Wednesday, October 20

Gonzaga won’t end up undefeated NCAA champion without conquering the Curse of the Hoosiers

Gonzaga has built the most uneventful and undefeated NCAA Division I basketball season of our lives, and this is true both literally and physically. The Zags have played all of their games in stadiums that were devoid of or in close proximity to spectators. The cacophony that often presents your biggest obstacle to perfection in the conference game was absent due to restrictions related to COVID-19.

The Zags became the fifth team to enter the NCAA Tournament with a perfect record since Indiana compiled the final undefeated championship season in 1976, and their attempt to match the Hoosiers’ achievement will define the 2021 edition of March Madness.

It will get loud now, even with limited attendance at these games. The 2021 tournament will be played entirely in the state of Indiana, mostly in the city of Indianapolis, and it’s almost as if there is a Curse of the Hoosiers working to protect the legacy of Quinn Buckner, Scott May, Kent Benson. And everything else.

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Those three and coach Bob Knight were the core of the Indiana team that completed the 1975-76 season with an 86-68 victory over Big Ten rival Michigan. That was the Hoosiers’ 32nd win of the season. There were no defeats. And apparently they are still beating everyone who tries to match that achievement.

UNLV brought their overwhelming 1991 squad to Indianapolis and the Hoosier Dome for the Final Four, and there the Curse ended the Runnin ‘Rebels’ streak of perfection with some help from the Duke Blue Devils in the tournament semifinals of the NCAA. A quarter of a century later, Kentucky reached Lucas Oil Stadium and the Final Four with nine future NBA players and 38 consecutive victories. This time it was the Wisconsin Badgers who were blessed by the Curse and knocked out the Wildcats in the semifinals.

If the Zags advance this far in the category, they may face something even more overwhelming than two extraordinary college basketball teams.

After recovering from a double-digit deficit in the second half of the West Coast Conference title game against BYU, the Zags won the last of their 26 games before the tournament. If that doesn’t seem like a lot given the non-pandemic schedules teams have played over the past decades, keep in mind that more than half of the previous 19 teams that entered the NCAA Tournament without a loss played as many games or less.

The trick for the Zags now is to convince themselves that they are 0-0, that being undefeated was not the goal at the start of the season. The NCAA championship is what they wanted. It’s the one thing, right now, that Gonzaga basketball has yet to accomplish. They have been ranked No. 1. They have reached 21 consecutive NCAA tournaments. They have been a No. 1 seed four times. They have been to the Final Four and the national championship in 2017. A championship is the last frontier.

There is a significant talent gap between the Zags and most other teams in the West Coast Conference annually. They have recorded five undefeated league seasons with coach Mark Few and have won 91 percent of their WCC games.

So they came close to reaching the NCAA undefeated before, especially in 2017, when they entered the final day of the regular season at 29-0 before falling to BYU at home.

Yet in a typical year, Gonzaga’s trips to WCC opponents like Santa Clara, San Francisco, or Pepperdine, or especially St. Mary’s, are seen on the home team’s campus as an opportunity to pack up the gym and take a look. to a great team. and try to decrease it, if only for one night. With the audience share element of those road games, the Zags won by an average of 19 points and never by less than a double-digit margin.

This was a major problem for UNLV in 1991, when the Rebels were 34-0 going into the Final Four and had only one game, a win at Arkansas, decided by a single-digit margin. When Duke challenged the rebels in the final minutes, they did not recognize how to respond. It was a circumstance they weren’t prepared for, and they let slip a little late hint.

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When tested in the game for the WCC title, All-American wing Corey Kispert and head coach Mark Few expressed a sense of relief that they had finally been challenged by someone, anyone, and found a way to prevail. And, of course, remain perfect.

“We haven’t talked about it before the BYU aftermath,” Few told CBS Sports. “They just scored us in the ‘next game’ and we won.

“I know that is our way of thinking with the NCAA Tournament. We are talking about winning and moving forward, winning and moving forward and keep doing what we’ve been doing all year. But I think it was important, in the post-BYU time, to tell the guys and acknowledge what an incredible feat it is to be able to go undefeated. When you look at those teams that entered the NCAA Tournament undefeated, that’s quite a bunch. And in my opinion, it’s an honor to be associated with all those teams. “

However, it is more of an honor to be associated with UCLA from 1967 or North Carolina from 1957 or San Francisco from 1956 than with the state of Wichita from 2014 or the state of Indiana from 1979.

Is it strange that every undefeated team since the 1976 Hoosiers has played at least part of their schedule in Indiana and that none have been able to stay perfect until the end? The state of Wichita visited the state of Indiana and Evansville. Larry Bird’s Sycamores played all of their home games in Terre Haute.

Or is he overstretching this “curse” thing?

When you’re dealing with the supernatural, it’s hard to tell what kinds of powers are at work.

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