Championship Week Day 1 Rewind: Gonzaga Going Dancing

    Championship Week got underway on Tuesday and Day 1 featured a Gonzaga victory that sent the Zags dancing.

    March 9, 2016

    Championship Week got underway on Tuesday and Day 1 featured a Gonzaga victory that sent the Zags dancing.

    Championship Week got underway in earnest Tuesday at least for the so-called “power” conferences when the ACC Men’s Tourney opened its slate of games. The action was somewhat quiet, but here’s a look at what we learned and what we can look ahead to today.

    What we learned

    There weren’t any shockers on Tuesday, and we aren’t talking about Wichita State. Gonzaga punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament with its win over Saint Mary’s and it ended any speculation that the Bulldogs might be on the outside looking in this season. Saint Mary’s could very well get in, as well, so add more concern to some bubble teams.

    Gonzaga isn’t as powerful as it has been in the past, but the Zags aren’t going to be a pushover in the Dance. Consider that the Bulldogs beat Saint Mary’s in a game where all four starters scored in double figures, and the two most high-profile players, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, weren’t he leading scorers. That fell to guard Eric McClellan, who dropped 20 on the Gaels and was as efficient as anyone on the court.

    Good guard play and solid balance at forward will make Gonzaga tough to beat in the NCAA Tournament.

    Over in the ACC, Florida State did what it could to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive, posting a 22-point win over lowly Boston College. It’s not so much that the Seminoles won, although that was pretty important – a loss to the Eagles, and FSU could have packed up its equipment and called it a summer. More important was that FSU didn’t get drawn into a competitive game, one that would have raised any more eyebrows regarding its NCAA Tourney credentials. If Florida State wins a couple of games, they’ll be an interesting call on Selection Sunday.

    You can probably count Wagner among teams that are cursing the conference tournament system right now.

    Wagner won the Northeast Conference by two games and finished 12 games above .500, but the Seahawks won’t be headed to the Big Dance. That honor will fall to Fairleigh Dickenson, who beat Wagner for the second time this season, scoring an 87-79 win in the Northeast title game. Just a couple of weeks ago the Seahawks beat FDU by 20. Now, they’re going home.

    The conference tournament system can be cruel.

    If you paid good American money to see Grambling State take on Mississippi Valley State in the first round of the SWAC Tournament (combined record: 14-50) or Texas San Antonio battle Florida Atlantic (combined record: 13-51), and you either aren’t friends or family of the players, or a current student or alumni of those schools, you should see someone about your basketball problem. It clearly is an issue.

    What to look forward to Wednesday

    Wednesday should be a lot of fun in college basketball. Some of the “name” teams are hitting the court, and you have programs eyeing last-ditch efforts to make a four- or five-day run that will shock the country.

    No. 19 Duke will take on North Carolina State in the ACC Tournament, and the Blue Devils are the only ranked team in action today. Duke is getting in the tourney either way, but it also can’t afford to lose to a desperate Wolfpack team what will be playing a second-straight day. That game will come on the heels of a Syracuse-Pittsburgh matchup, both of whom are generally listed as being in the tourney.

    The Big Ten Tournament tips off in Indianapolis with Minnesota taking on Illinois in a battle to see which team can extend its season by a day. The winner of this will certainly have an interesting path. Neither team has been very good this year—at all—but the winner will take on an Iowa team that has looked beyond vulnerable. An upset there would give the team Purdue Thursday, and the Boilermakers have had a nasty tendency to get a little shaky at times this year.

    In other words, there’s still plenty to play for with Minnesota and Illinois.

    Texas Tech will take on TCU in a must-win game for the Red Raiders. Beating TCU will push Tubby Smith’s guys to a 20-win season, which is a nice milestone. Moreover, Texas Tech can’t afford a résumé-dinging loss to an 11-20 team right now.

    Have fun with the UCLA-USC battle at the Pac-12 Tournament. The Trojans swept the Bruins during the regular season, but they need a win in the worst way to battle back into a comfort zone on Selection Sunday. They closed the year losing four of their last five, and USC needs to get back on the winning side of the ledger.

    Tickets punched Tuesday

    Fairleigh Dickenson –
    Northeast Conference

    Green Bay –
    Horizon League

    Gonzaga –
    West Coast Conference

    Tickets to be punched Wednesday

    Patriot League –
    Holy Cross vs. Lehigh

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