How Gonzaga Built a National Power

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How Gonzaga Built a National Power

Postby ptctitan » Mon Oct 08, 2018 5:19 pm

This article is a good analysis on how Gonzaga rose from obscurity to become a national power. The fourth point: "Finding Positives in a Weak Conference" applies to our Titans.

https://www.midmajormadness.com/2018/10/8/17874090/gonzaga-basketball-mark-few-mid-major-national-power-bulldogs

Gonzaga basketball’s two-decade run of success has served as an inspiration for many mid-major programs experiencing their first tastes of national relevance.

But while Gonzaga was once a true mid-major, the Bulldogs now hardly act like one. They perform not only light years ahead of every mid-major school, they even outperform the majority of power conference teams.

Going into this year, basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla even thinks the Bulldogs could be the best team in the country.

“To me, the two best teams in the country right now are Kansas and Gonzaga,” Fraschilla said in an interview. “Upperclassmen, older guys, quality players, NBA guys. Kansas is loaded with NBA guys, Gonzaga certainly has a few.”

Gonzaga has appeared in every NCAA Tournament since 1999. To put that into perspective, only five Division I schools have ever had a longer tournament streak.

So how exactly has this tiny school in far-off Spokane become a program that is not only a March fixture, but a team that has routinely made deep runs in the NCAA Tournament?

Here are four underlying reasons why Gonzaga has routinely exceeded expectations as a mid-major program:

A Loyal Coach

In a time when loyalty among college basketball coaches has become virtually extinct, that must make Gonzaga coaching legend Mark Few an endangered species.

Few started his soon-to-be 30-year Gonzaga coaching career (rumor has it) as a lowly paid assistant coach, who camped out on another assistant’s apartment floor to make ends meet, according to Evan Closky, a former Zag’s beat reporter.


At Gonzaga, Few has become the winningest active coach by percentage points in the nation. In 2017, he led the Zags to the title game with a school-record 37-2 mark, securing three straight seasons with an appearance in at least the Sweet 16. All told, under Few’s tutelage, the Zags have reached the Sweet 16 a remarkable eight times.

“Mark Few has turned down jobs at Oklahoma State, Arizona, Indiana, and Oregon,” said Closky. “T. Boone Pickens recruited him for Oklahoma State. Pickens even offered to build Few a man-made stream to fish in.”
“Oklahoma State wasn’t a good fit for him,” Closky added. “Few loves the Spokane community and is a private person. He does not want to leave and has everything he needs to win big at Gonzaga.”

A Visionary Athletic Director

Mike Roth, who has spent 21 years as the Gonzaga Athletic Director, has made an indelible mark on the Zag’s basketball program. While Few receives the lion’s share of accolades, behind the scenes it has been Roth who has given the team the necessary tools to maintain a winning program.

It was Roth who marshaled the resources to build state-of-the-art facilities like the iconic McCarthey Athletic Center. It is Roth who oversees the departments that ensure every player remains eligible and graduates. And it was Roth who had the foresight to elevate Few to head coach in 1999.

Perhaps Roth’s crowning achievement is simply keeping the rock star Few in Spokane. Roth assiduously has found the money to retain the coach when bigger programs came calling for him.

Roth’s long and wild ride at Gonzaga goes way back to a time (1998) when the school had only one NCAA Tournament appearance to its name.

After the Zags’ 1999 Elite 8 NCAA run, Roth refused to succumb to mediocrity. He effectively maintained the momentum generated from that one magical season by creating a 20-year road map that has shaken the NCAA caste system to its very core.

The scrappy, overachieving athletic director continues to blaze new trails that raise the bar for a team in position to claim their first national championship this upcoming season.

Time

Just like Rome, the Gonzaga basketball empire was not built in one day. For the Zags, it took a decade just to escape Cinderella status, then another 10 years to propel the tiny school on the foothills of the Rocky Mountain’s to elite status.

Undeniably, it started in 1999 when Gonzaga took the nation by storm. This unknown commodity shocked the NCAA by reaching the Elite Eight after defeating Minnesota, Stanford, and Florida, before losing in a hard-fought battle against eventual champion UConn.

After the improbable run, Gonzaga somehow maintained that level of play, slowly becoming a household name and attracting the talent, fans, and money that have continued to elevate the program.

Finding the positives in a weak conference

No one is saying that Gonzaga would not be the thoroughbred program that it is if it played in a more competitive conference like the Pac-12. However, let’s face it, the West Coast Conference — no matter how you spin it — is a mid-major conference.

And Gonzaga has benefitted appreciably as a member of the WCC, having won the last six conference championships and earning an automatic NCAA berth.

Roth noted that Gonzaga’s emergence nationally has occurred as a WCC member. The Zags have won 31 NCAA Tournament games since 1999. They’ve won 11 consecutive first-round games and they’re the only program to reach at least the Sweet 16 level the last four seasons. As an encore, they’ve been a NCAA Tournament 1 seed twice in the last six years.

“Look at what we have achieved as members of the WCC,” Roth said. “We made it to the national championship game. We have goals that are still out there, and we’ll continue to chase those as members of the WCC.”

The WCC has, without a doubt, helped Gonzaga get back to March. But to get a favorable seed, Few has been aggressive in his non-conference scheduling. San Diego State, Florida, Arizona, and Tennessee were all on the schedule the year the Bulldogs reached the title game. This year, Gonzaga will play in the Maui Invitational, and will face Texas A&M, North Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, and Creighton.

When trying to pinpoint why Gonzaga has been so good for so long, it really depends on who you ask.

Some will give all the credit to Few.

Others will cite the work of the program’s architect and AD Roth as the difference maker.

And the more cynic minded will point to Gonzaga’s stellar body of work as a result of playing in a mid-major conference.

But maybe the correct answer is D: all of the above.
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Re: How Gonzaga Built a National Power

Postby Tacitus651 » Mon Oct 08, 2018 6:56 pm

Have to remember also that Gonzaga is the only game in town. I guess they compete with minor league sports and non D1 colleges, but I always felt that they had an edge being the biggest team in Spokane. We can get drowned out in The D. Also, not noted above, they offer a stunningly beautiful campus. I know Detroit is improving its image and the University District is making progress, but I don’t think we will ever offer what they do as far as campus beauty. While the neighborhood directly north of Gonzaga has its problems, when you’re on campus you don’t notice that. And you can walk from their campus on the river walk to downtown, it’s really quite nice. There’s another reason I think Detroit Mercy would have problems replicating their success, but I really don’t want to get into it right now.

We have the right coach. Let’s hope we dance within the next 3 seasons and maybe that will be the spark that ignites us.
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Re: How Gonzaga Built a National Power

Postby R.B.J1 » Mon Oct 08, 2018 7:50 pm

Tacitus651 wrote:Have to remember also that Gonzaga is the only game in town. I guess they compete with minor league sports and non D1 colleges, but I always felt that they had an edge being the biggest team in Spokane. We can get drowned out in The D. Also, not noted above, they offer a stunningly beautiful campus. I know Detroit is improving its image and the University District is making progress, but I don’t think we will ever offer what they do as far as campus beauty. While the neighborhood directly north of Gonzaga has its problems, when you’re on campus you don’t notice that. And you can walk from their campus on the river walk to downtown, it’s really quite nice. There’s another reason I think Detroit Mercy would have problems replicating their success, but I really don’t want to get into it right now.

We have the right coach. Let’s hope we dance within the next 3 seasons and maybe that will be the spark that ignites us.


I agree they have natural built in advantages that we don't have, so does Loyola of Chicago. We failed to build on our success of the late 90's,and I am not sure if we can ever reach the heights of Gonzaga, Butler,Xavier or Loyola, at this point I would be satisfied with averaging 18 wins a season and a trip to the NCAA tournament every three seasons. I think those are reasonable expectations.
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Re: How Gonzaga Built a National Power

Postby DetroitBASKETBALL » Tue Oct 09, 2018 8:01 am

I disagree, I think that there is plenty of opportunity to do it here, but we have to start somewhere. There was a missed opportunity in the late 90s and declining performance of Perry's teams, he had a tougher league than Davis now. Gonzaga, has been dominating every year since 99, that is a lot of sustained success over a long period of time. We had loyal coach in Perry he just did not have that much success. I think a weak league like ours now puts us in better position to dominate then what Perry had to compete in. If Davis does here what he did in previous stops and makes us a perennial NCAA team for the length of his contract with out going elsewhere then we might have a perfect formula to get the Gonzaga like sustained success early on. A weak Horizon might be an advantage if Davis gets it done here. Would also be a national feel good story if we have meaningful success in NCAAs, perfect underdog story as a small school from battered Detroit recapturing glory of days past.
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Re: How Gonzaga Built a National Power

Postby ptctitan » Tue Oct 09, 2018 9:18 am

No two situations are identical. The relative strength of the HL in 2018 is very similar to the strength of the WCC in the mid to late 1990's. Yes, Spokane is a different sports market than Detroit, but metro Detroit has about 6x the population as metro Spokane. Gonzaga started winning long before its arena filled up with fans.

The key at McNichols and Livernois is whether the school retains its commitment to fielding a strong men's BB team as a means to increasing applications. Gonzaga had over 7,000 applications and accepted over 4,000 students and got over 1,000 new students to enroll. We just crossed 600 first year undergrads. 400 more students at $28K per head is another $11.2 million of tuition revenue. Therefore, investing a few million more into athletics in order to raise the first year new student count can achieve a good ROI.
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Re: How Gonzaga Built a National Power

Postby Tacitus651 » Tue Oct 09, 2018 10:56 am

I’m not saying we shouldn’t invest in MBB. I think hiring this coach is the wisest investment we could have made. To RBJs point, I think most fans would be thrilled with consistent 18 win seasons and NCAA tourney appearances every 1 in 3 years. Question is, what if over the next 5 or 6 seasons we are not hitting 18 wins but instead we are 14 (partly due to the Mike Davis scheduling philosophy) and don’t have tourney appearances. To state the obvious, you could have the most talented and antifragile team in the HL but still lose the HL tourney for a number of reasons. I think the Davis system and philosophy will work at Detroit Mercy but ultimately it's an experiment we need to see play out. The Gonzaga articles are always interesting, I just think our path will be very different.
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Re: How Gonzaga Built a National Power

Postby ptctitan » Tue Oct 09, 2018 11:46 am

To be great, we must risk failure. What if we begin to dominate the HL and pull off the occasional pre-season upset? What if we win NCAA tourney games again? To become truly antifragile, we must face the fear of failure or mediocrity and beat it. Otherwise, we'll always be losers. Embrace it. Learn from it. Improve from it. That's what makes competition so great. And beneficial to those who compete. We've been beaten down so frequently in the past several years that we have forgotten how to be confident. And embrace the uncertainty of each competition.
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Re: How Gonzaga Built a National Power

Postby uofdfan1983 » Tue Oct 09, 2018 1:07 pm

I had to laugh when I read that we cannot "reach the heights of Loyola." Check out our record vs. Loyola over the last 25 years, please. I would be quite happy with 18 wins THIS year but if that's your ultimate goal, or your "ceiling" then go root for OU, please. Our goal should be to become what Gonzaga and Xavier have become, to win games in the NCAA tourney on a regular basis and yes, to move to a better league. Loyola has certain advantages we don't have, but it's also visa versa. In the end, we need to be U-D. Our own success story. Nobody is going to make it happen for us. We need to step up and do it ourselves. Be part of it. It's a fun ride when you are relevant in the NCAA tournament run. Trust me. Sure beats 18 wins and a #4 seed in the Horizon Tourney...
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Re: How Gonzaga Built a National Power

Postby Tacitus651 » Tue Oct 09, 2018 1:48 pm

I wish I were still that idealistic. Put me down for happy and content with:

18 win seasons
NCAA appearances every 1 out of 3
True home attendance average of 3,000
People (including hardcore fans) getting our name correct
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