Kelly Olynyk

Gonzaga deserves No. 1 ranking, but not necessarily a No. 1 seed


It’s official: for the first time in school history, Gonzaga is the No. 1 team in the country.

51 of the 65 voters in the AP Poll put them there. So did 29 of the 31 voters in the Coaches Poll.

(CLICK HERE: To see both the AP and the Coaches top 25)

Does this mean that Gonzaga is the best team in the country? Of course not. If there’s anything that we have learned this season, it’s that there really isn’t any single ‘best’ team. Indiana and Kansas and Duke and every other team in the top eight or nine right now is just as good as the Zags. Maybe better.

But as of today, that doesn’t matter.

Because the way the polls work, if you lose, you drop. If you continue to win, you move up. It doesn’t matter whether or not those wins are coming against Portland while those losses are coming of the road to Virginia or Maryland. That’s part of the reason that, thankfully, top 25 rankings play absolutely no role in determining anything in our sport beyond what the little number is that shows up next to a team’s name during broadcasts.

Here’s the bottom-line: Gonzaga has as much of a right to the No. 1 ranking as anyone in the country right now, regardless of conference affiliation. They beat West Virginia by 34. They beat Oklahoma by 25 in the Old Spice Classic. They beat Kansas State — who just so happens to be in the top 10 — by 16. They beat Baylor by seven. They went into Stillwater and knocked off Oklahoma State. In other words, the Zags would be battling Kansas for Big 12 superiority if they were located in Shawnee, KS, instead of Spokane, WA.

Let’s take it a step further: Gonzaga’s two losses this season came when Brandon Paul lit them up for 36 points and when Roosevelt Jones made one of the most exciting and fluky plays of the season.

There shouldn’t be any doubt that Gonzaga belongs in the conversation among the other national title contenders.

But what’s intriguing about this team is that, even if they win the WCC tournament next week, there’s a chance that they could end up falling off the No. 1 seed line in the NCAA tournament.

Only twice since 2000 has a No. 1 seed had a strength of schedule that was lower than Gonzaga’s, which is currently 71st in the country. Both times it was Stanford, who had a schedule strength of 96th in 2004 and 82nd in 2000. There have only been three times where a No. 1 seed has come from outside the Power Six conferences, and all three times — Memphis in 2008, St. Joe’s in 2004, and Cincinnati (then of Conference USA) in 2002 — had schedule strengths in the top 50.

(USA Today’s Eric Prisbell did the legwork researching those numbers.)

This isn’t entirely Gonzaga’s fault, mind you. West Virginia was predicted to be a top 25 team and Baylor was thought to have a chance to crack the top 15. Washington State wasn’t expected to finish at the bottom of the Pac-12, and it just so happens that BYU and St. Mary’s are both a bit down this season. It happens to everyone, I know, but when you play in a mid-major conference and seven of your top ten opponents are worse than expected, it’s going to sting.

There’s only so much that the Zags are able to do, and in my mind, they’ve done enough to be ranked No. 1.

Because it’s irrelevant.

What matters is where they are seeded, and whether or not they deserve a No. 1 seed is a different post for a different day.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.


POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.