Gonzaga Bulldogs head coach Mark Few calls out a play during their NCAA West Coast Conference Basketball Championship final against the Saint Mary's Gaels in Las Vegas

Can Gonzaga finally live up to being…Gonzaga?


Today, the good dudes at CBSSports.com unveiled their preseason lists of Final Four/national title favorites, players of the year, coaches of the year and conference champions.

For the most part, the lists leave little to truly debate. The overall team talent pool is down this season, and that leaves the best teams to truly rise to the top.

One of those teams is Gonzaga. Jeff Goodman and Matt Norlander picked the Bulldogs to make the Final Four this season, which would be there first in school history.

To me, this is a cycle. Every year (or every few years) Gonzaga has a team that people say is a “Final Four-caliber team”. Then every year that team plays average against their non-conference schedule or plays a lackluster slate. They then proceed to lose to a few in-conference games to a St. Mary’s/San Francisco/Portland. They may win the West Coast Conference tournament, but their RPI is never high enough and they end the season with a 5-though-9 seed and at-best a Sweet 16 exit.

My point is, since 1999 and the days of Matt Santangelo and that magical Elite Eight run, the Zags have had one of the most solid “mid-major” programs in the history of the phrase. They’re an enviable program.

But they’re still not the “Gonzaga” everyone expects to see year-in and year-out.

See, there’s always a trail that leads back to Gonzaga when pundits and publications label mid-major teams. Quick, what’s the first team when you think of the term “mid-major”? Probably Gonzaga. Because they’re the benchmark.

When VCU and Butler both made their Final Four runs in 2011 and 2012, they were compared, however loosely, to Gonzaga. As far back as the Antonio Gates-led Kent State team that made the Elite Eight in 2002, the Bulldogs were looked upon as the standard — at the time just three years removed from Dan Munson’s Elite Eight squad — and the Golden Flashes heard the “this is a Gonzaga-like run” lines.

That’s a compliment to the program. Gonzaga, since the turn of the century, has been viewed as the alpha dog when it comes to mid-major consistency. So much so that the Bulldogs are no longer considered a “mid-major” program by traditional standards. They don’t play a mid-major non-conference schedule. They recruit nationally and internationally and along with Syracuse, make the best use of their geographic location by grabbing a ton of top-tier Canadian talent. They have the advantage of not having to compete every fall with a football program. The fan-base is concentrated, but rabid. The McCarthey Athletic Center, better known as “The Kennel”, is widely viewed as one of the best home-court advantages in all of college basketball.

But in order to fully break away from that mid-major tag, the Zags have to make a final big splash. They have to make a Final Four.

For a team that does as well as the Bulldogs do recruiting — they’ve had six players in the NBA since 2002, not to mention it’s the alma mater of John Stockton  — and in a conference that routinely provides enough tests to prepare them for the rigors of the college basketball postseason as the WCC does, Gonzaga, to a degree, has underachieved on a national scale.

Fan-bases can deny it all they want, but the term “mid-major” isn’t exactly a compliment. And in all truthfulness, the Bulldogs shouldn’t be viewed as a mid-major team anymore. But the only way to do that, even after all they’ve accomplished, is to be one of the last four teams standing in late March or early April.

That’s not to say that the Zags are a failure. No program with 10 conference tournament titles, 12 regular season conference championships, five Sweet Sixteens and an Elite Eight appearance, all in the last 13 seasons, can be called a failure. Mark Few has stated that he’s totally happy and content in Spokane and there’s no reason to think he won’t cap his coaching career there. Few and Gonzaga are seemingly a perfect fit for the long haul.

But sooner or later, the Zags are going to need to make a Final Four if they want to live up to that national hype that they receive on a yearly basis. Not for respect, respect is already there. But to be Gonzaga. The same Gonzaga that every year gets it’s lion’s share of the hype it’s expected to live up to.

David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Stanford loses key veteran guard to stress fracture

Marcus Allen
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Stanford guard Marcus Allen will be out indefinitely after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot, the school announced on Monday evening.

“We want to make sure Marcus is fully healthy before returning to the court,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said in a statement. “Marcus played at a high level during our summer exhibition competition in Italy, where he was one of our leading scorers. We will certainly miss him as we continue to prepare for the season, but we are fortunate that this happened now and he will be back before he knows it.”

The loss of Allen is a potentially brutal blow in an already-thin back court. The 6-foot-3 Allen started 23 games as a sophomore last season, averaging 6.4 points and 3.5 boards. But he averaged 11.4 points and 5.4 boards as the Cardinal made a run to the NIT championship and looked poised to be able to replace the departed Chasson Randle’s production this year.

What’s worse is that without Allen, Stanford does not return a single player in their back court that averaged more than 11.5 minutes. Sophomore Robert Cartwright looks poised to step into the starting point guard role, but neither Dorian Pickens nor Christian Sanders looked like they were ready for that kind of role in the Pac-12 last season. Dawkins does return Malcolm Allen, Marcus’ twin brother, who sat out last season with a broken wrist.

The good news is that Stanford’s front court is strong enough to carry the Cardinal until Marcus is healthy. Rosco Allen, Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey will be able to hold their own against any front line in the Pac-12, while Grant Verhoeven and freshman Josh Sharma will provide adequate depth.

Utah lands top-75 center Jayce Johnson

Larry Krystkowiak
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Utah picked up its center of the future on Monday as four-star center Jayce Johnson pledged to the Runnin’ Utes, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The 7-foot Johnson recently cut his list to Cal, Colorado and Utah with the possibility of reclassifying to the Class of 2015.

Regarded as the No. 67 overall prospect in the Class of 2016, Johnson will look to attend Utah in December as a walk-on who will redshirt. While Johnson likely won’t play this season, he does give head coach Larry Krystkowiak another big man to use in practice to go against sophomore center Jakob Poeltl. A solid long-term prospect, Johnson has a good frame to add weight and he’s also skilled finishing with both hands. Utah now has its replacement for Poeltl if he opts to leave for the NBA after the season and he gets an extra semester to work with the program.

Johnson is coming off of his official visit to Utah this weekend as he joins junior college guard Jojo Zamora in the Class of 2016.