There have been plenty of conversations over the last few weeks regarding Gonzaga, the lost championship, and the West Coast Conference. The main issue is the argument that if Gonzaga ever wants to win, they’ll have to leave the WCC.
By no means is the WCC an impressive basketball conference. Outside of Gonzaga, they are left with teams like BYU, Pepperdine, Pacific, Saint Mary’s, San Francisco, Portland, San Diego, and the list goes on. At the end of the day, it is a really bad conference when it comes to basketball, but it just hardly saved by the fact that Mark Few has done the impossible and turned the Bulldogs into a basketball powerhouse.
The Bulldogs have never really struggled for even a second in WCC play since Mark Few has been the head coach. Honestly, it may not even be fulfilling at this point when they win a WCC Championship. Few basically doesn’t lose when it comes to WCC competition, and if they do, it has seldom been more than three games that they have dropped.
I’ll come right out and say it. The Gonzaga Bulldogs would probably be more competitive down the stretch and in March Madness if they didn’t play in the WCC. They play a really great non-conference schedule, and they always align themselves to play the top teams in college basketball during that span. But then conference play kicks in, and they are demoted to playing those teams that we mentioned before.
I don’t know about you, but Gonzaga taking on a team like Saint Mary’s in the WCC Championship game doesn’t elicit the same experience as playing a team like Baylor in the National Championship.
Outside of Villanova and UConn, non-Power 5 conference schools do not win in March. It just doesn’t happen. And even then, the Big East is a much more competitive conference than the West Coast Conference when it comes to basketball. They have powerhouses, and they have a great history of winning in the tournament, whereas the WCC doesn’t.
If you checked Twitter during the National Championship game, Gonzaga was being crushed for their WCC affiliation. Fans and basketball stans let them have it and reminding them that the conference they often win so easily doesn’t really belong in the college basketball world.
One user wrote, “Gonzaga would benefit much more from a pac12 or mountain west schedule. They’d learn how to play against runs and with a deficit. It also helps much more with player/team development which goes a long way in the postseason. The only benefit from the WCC is a guaranteed tourney bid.”
Another went right at the integrity of the WCC, “Is anybody shocked that a team that plays in the WCC couldn’t beat a team from a major conference in the NCAA men’s championship game? Eventually, Gonzaga played a team that had 9 deep and older. Emphasis on older and no one-and-dones in Baylor’s program.”
There is an argument that Gonzaga shouldn’t have to leave the WCC. Sure, they beat every Power-5 school they played this season other than Baylor. They cruised in the March Madness tournament, where they had to play teams like Oklahoma, USC, and UCLA. But where it really hurts them is when it comes to taking two months of playing opponents who aren’t very good. That is a really long stretch of time to lower your competitive bar, and I hope that another team can keep up with you to get some real comp.
The major issue really is, where would Gonzaga go? Based on Spokane’s location, it is not like they will be invited to join the Big 10 or the SEC. The only conferences that really come to mind are the Pac-12, Mountain West, and Big West.
Joining the Pac-12 is difficult solely because of their lack of football. Gonzaga could compete in most other sports that the Pac-12 has, but the lack of football might be enough for the Pac-12 not to gamble with it. After all, what is post-Mark Few the basketball program suffers and no longer has the chops to compete with a Power 5 conference? I also don’t think the Pac-12 will be attracted enough to the TV market that Spokane offers. Outside of basketball, they have to be attractive in another sport, and it just isn’t there.
The Big West, in my opinion, wouldn’t be a massive upgrade for Gonzaga. The Big West has players like UCSB and UC Irvine, but outside of that, no one pops off that list. Should Gonzaga jump ship to get in two games at Cal State Bakersfield? Absolutely not. While it seems crazy, the Big West doesn’t have enough to offer Gonzaga.
The Mountain West could make sense. I actually think the Mountain West makes the most sense. Sure, the MWC could be upset that they don’t have a football program, but outside of Boise State, it isn’t like any other schools are consistent Top 25 performers. On top of that, Gonzaga would bring some huge revenue to the basketball world in the MWC. The conference already has some top teams like San Diego State, Utah State, Colorado, Boise State, Nevada, and UNLV. Sure this may not be the UNC, Duke, and Baylor’s of the world, but these are teams that find themselves in the tournament and create a competitive atmosphere.
The question then becomes does Gonzaga want to risk everything they have working for them in the WCC with going to a conference where maybe they are challenged more by a team like San Diego State for that top spot? If Mark Few had a choice, I think he would say yes.
If the Bulldogs continued to have that same non-conference schedule on top of an MWC slate every year, they would be ready for that championship game.