Thursday, January 3, 2013

Gonzaga Proves It Can Compete In Any Conference

Gonzaga has shut out the Big 12 this season and has proven it belongs in a major conference. (

Gonzaga should be included in the Big 12 conference standings, and in the top third no less.

Don't mind that the Bulldogs don't play in the Big 12; they've still accomplished more than most of the teams in the conference will. Gonzaga scheduled five Big 12 teams and beat them all. That's impressive.

More impressive is only two of those wins were by 10 points or less (Baylor and Oklahoma State on the road in a difficult arena) and two (Oklahoma on a neutral site and West Virginia) were by 25 points or more. The Zags also defeated Kansas State in a neutral-site game in Seattle by double-digits.

That's nearly half of the conference suffering a loss to Gonzaga, and most of those teams should end up in the top half of the Big 12 at the end of the year. It'll be tough to find a more impressive performance against a conference this year. I can only assume Gonzaga fans were drunkenly calling the Big 12 offices asking "who's your daddy?" Until Kansas or another team (maybe OSU or KSU) has its shot at the rest of the conference, the answer is Gonzaga.

But it doesn't end there. Thanks to an always brutal non-conference schedule, Gonzaga has also beaten Clemson (from the ACC), Washington State (from the PAC 12) and mid-major darling Davidson. The only loss of the season came to No. 13 (and then undefeated) Illinois of the Big Ten, the country's best conference.

No offense intended to the West Coast Conference (Gonzaga's current home) because along with Gonzaga, St. Mary's and BYU have been very good programs of late and Santa Clara has a good team this year, but if there was any question of Gonzaga being able to hang with the big boys of a power conference, that question has now been answered.

Eventually Gonzaga will grow too big for the WCC. It's a shame, because it's a fine conference, but it just can't offer the national publicity, strength of schedule and RPI boosts a team like Gonzaga deserves. We just saw the same thing this offseason when Butler left the Horizon league for the more prominent Atlantic 10. People will continue to point to the Zags' weaker conference schedule as a means to excuse the Bulldogs' record.

It shouldn't be hard for Gonzaga to find a new home. Not having a football team will make it more difficult, but the (former) Big East (R.I.P.) proved a great basketball conference could exist without football. Now the seven Big East catholic schools without football are breaking away, and (cough, cough) Gonzaga is also a Catholic school without football. Sure, the geography doesn't make sense, but since when has that stopped realignment?

Gonzaga has the means necessary to make it work. The original "Cinderella" team is now a stable competitor, but still has the fans that fell in love with the mid-major darling. Support? Check. Coach Mark Few has proven he can recruit elite players to Spokane. Talent? Check. Thanks to Gonzaga, WCC games are shown on ESPN2 every Thursday night during conference play. And an appearance in the NCAA Tournament every year doesn't hurt. Recognition? Check.

Whether intentional or not, Few's non-conference scheduling has prepared the program for a jump to a higher level of conference competition. Power-conference teams should welcome Gonzaga into their ranks with open arms. That is, of course, until the Zags start winning.

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