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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

February 17, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Northwest 11: Zags rule, but is there a doomsday scenario for them?

Not much change of substance in our weekly Northwest 11 college hoops rankings, and come to think of it, it’s probably going to be hard for anybody to dislodge Gonzaga at the top, given Oregon’s earlier slide and the fact there’s no real power in the region.

The question for the Zags: What’s possible, and what’s likely, as the season winds down? They’re 23-4, and it’s not at all a stretch that they could piece together their second straight (and second ever) 30-victory season. You win three of the last four in the regular season, win the WCC tournament (three games, now that Pacific has made it a 10-team tournament) and then win a game in the NCAAs, and presto, you’re at 30. That would be a pretty worthy accomplishment in what’s widely regarded as a bit of a “down” season, although it’s true that Gonzaga’s non-league schedule doesn’t have the starch of most previous years.

Which brings us to a more unpleasant scenario for GU fans. There’s a bit of debate about where the Zags would be seeded if the NCAA tournament field were assembled today. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has them as a No. 8 seed, while CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm puts them on the 10 line, with the dreaded designation as a bubble team. That’s a pretty major difference of opinion.

Meanwhile, the journalists who assembled last week in Indianapolis for the NCAA mock selections had them as the first of the four No. 9 seeds. So take your pick.

Gonzaga has a 22 RPI in Monday’s official NCAA reckoning, and while that can’t be extrapolated to a likely seed, Palm’s 10-seed judgment seems a bit harsh. I’d probably have them somewhere in that 8-9 range.

The Zags now face a difficult finishing stretch that puts them at BYU Thursday night and St. Mary’s the following week. If, say, they were to drop both those games and then not win the WCC tournament, do they somehow fall out of the NCAA bracket for the first time since 1998? I know, not likely, but Provo and Moraga are places that have tripped up Gonzaga in recent years, and even though both programs have lost five times in WCC play this season, they figure to be a handful. The last thing Zag fans want is to go to the league tournament with the sense that they need to win it to keep that 15-year streak of NCAA appearances intact.

The guess here? Just a gut feeling, but I’d figure they could lose to BYU and St. Mary’s if they get to the final of the league tournament. But that’s merely a guess. What the Zags really can’t afford is to stumble at either San Diego or Pacific, because either of those would be judged a “bad loss,” whereas BYU and St. Mary’s are both top-60 RPI teams.

Onward . . .

1. Gonzaga (23-4) . . . Olynyk delighted Kennel Club crowd by showing up on senior night

2. Boise State (16-9) . . . Win over New Mexico kept Lobos from first-place MWC tie

3. Oregon (16-8) . . . Still has chance at UCLA, and home vs. Arizona, to buff NCAA resume

4. Washington (14-12) . . . Cal loss likely a dagger to minuscule NCAA hopes

5. Oregon State (13-11) . . . Has a tournament look to it; just the wrong tournament

6. Portland (15-11) . . . Everything’s away from home from here on out

7. Washington State (9-16) . . . About all that’s left is staying out of last place

8. Eastern Washington (12-13) . . . In four-way tie for 5th at 7-7  in Big Sky; seven make league tournament

9. Seattle U. (12-12) . . . One step forward (Utah Valley), one step back (Cal State-Bakersfield)

10. Portland State (11-12) . . . With fourth straight loss, clunked into 10th in Big Sky

11. Idaho (10-16) . . . Stephen Madison’s 42 couldn’t rescue victory at Utah Valley

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