If you have followed college basketball at all this season, then you probably heard somewhere along the way that Kentucky is pretty good. You’ve also probably heard about the likes of Wisconsin and Virginia and Duke and all the other powerhouses who might have a chance to take down the almighty Wildcats.
And that’s fair. ESPN and everyone else spend the majority of their time talking about the large, powerful programs that exist in the major conferences. It’s also fair to consider Kentucky the overwhelming favorite considering John Calipari’s squad has yet to drop a contest despite a few close calls.
No team has run the table in Division I men's college basketball since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers completed the feat under the direction of Bob Knight, and if Calipari and Kentucky were to break the nearly 40-year drought, they should be given all the praise that such an accomplishment deserves.
But there is one team that might not be receiving the attention it deserves this season, and I am here to rectify this.
Each of the past two years, the mysterious NCAA committee has allotted one of its coveted No. 1 tournaments seeds to a mid-major team. Last season an undefeated Wichita State squad earned the No. 1 slot in the Midwest region and in 2013, Gonzaga was placed atop the bracket in the West.
A lot of arguments swirled after both of these appointments as to whether or not either of these teams actually deserved that No. 1 billing. Should a mid-major team—undefeated or not—be given a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament considering the competition it faces in its conference day in and day out is not as good as the teams a squad from a major conference must play each week?
Did the Bulldogs truly deserve a No. 1 seed after suffering two losses to ranked teams in nonconference play before beating up on the other, much weaker, eight teams in the West Coast Conference? Did the Shockers deserve a No. 1 seed despite the fact that they did not face a ranked opponent all season?
Whatever your opinion is, those who opposed the committee’s decision to reward these mid-major programs were given plenty of extra ammunition when both teams limped out of the Big Dance in the Round of 32.
This season the committee will—more than likely—face a similar problem come Selection Sunday March 15 as it pertains to Gonzaga. With two regular season games and the West Coast Conference tournament remaining before the Big Dance, the Bulldogs sit at No. 3 in this week’s AP poll and this is their resume:
Gonzaga is 28-1 overall with its only loss coming on the road—in overtime—against then-No. 3 Arizona Dec. 6. The Bulldogs remain one of four teams in Division I still undefeated in conference play. Shooting 52.7 percent, Gonzaga has the best field goal percentage in the country to go along with its 12th-highest scoring offense and 11th-best assists per game total. But the Bulldogs, unlike some other offensive-minded teams, can box out and play defense as well. They sit inside the top 40 in both points allowed per game and rebounds per game. They are ranked No. 8 in RPI and No. 4 in BPI.
We’ve never been left wondering whether or not a mid-major team can go deep into the tournament. Smaller programs are consistently dashing the hopes of larger programs on their way to the Final Four, which is one of the things that makes the tournament so special.
But what we have been wondering the past two years is whether or not a top-seeded mid-major can go the distance and prove that they deserved that ranking—that the committee didn’t squander a No. 1 seed when it could have been delivered to a “more deserving” team from a major conference.
But this is the year. They may float under the radar as the public focuses on Kentucky’s bid for a perfect season and Duke’s, Virginia’s and Wisconsin’s chances of knocking the Wildcats off in March or April, but the Bulldogs will punch their ticket as a No. 1 seed. And this time around—with a team centered around its experienced juniors and seniors—they will finally do enough damage to silence the critics of the mid-major one-seed.
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