The "Gonzaga is a product of its schedule" club nearly had validation.
The Zags survived a scare from Southern with a 64-58 win on Thursday in Salt Lake City in a game that came down to the final minute.
This was a Southern team that knocked off Prairie View A&M 45-44 in the SWAC championship last Saturday to get to the dance. The same Southern team that lost to Nebraska and TCU by double digits this season. Yes, the Southern team was a No. 16 seed for a reason.
But the Zags were also a No. 1 seed for a reason, and we should not just write them off because they almost became the first top seed to lose in the round of 64.
At least that's what history says.
Top-seeded Georgetown almost lost to Princeton in 1989, winning by one point. The Hoyas made it to the Elite Eight that season. No. 1 seed Michigan State went to overtime the next season against No. 16 Morgan State. Sparty made it to the Sweet 16.
Last season, Syracuse struggled to put away North Carolina Asheville and won by seven. The Orange still made the Elite Eight.
The Zags, like every team at the top of the rankings this season, have their flaws.
Southern's Derick Beltran almost went all Brandon Paul on Gonzaga.
Beltran scored 21 points and hit a baseline jumper to tie the game at 56 that got the nation's attention. Paul pretty much beat the Zags by himself in December when he went off for 35 points and Illinois won in Spokane.
Perimeter defense is not one of Gonzaga's strengths.
But interior scoring is, and we saw Kelly Olynyk do what he's done all season by scoring 21 points. Guards who can hit big shots are also a strength, and Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos responded to Beltran's jumper with back-to-back threes that held off history.
Other than Elias Harris, who went 2-of-10 and scored five points, offense was really not the issue. Gonzaga, now 32-2, did play in a subpar conference—the WCC was 10th in the RPI—and they were rarely challenged over the last few months of the season.
They also had not played a game in 10 days. These are all things that could hold the Zags back in this tourney and make them the most vulnerable No. 1 seed.
But the good news for head coach Mark Few is that barely winning is still winning, and they don't have to go home just yet. Should they be worried by their performance? Sure. They need to find a way to deal with the Beltrans and the Pauls of the tournament. They also need to get Harris going.
Georgetown figured it out. Syracuse too. We shall see how the Zags respond.
Just don't count them out for almost being on the wrong side of history.
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