It's very rare that a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament enters the tournament as a sleeper to win the title, but that might just be the case this season.
Despite rolling to a 31-2 record (16-0 in the WCC), winning its conference tournament, boasting a roster full of studs led by Player of the Year candidate Kelly Olynyk and ranking in the top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, Gonzaga isn't a very popular pick to win it all.
So who are the Bulldogs?
A legitimate title contender? Or a mid-major squad that has some nice pieces but benefited from a relatively easy schedule and could become the first No. 1 seed in history to lose to a No. 16 seed?
I guess we'll find out when the team opens its tournament against Southern. Let's break down this 1 vs. 16 matchup.
Where: EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
When: Thursday, March 21, at 4:10 p.m. ET
Live Stream: March Madness On Demand
Betting Line: Gonzaga (-21.5), according to Bet Online
Gonzaga Injuries (via USA Today)
None to Report
Southern Injuries (via USA Today)
None to Report
What's at Stake?
Oh, just history.
A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed in the history of the tournament, and the popular consensus is that Gonzaga is this year's weakest top seed. If there is a top seed in danger of infamously losing to a No. 16 seed, it's the Zags.
I would be shocked if it actually happened, however; Gonzaga is a really good team, even if they haven't played the toughest schedule this season.
Gonzaga Player to Watch: Kelly Olynyk, F
Kelly Olynyk is one of the best players in the nation, plain and simple, averaging 17.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. On a team also boasting studs like Elias Harris and Kevin Pangos, Olynyk still stands out.
There really isn't anything the seven-footer can't do. He can post up, face up or beat a defender off the dribble. He's got an NBA game, and if Southern can't contain him, he'll explode in this contest.
Southern Player to Watch: Malcolm Miller, G
Malcolm Miller isn't Southern's best player—that distinction goes to fellow guard Derick Beltran—but he will be the most important for Southern against Gonzaga.
Miller is the leading scorer for Southern, averaging 16.0 points per game, and he does so coming off the bench. In other words, his role is to score, score again and then score some more after that. If he gets hot early—and Beltran gets in a groove as well—Southern might just stand a chance.
Remember, Miller has scored 20 or more points eight times this season, hitting 26 on four occasions. He's capable of getting hot, and really, that's Southern's only shot to win.
Key Matchup: Derick Beltran vs. Gonzaga's Backcourt
Southern's best player, Beltran (15.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG), will have quite the test on his hands, matching wits against Pangos, Gary Bell, Jr. and Mike Hart, who was the WCC Defensive Player of the Year winner this year and will be tasked with guarding Beltran more than likely.
On the defensive side of the ball, Beltran will probably end up guarding Pangos, who hits on 42 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. Southern's best player is going to be seriously challenged on both ends of the floor, and how he responds will determine whether Southern remains competitive in this game.
Which team wins?
Gonzaga isn't getting nearly enough respect. The Zags are a deserving No. 1 seed and aren't about to lose to a team like Southern. I expect Gonzaga to absolutely crush the Jaguars and delay, at least for a day, any talk that the Zags are primed for an upset.
Gonzaga wins, 84-51.