BUMP AND STACY

Why insider thinks No. 18 Zags will go deep again in NCAA Tournament

Mar 20, 2024, 1:06 PM | Updated: 4:03 pm

Gonzaga Nolan Hickman Purdue...

Nolan Hickman of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives against Purdue at the Maui Invitational on Nov. 20, 2023. (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

(Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

The 2023-24 Gonzaga Bulldogs season hasn’t gone as smoothly as Zags fans are used to at this point.

Will No. 25 WSU make noise in tourney return? Insider weighs in

Gonzaga was stuck in “bubble” territory, sitting at 11-5 overall and missing any true marquee victories in mid-January. But that’s when the Zags started to click, as they went on to win 14 of their next 15 games, including big road victories over Kentucky (Feb. 10) and Saint Mary’s (March 2) – both teams that were ranked 17th in the Associated Press poll at the time of those games.

Now ranked 18th in the country and going into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 5 seed, can the Zags make the Sweet 16 for a ninth straight time, which would tie Duke’s streak from 1998-2006 for the third longest in tournament history?

“I really like this team,” said college basketball insider Tate Frazier of The Ringer’s One Shining Podcast when he joined Wednesday’s edition of Bump and Stacy on Seattle Sports. “Second in the country in field goal percentage. You know, they’re able to score the basketball. We’ve seen them have some electric halves – they scored 63 in a first half and then they scored 60 in a second half this season, so they’re able to put up points.”

Gonzaga, which hasn’t missed the tournament since its Cinderella run to the Elite Eight as a No. 12 seed in 1999, has a dangerous No. 12 to deal with themselves in the first round at 4:25 p.m. Thursday in Salt Lake City. McNeese, the 30-3 Southland Conference champs, have lost just once since November, and the Cowboys have been a popular upset pick by college hoops experts.

“Gonzaga’s got a tough matchup because Will Wade is a really good basketball coach,” Frazier said.

But?

“I think McNeese has actually been a little bit overrated,” he added. “They have this guy Shahada Wells who is great, but I think Gonzaga wins this game.”

In fact, Frazier thinks the Zags are going to win a lot of games coming out of the Midwest region, especially with No. 4 seed Kansas missing star Kevin McCullar Jr. for the tournament due to injury.

“I’m thinking that Stanford could upset Kansas (in the first round), but if not, I think that Gonzaga could beat an injured Kansas team (in the second round),” Frazier said. “And then I could see Gonzaga getting to the Sweet 16 and matching up with Purdue, and you got (Gonzaga post) Graham Ike taking on (7-foot-4 post and reigning National Player of the Year) Zach Edey. (Zags forward) Ben Gregg will probably be important in that game. I’m not sure that Gonzaga has the depth to deal with Purdue, but who knows? Maybe they get hot. Maybe (guard Ryan) Nembhard has one of those Cinderella runs.

“Gonzaga definitely has a path, and I think that them being a five-seed actually takes a little bit of pressure off Mark Few and the rest of his team.”

How far does Frazier see that path going? Buckle up.

“I had Gonzaga actually beating Purdue (and) getting to the Elite 8,” Frazier said of his own bracket picks, “and then you got Oregon taking on Texas at the bottom of that (region). Oregon went to the Final Four in Phoenix back in 2017; so did Gonzaga. This time around, Gonzaga returns. So Gonzaga and North Carolina go back to the Final Four – I got Connecticut, Houston, UNC, Gonzaga. I got UNC beating UConn. I got Houston beating Gonzaga, and I got Houston beating Carolina to win the title.”

The Zags are part of doubleheader of NCAA Tournament action featuring teams from the east side of Washington on Thursday. Following Gonzaga’s game, No. 7 seed WSU takes on 10th-seeded Drake at 7:05 p.m. in Omaha, Nebraska. The Cougars radio broadcast of that game will air live on Seattle Sports 710 AM and the Seattle Sports app.

Listen to the full Bump and Stacy conversation with The Ringer’s Tate Frazier at this link or in the podcast near the top of this post.

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