are better than anyone in the conference.
But Pepperdine is on fire and Saint Mary’s has been improving every week.
WHILE WE wonder about the conference tournament and whether or not Gonzaga can hang on to its No. 1 seed, another large question is hanging over the proceedings tonight.
Will we see Killian Tillie in action?
The perfect scenario for the Zags would be Tillie — his partially torn foot ligament healed just enough — getting game time tonight and Tuesday in Vegas.
The Zags would be a different animal in the NCAA tournament if Tillie is available to give them a bit more presence on the boards against some teams — and especially if he’s there should Brandon Clarke get in foul trouble in a tightly called game.
Clarke has been prone to that, with all due respect to Filip Petrusev and Jeremy Jones, there is a significant upgrade in the paint if Tillie can provide a few minutes here and there.
The Frenchman has been involved in team warmups prior to the last two road games, and he’s been going hard in practice.
Coach Mark Few openly asked for prayers that Tillie would be back for the tournament.
Few didn’t specify which tournament.
But tonight would be worth a lot of lit candles.
Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns for The Press appear on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He also contributes the “Zags Tracker” package on Gonzaga basketball each Tuesday, although this week’s Zags column will run on Thursday.
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