SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gonzaga got the credit it deserved this year — in the form of a No. 1 seed — for making its schedule as challenging as it could.
Maybe it shouldn’t be so hard, though.
Preparing for Saturday’s second-round game against Northwestern, coach Mark Few says “we don’t have our head in the sand” when it comes to the conference realignment that has shaken up college hoops over the past decade, and how those changes could eventually come to the campus in Spokane, Washington.
“I think about it. I’m always talking to that guy about it,” Few said, as he pointed toward Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth. “We’ve got a brand. We’re going to do what’s best for Gonzaga. If something presents itself, we’re certainly looking, the way other people have looked and analyzed to see how it would work for them.”
Few said Gonzaga, now in its 19th straight tournament and in the second round for the ninth straight year, has no problem scheduling pretty much any team it wants. This season’s non-conference schedule included tournament teams Florida, Iowa State and Arizona. Still, once January rolls around, conference opponents overtake Gonzaga’s schedule and the Bulldogs normally roll. Their conference record over the last five seasons: 80-8.
Asked if he secretly wished there were a few more UCLAs and Arizonas on the schedule every year, junior guard Silas Melson responded: “Honest answer, yes. We’re totally fine with the competition we play. But watching on TV, the Big Ten games, Pac-12, we want to be among the best like that.”
If Gonzaga was really going to move, it would have more in common with teams in a conference such as the Big East, where playing football is not a prerequisite to joining.
Of course, playing an entire schedule against teams on the other side of the country would be a stretch. Bottom line: Few isn’t ruling out anything.
“I’ve got nothing concrete for you, but we don’t have our head in the sand,” he said. “We’re going to do what’s best for us. Our entity and our brand are national now.”
Other things to watch in the West region on Saturday:
SHOWING THEY’RE FOR REAL: Though they’re focused on Gonzaga, Northwestern players say they’re extra motivated because of the strange nature of their win over Vanderbilt.
The Wildcats got the winning points after Vandy’s Matt Fisher-Davis intentionally fouled Bryant McIntosh with 14.6 seconds left, even though the Commodores had just taken the lead. McIntosh made both free throws and the Wildcats won. The crazy play was the headline in Northwestern’s history-making first win at this, its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
“Everyone wants to talk about the foul,” senior Sanjay Lumpkin said. “But they don’t want to talk about the plays we made down the stretch. … But that’s something we’ve faced and something I’ve faced all the time I’ve been at Northwestern, when everything has been overshadowed.”
YOU LOOK FAMILIAR: The record book says the meeting between No. 2 seed Arizona and No. 7 seed St. Mary’s is the first between the teams since 2005. That’s really not the case.
These teams squared off in preseason scrimmages the three seasons before this. They know each other well.
“You get familiar with the personnel, familiar with the style, as well,” senior guard Joe Rahon said.
The stands were empty and the teams were focused as much on putting the fine touches on their own work as getting a win, so it was not anything near NCAA-Tournament-like pressure.
But as forward Calvin Hermanson said, “the scoreboard’s still on. We’re keeping score. The intensity wasn’t too far down. It was competitive.”
BIG EAST REUNION: The Big East is back, if only for a day.
The fourth-seeded West Virginia Mountaineers (27-8) resume their one-time conference rivalry against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (26-9) in a matchup of teams that play with contrasting styles.
Notre Dame, which entered the tournament committing fewer than eight turnovers a game, faces the smothering defense of the team that goes by the nickname “Press Virginia.”
The Mountaineers lead the nation by forcing 20.4 turnovers and making 10.4 steals. That places a focus on Notre Dame junior point guard Matt Farrell, who has gone 16 consecutive games without committing four or more turnovers.
“We just need to stay poised with the ball,” Farrell said. “We need guys to be receivers. Everybody that’s on the floor needs to be a receiver. We need to be strong with the ball.”
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow contributed to this report.