Gonzaga is not your older brother’s No. 11 seed.
The Bulldogs, making their 13th-consecutive NCAA tournament, finished the regular season 24-9, winners of the West Coast Conference tournament as well as their last nine games.
The meeting will be the fourth between the teams in program college basketball history, as well as the second in NCAA play. Gonzaga has won the last two games, most recently during the 2001 Great Alaskan Shootout. The teams previously met in the 2000 NCAA tournament’s second round, where the No. 10 Bulldogs upset the No. 2 Red Storm.
Gonzaga is led by head coach Mark Few, now in his 22nd season with the team, who has been part of each of the program’s NCAA tournament runs. St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin and Few have known each other since Lavin coached at UCLA.
Despite coming from what has been regarded as a “mid-major” conference, the Bulldogs faced seven teams in their non-conference schedule that reached the NCAA tournament and had a combined record of 168-61.
Though they went just 2-5 in those games, which included matches with Marquette and Notre Dame, the Bulldogs were well-equipped for the NCAA tournament with experience against whoever the selection committee matched them up against.
But not only are the Bulldogs seasoned against tournament teams, they are also experienced in the tournament itself. Five Gonzaga players have previously played in the NCAA tournament, in comparison to no St. John’s player having ever reached the Big Dance.
Chief among Gonzaga’s players is Steven Gray, who has started three NCAA games and played in six. The senior guard has averaged 11 points and 31.7 minutes per game in NCAA tournament play, and put up 21 points against Stephon Curry’s Davidson club during the 2008 tournament’s first round.
The Red Storm may also have their hands full with senior Robert Sacre. The 7-foot, 260-pound center has averaged 10.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in the NCAA tournament. Last week, Syracuse’s Fab Melo, who also comes in at over seven feet tall, scored a career-high 22 points against St. John’s in the Big East tournament quarterfinal.
Gonzaga went on two nine-game winning streaks this season, with non-conference wins over Baylor, Xavier, Oklahoma State and Wake Forest during the first, and four wins over St. Mary’s and San Francisco during the second. St. Mary’s, considered by many to be on the bubble, did not reach the NCAA tournament, while San Francisco accepted a bid to
the CollegeInsider.com Postseason tournament.