The objective is simple, the reward upon its completion so preciously valuable.
Close out the regular season unblemished, then hold serve in the West Coast Conference tournament and the No. 1 seed out West is Gonzaga’s calling. No strings attached.
Thanks to a challenging non-conference schedule, spate of success running through the Big 12 and spotless intra-league portfolio with two weeks to play, the Bulldogs have their paws around the top seed in the Los Angeles region. Acing three more winnable home games, a daunting road test in Provo and a pair of neutral-site games in Las Vegas would grip the coveted tournament ID for good.
After grabbing a stranglehold on the WCC during the week –smothering defending champ St. Mary’s in Moraga – the Bulldogs have the upper-hand in wrestling back the league crown. Were they to finish off the task unbeaten, the Selection Committee, often leery of handing out top seeds to mid-majors, would have no choice but to hand the Bulldogs the keys to the West.
As the who’s who of the appropriately-named Pac-12 fall back to the ‘pack’ – one contender picking off another at time – and as the Big 12 rips Kansas out of the equation, the list of rival candidates for the No. 1 seed in the West are few and far between.
Figure the Big Ten is good for at least one No. 1 seed (Midwest Region) while the ACC figures to send its top team to the top of the South bracket. The Big East champion, Big Ten runner-up and ACC runner-up will jostle for the top seed in the East, with the leftovers falling to the 2-line and scattered across the various regions.
Assume, for convenience, Indiana wins the Big 10 and sews up the Midwest while Miami keeps up its torrid pace and notches the top line in the South. That leaves Michigan, Michigan State and Duke to challenge the Big East tournament champion – likely Georgetown, Louisville or Syracuse – for the No. 1 seed in the East. Those programs that missed the cut will vie for the various second line allocations across the bracket.