Zag fever spreads across the region

Basketball fans from the Cascades to the Palouse are pumped Gonzaga University is a No, 1 seed heading into the NCAA tournament.

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Eastern Washington is buzzing over the prospect of Gonzaga University of Spokane being crowned the king of all of college basketball.

The Bulldogs or Zags, as they are called around here, are the nation’s top-ranked team (despite being disparaged by the experts on the various sports who, by the way, have trouble pronouncing “gon(e)-Zag-a”).

When the schedule and seedings were announced for the 68-team NCAA Tournament, which starts today with first-round games, the Zags were one of four No. 1 seeds. That’s a big deal. It’s exciting.

Or as Seattle Times sport columnist Bud Withers put it: “Raise your hands, Zags fans, if, say, 20 years or two months ago, you could ever have envisioned Gonzaga pushing a team that won the ACC regular-season and league tournament to the No. 2 line.”

And then there’s head coach Mark Few’s enthusiasm.

“Great day out here at Gonzaga,” Few said. “It’s an honor to be put on that No. 1 line. There were a lot of worthy teams that certainly deserve it as much as we did.”

Now, being a top seed is a fleeting honor. Once the tourney starts all it means is that Gonzaga should (theoretically) have an easier schedule for the first couple of games. If the Zags play as they’ve played to this point to earn their impressive 31-2 record and go undefeated, 16-0, in West Coast Conference play, the team should make it to the second week of the tourney — the Sweet Sixteen.

After that it will get rough, but at least one big-time analyst, ESPN’s Seth Greenburg (former Virgnia Tech coach), has Gonzaga making it to the Final Four. He has been high on the Zags since the season began for a variety of reasons including their 7-footer, Kelly Olynyk, who to Greenberg’s delight can play outside as well as inside.

It matters little the rest of the East Coast telestrator crowd doesn’t know the Gonzaga Bulldogs from a Zagnut candy bar. Folks in the Pacific Northwest are used to getting short shrift from the national media when it comes to sports. The experts in the New York studio always think it’s an upset if a Northwest team beats an East Coast team regardless of the win-loss record.

It will be fantastic if the Zags win it all. But if it doesn’t work out perfectly, Eastern Washingtonians (many of whom are die-hard WSU Cougar fans) can handle disappointment.

Eastern Washington fans have everything to gain and nothing to lose as the Zags take their No. 1 seed in Salt Lake City on Thursday to take on 16-seed Southern University.

Go Zags.

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