Gonzaga is the first team to enter the N.C.A.A. men’s tournament undefeated since Kentucky in 2014-15, and the Zags have a legitimate shot to become the first undefeated national champion since Indiana finished 32-0 in the 1975-76 season.
“Covid is the only thing that stops them. Or an injury,” Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said this season.
Gonzaga is 26-0 after beating Brigham Young to win the West Coast Conference championship on Tuesday. During the 2016-17 season, Gonzaga was 29-0 before it took two losses: the first against B.Y.U. in the regular season, the second against North Carolina in the championship game.
Gonzaga Coach Mark Few has an .834 career winning percentage and has won 30-plus games in six of the last eight seasons.
Now it would be something of a failure for Few and his players to end this season without the program’s first national championship.
“These guys have shown all year how competitive they are, and as we moved toward the N.C.A.A. tournament — it was taken away from them last year — I think we’ll get even an increased effort moving forward,” Few told reporters before the conference final.
Gonzaga went 31-2 last year during the shortened season. This season the team has three finalists for the John R. Wooden Award, given to the most outstanding college player: the senior small forward Corey Kispert, the freshman point guard Jalen Suggs and the sophomore forward Drew Timme. Suggs and Kispert are projected as N.B.A. lottery picks.
The Zags have a free-flowing, fast-paced offense, yet they still pass up the good shot for the great shot.
There are concerns, however. Although the Zags have wins over Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa and Virginia, they have not faced an opponent outside the W.C.C. since the Virginia game on Dec. 26.
Gonzaga allowed an average of 84 points in those four games and will have to play better defense in big spots in the N.C.A.A. tournament.
And the Zags could run into even better teams in the Final Four. — ADAM ZAGORIA
No. 3 Kansas
It has been an awful week for Kansas. The football coach, Les Miles, left last Monday because of sexual harassment accusations that dated to his tenure at Louisiana State. Then Jeff Long, the athletic director, announced his exit. On Friday, the men’s basketball team, which had been struggling with the pandemic earlier in the week, pulled out of the Big 12 tournament after a positive test.
The Jayhawks, who have appeared in every N.C.A.A. tournament since 1990, are going to try to play anyway, short-handed as they may be. Remember the standard the N.C.A.A. has set: A team can play if it has at least five players available. — ALAN BLINDER
No. 4 Virginia
The Cavaliers won the national title in 2019. After the health crisis forced the cancellation of last year’s N.C.A.A. tournament, Virginia is hoping the coronavirus won’t keep it from this year’s.
Virginia is pressing ahead just days after it withdrew from the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, where it was the top seed, because of a positive test. Now the Cavaliers will be looking to medical protocols and their sturdy defense to try to repeat as national champions.
Virginia’s opponents have averaged fewer than 61 points per game this season, among the lowest tallies in the country. — ALAN BLINDER
No. 7 Oregon
The Ducks were a little sluggish in a 75-64 loss to Oregon State on Friday, but energy preserved from their regular season Pac-12 title could keep them flying high. “We were just stuck in the mud right from the start,” Oregon Coach Dana Altman said following the Ducks’ semifinal loss on Friday. Oregon, 20-6 this season, claimed the inaugural N.C.A.A. championship in 1939 but has not won since. — GILLIAN R. BRASSIL
No. 12 U.C. Santa Barbara
The Gauchos are here for the first time in a decade, punching their ticket when they took the Big West tournament title from the reigning champion, U.C. Irvine, 79-63. U.C.S.B.’s JaQuori McLaughlin, the conference’s player of the year, scored 22 points in the win, and hopes to lead the team past its first matchup in a bigger N.C.A.A. pond. — GILLIAN R. BRASSIL
All of the West’s Matchups
No. 1 Gonzaga (26-0) vs. No. 16 Norfolk State/Appalachian State
No. 8 Oklahoma (15-10) vs. No. 9 Missouri (16-9)
No. 5 Creighton (20-8) vs. No. 12 U.C. Santa Barbara (22-4)
No. 4 Virginia (18-6) vs. No. 13 Ohio (16-7)
No. 6 Southern California (22-7) v. No. 11 Wichita State/Drake
No. 3 Kansas (20-8) vs. No. 14 Eastern Washington (16-7)
No. 7 Oregon (20-6) vs. No. 10 V.C.U. (19-7)
No. 2 Iowa (21-8) vs. No. 15 Grand Canyon (17-6)
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