It's Gonzaga's Time Of Year

March 18, 2011

How 'bout them Bulldogs?

It's a legitimate question every year when the NCAA tournament gets under way.

There's two Bulldogs who are spoken of that way almost every March.

Butler and Gonzaga. Gonzaga and Butler.

They are schools who have their own niche in the world of college basketball.

Their conferences are never going to be able to mix smoothly in the world of college football money. They just don't belong in that mid-major category, a world embraced by some schools for its ability to provide athletic sympathy when needed and decried by others as a brand that stigmatizes those programs looking for respect.

Gonzaga has been to the NCAA tournament every year since 1999, all but the first of that streak under coach Mark Few.

Only in 2007 and 2008 did Gonzaga not win at least one game, and there were three years with two wins and another with three, meaning the Bulldogs were within a win of the Final Four.

Gonzaga, the perennial champion of the West Coast Conference, won this year's NCAA tournament opener as an 11 seed with an 86-71 dismantling of St. John's. Next up is third-seeded BYU and Jimmer Fredette, the country's most popular player.

"People know we're a good program, so I would think that it probably doesn't surprise 'em so much anymore," Few said. "But the expectation issue? I think we had a great learning process this year for our players, our staff, our fans, people who follow the program.

"This thing is really hard to get to. There's been really, really good teams over the years that have not made it, from the Carolinas, to the Syracuses, to UCLAs that have not been able to make the NCAA tournament. There's nothing guaranteed. It's not a birthright. You have to earn your way," Few said. "Now that we're here, we're playing good and we want to stay here."

There have been other teams in recent years who have carried the mantle for the mid-majors.



George Mason of the Colonial Athletic Association reached the Final Four in 2006. Davidson of the Southern Conference had a 3 in the air against eventual national champion Kansas that could have sent them to the Final Four in 2008.

"I think about just trying to get these guys ready to have as great a year as we possibly can," Few said Friday. "Here we are. We have an opportunity to advance to the Sweet 16 tomorrow. We need to take full advantage of it and play the best game of the year. I'm just not the kind of guy that looks for validation or anything like that. I think our success speaks for itself."

It's impossible for schools without football to produce the revenue that members of BCS conferences generate. But while there may not be the resources available, this is basketball.

It's only five guys at a time. It's a total of 13 scholarships. There is a chance for smaller schools to succeed in the NCAA tournament. Some do it over and over.

How 'bout them Bulldogs?

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