NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga Bulldogs Have All the Pressure

As the sweet sixteen gets underway this weekend in the NCAA tournament, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are still looking for their first men’s basketball national championship in school history. 

After two decades of success, head coach Mark Few and his program look to make it to the pinnacle of the sport. If all the pressure wasn’t already on the top overall seeded Bulldogs, it is now as the bracket unfolds.

Gonzaga has made the NCAA tournament every year since 1999 with Few at the helm since 2000. But there have been a lot of tournament disappointments as the Bulldogs made the elite eight in 1999 but didn’t make it back until 2015. 

Things have gone much better for the Bulldogs recently as they have made the elite eight in three of the past five tournaments, including a final four and national championship appearance in 2017. But this year everything is falling into place for Gonzaga to make a run and win the final game of the year. 

Gonzaga is set to take on fifth seeded Creighton Sunday afternoon in the west region semifinals. Creighton will be the highest seed the Bulldogs will face until the final four. Two seed Iowa, three seed Kansas, and four seed Virginia all lost in the first two rounds in the west region. 

Gonzaga has cruised to two wins early on against Norfolk State and Oklahoma. Creighton faced 12 seed UC Santa Barbara and 13 seed Ohio. This will be a massive uptick in competition for Creighton from their previous two matchups. Should Gonzaga beat Creighton, they will face the winner of six seed USC and seven seed Oregon on Tuesday.

This looks like a cake walk for the Bulldogs to make their second final four as they have won all but one game this year by double digits including 25 in a row. 

The NCAA west region winner will match up with the east region winner in the final four. The finalists in the east region are Michigan, Alabama, Florida State, and UCLA. Gonzaga will be a favorite against any team in the field as long as they avoid injury. But the case is strong for the Bulldogs to make it to another national championship game. 

Michigan is missing their second leading scorer and top three point shooter, Isaiah Livers, to a foot injury. For Alabama they are new to the stage of high expectations as this is only their third NCAA tournament appearance since 2007. Florida State has a nice team but are a distant four seed. The Seminoles only final four came in 1972. UCLA is an 11 seed and has won three games including their first four win against Michigan State. But if Gonzaga can beat USC or Oregon, they can definitely handle UCLA.

On the other half of the bracket there have been many upsets. One seed Illinois, two seed Ohio State, three seed West Virginia, and four seeds Oklahoma State and Purdue have all been knocked off. 

This leaves Baylor and Houston as the favorites to meet in the final four and advance to the championship game. Baylor basketball is still relatively new to success as they were an afterthought before 2008. The Bears are still looking to get to their first final four. Houston was a power in the mid 1980s but just found a resurgence in the last four years. 

With all the upsets so far and the ones to come this weekend, the path for Gonzaga is there. In what has been a different and very weird season for the NCAA, Gonzaga has remained the constant all season. This has to be their year. If they can’t bring it home this season, then it may not ever happen for Mark Few and the Bulldogs. 

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You can follow Tyler Samsel on Twitter @tylersamsel.

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