BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 03/19/2018

Thiel: NCAA tourney leaving the West behind

Randomness abounds in the NCAA tournament, and ineptness prevails in the West — except for Gonzaga, which suddenly looks coherent while the field indulges in madness.

Could mayhem open the way for Mark Few and Gonzaga? / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

When Maryland Baltimore County Credit Union Mini-Mart puts its stamp on the NCAA men’s basketball tourney, the apocalypse is nigh. Then again, if the Cubs can win a World Series, the Eagles can win a Super Bowl and 44-year-old Ichiro can still be a starting outfielder in Seattle (well, wait: The last one is more pathetic than absurd), then . . . we all may be in the same Salvador Dali painting.

The thrill of informing your great grandchildren you were alive when a 16 seed beat a No. 1 will make for great holiday-meal storytelling, at least until some wise-ass grandkid asks if that was the same year everyone in big-time college basketball was arrested. The perp walk hasn’t happened yet, but it’s only March.

The sly observation to make after the first-weekend carnage is that you noticed it was also when West Coast ball damn near died.

I mentioned Friday that the tourney was over for the meager Pac-12 Conference allotment practically before it started. UCLA and Arizona State were embarrassed in the play-in games, then league champion Arizona executed a fall from grace that was almost Weinsteinian in its ruthlessness.

Look at the round of 16: There’s only two teams from the West (Texas doesn’t count; it hasn’t been the West since John Wayne rode ponies).

Gonzaga, the West Coast Conference champion, nearly spit up Thursday against 13th-seeded North Carolina-Greensboro (every other outfit in the 68-team field seemed to be from the state of North Carolina) before regaining form Saturday and beating Ohio State.

The University of Nevada-Craps, the Mountain West Conference champion, was down 12 Friday and 22 Sunday before going Russell Wilson on the opposition each time.

No California teams. Oregon was in consecutive rounds of eight, but nada this time. And Arizona merely is hoping someone includes a file in the cake sent to the big house.

Perhaps the West Coast backwater championship game is Monday in Moraga, CA., when St. Mary’s of the WCC hosts the Washington Huskies in a second-round National Invitational Tournament game. I can almost hear, “One Kinda Shiny Moment-Thing.”

Remember when Seattle was alleged to be such a hotbed for youth hoops? Almost no one from hereabouts can still be found in the tourney.

Gonzaga’s roster has one in-state kid, freshman bench-warmer Corey Kispert from King’s High School in Shoreline (the Zags do have two from France and one each from Denmark and Japan).

Nevada has former Rainier Beach High School star Elijah Foster, who led Beach to a state title when he was tourney MVP. But in his senior year, the 6-8, 235-pound forward is the eighth man in for coach Eric Musselman, playing just 206 minutes in the regular season.

As the West joins Bruce Springsteen dancing in the dark, the rest of the country feels more bewildered than lonely. For just the fourth time since seeding began in 1979, two No. 1 seeds (Virginia and Xavier), failed to reach the Sweet 16, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Only seven top-four seeds made it, which ties for the fewest ever.

Coach Leonard Hamilton, whose ninth-seeded Florida State team ousted Xavier 73-70 Sunday, is not big on going with the hoops chalk in the era of the one-and-done, now in its 12th year.

“I think what you see happening in college basketball, it’s almost like a revolution,” he told reporters. “What happens is, you start categorizing people by the reputation that their players get going into college. But in reality, kids are playing basketball all over the country and teams are getting better. Just because maybe they might not be in one particular conference, or maybe they’re not considered to be one of the more traditional rich schools, people are playing basketball.

“Sometimes the team that’s the most talented might not necessarily win the game. It’s the team that’s playing well at that particular time.”

Which is many words to say this: Randomness abounds and abides.

Absent any superpower teams, and perhaps fearing the day when the federal investigation names more big names, this tournament is at an all-time high for randomness.

High school kids may think twice about the blue-blood programs if they start to imagine their coach in a uniformĀ  — federal penitentiary orange coveralls. Already reeling from the scandal and a first-round knockout, Arizona coach Sean Miller has zero recruits committed for the start of school in fall.

But in the near-term, despite the high casualty rate in the West, the developments suggest perhaps the best opportunity yet for Gonzaga. After its title-game loss a year to North Carolina and roster departures, a slight dip seemed likely. But they are 32-4 and at 7 p.m. Thursday in Los Angeles draw Hamilton’s Seminoles, who may have exhausted their perfect-game shot against Xavier.

The winner plays the winner between Michigan and Texas A&M, neither of which has made a pretense to greatness, for a ticket to the Final Four.

The Zags could be the mayhem guy from the insurance TV commercial, still upright after the carnage.

Now that the threat from the hulking Credit Union Mini-Mart has been dispatched, glorious vistas unfurl before the Zags, like the lentil fields of home.


  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    “Already reeling from the scandal and a first-round knockout, Arizona coach Sean Miller has zero recruits committed for the start of school in fall.” . Music to my ears !

    Someone explain to me how ‘Maryland Baltimore County Credit Union Mini-Mart’ made the tourney but St. Mary’s didn’t ? Huskies have a tough game tonight ..

    Kentucky is starting to look like they could make a run in the NCAA , but with everyone’s brackets immediately thrown in the round file this year , hard to project much of anything .

    • Kirkland

      I wonder how the effects of long-standing investigations at places like Louisville and North Carolina will affect their recruiting. Also, how much longer can John Calipari’s one-and-done strategy sustain itself at Kentucky, particularly if the NBA finally junks its age-19 rule.

      At least, thanks to UMBC, we’re all getting a free Little Caesars personal pizza next month!

      • art thiel

        We still don’t know the depth and breadth of the charges, but the NCAA committee appointed to dither about rules violations is booked to produce a report in April. I’d guess known rules violations will produce sanctions in the fall, and a possible vacation of previous victories.

      • Theyfinallyfiredcable

        Pizza Pizza ! Or maybe it’s Dilly Dilly ..

    • art thiel

      They were the Credit Union Mini-Mart league champions, one of 36 automatic entries. St. Mary’s had to be an at-large selection behind WCC champ Gonzaga, and their weak non-conference schedule killed their chance.

      • Husky73

        St. Mary’s was the best team not to get in.

    • rosetta_stoned

      Someone explain to me how ‘Maryland Baltimore County Credit Union Mini-Mart’ made the tourney but St. Mary’s didn’t ?

      They won their conference tournament. St. Mary’s didn’t.
      Nothing more. Nothing less.

  • Alan Harrison

    I love the march to madness. I hate predictability (sorry Jay Bilas, you annoy me). In fact, were it up to me (and who knows? maybe someday…), the only difference I’d make is to swap the automatic conference bids to the regular season champ and let the tournament champ at the very least get a bid to the NIT. In addition, I would probably limit conferences to only the top 1/3 of teams in the regular season conference games (so that the 8th-place team in a big conference is not assured of a bid because of Jay Bilas – did I mention he annoys me?). Anyone have a problem? Then finish in the top third next time. Ah, but if wishes were horses, and all that stuff.

    • art thiel

      Not sure what Bilas said that annoyed you, but everyone, including him, enjoys the unpredictability. In the land of the underdog, the tourney format is uniquely appealing in the U.S. The unknown is enhanced by allowing weak regular-season teams to win the conference tourney and show up in the 68-team field with a losing or .500 record.

      • Alan Harrison

        What annoys me about Jay Bilas is that he pushes the big conference teams over the Cinderellas. And me, I think the unknown is not enhanced by 8th place teams, but rather small teams that earned a spot. For kicks, I did my own 68-team list for this year using my criteria (, with the duplicate teams in red), for example, and the only controversies would have been: 1) Arkansas or Missouri (beat each other, same conference record); and 2) the #68 team (I picked UC Irvine, but it could have been any number of teams). Other than that, I’d prefer to reward regular season greatness than one-week greatness.

        • art thiel

          I see your point. You’re advocating the college football mantra that values the body of seasonal work rather than the final game(s).

          That works better for football with 12 games. Basketball’s longer season allows for ordinary teams to become good late, typically by maturing and making practices count. Your formula provides no reward for that worthy feat.

          • Kirkland

            This is one reason why I’ll just “watch” occasional college games, without “following” the sports. I simply disagree with the concept of a committee and poll — i.e., subjectivity — determining who makes and misses the playoffs. If there’s not a set criteria, like the X conference winners and Y wild card teams with the best records, it’s not worth it for the sport or fandom (especially in a developmental, not pro, league). Not worth it to get worked up over a snub.

  • Husky73

    …and Moscow girls make me sing and shout…..

  • jafabian

    Instead of the Ichiro comparison perhaps we could go with the NHL returning to Seattle? Before the NBA?

  • Nick Francis

    Art, you described local Zag player Corey Kispert as a benchwarmer, and that’s not quite right. He was a starter for the first six games this year and averaged over double digits before injuring an ankle, which is when Zach Norvell stepped up. Since returning, he’s been getting 15-20 minutes a game and has looked good, popping in 8 points last Thursday in the opening round.

  • bugzapper

    Pssst. Don’t look now, but the NIT just left the West behind, too.