Gonzaga: the Boise State of men’s basketball

The Zags have shocked a lot of people this season, just like one football team out West has done in recent years.

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Gonzaga Bulldogs head coach Mark Few with Josh Heytvelt. Photo taken on Feb. 18, 2008. Image by SD Dirk, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Gonzaga, despite only losing one game this season, has been somewhat of a sleeper thus far in the NCAA Tournament. A weak conference schedule led many to believe that the Bulldogs weren’t a legitimate contender, but a Final Four run has silenced most, if not all, of the doubters.

The Bulldogs’ run has been spectacular, but their future beyond this season remains uncertain. Will they be a powerhouse from here on out, or are they just a flash in a pan? Are they still going to be viewed as David, or are they Goliath?

Only time will tell what kind of program they’ll be, but so far, they’re a lot like Boise State football. Here’s why:

Weak conference play

The Bulldogs’ biggest flaw hasn’t been their play; it’s been their schedule. Gonzaga is the only school in the West Coast Conference with a win over an AP Top-25 team, and only one of two NCAA Tournament teams from the conference.

Perhaps the most notable moment in all of Boise State athletics history is the famous “Statue of Liberty” play executed against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl that won the Broncos the game.

That play is arguably one of the best plays in the history of college football. Boise State deserves a lot of credit for winning that game, and especially for going undefeated in the 2006-2007 season. But that 8-0 conference record and 13-0 overall record is slightly less impressive when viewed with the fact that Boise State played in the WAC at the time.

Perhaps if the Broncos had played in a Power Five conference, they would’ve been selected to play for the national championship. Instead, they were competing for a Fiesta Bowl championship.

The first championship in school history is still within reach for Gonzaga, but perhaps if its schedule were a bit beefier, the Bulldogs would have been awarded the No. 1 overall seed for the 2017 NCAA Tournament instead of Villanova, a team that had two more losses than Gonzaga.

No significant accomplishments

Sure, Boise State went 13-0 in 2006 and 14-0 in 2009. Yes, Mark Few has an .818 winning percentage in nearly two decades of coaching at Gonzaga.

Neither team has a national championship, however, and that’s what matters in sports. Neither team has sustained greatness for more than a handful of seasons, even. Especially in recent years, both teams have been great, but never the greatest.

Weird quirks

Yes, the fact that both Boise State and Gonzaga have been trendy teams that don’t win championships is worth noting. The most glaring similarity between the two programs, however, is that both have strange traditions.

Boise State has had a blue turf field since 1986.

It’s beautiful, it’s trendy, but it’s weird.

What’s even weirder is that it was installed in 1986, well before the Broncos began consistently winning games. It is worth noting, however, that Boise State defeated Humboldt State 74-0 in the first game played on the blue turf.

The biggest question for Gonzaga is not its ability to win a Final Four game. The biggest question surrounding the Zags is that nobody knows what a “Zag” is.

The official mascot of Gonzaga is the Bulldogs, but fans of the program call their beloved team the “Zags.”

Apparently, fans just started calling their team “Gonzos” and “Zags,” and it appears “Zags” has stuck.

What sticks even more than nicknames, however, are championships, and the Zags just need two more wins if they want to call themselves “champions,” too.

Gonzaga faces South Carolina in Phoenix at 6:09 p.m. ET on Saturday in the first game of the Final Four.

Featured image by SD Dirk, courtesy of Creative Commons