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Gonzaga Claims First Ever Number One Ranking

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

In a season that has been truly unpredictable, no one could have predicted a number one ranking for the Zags.

Gonzaga Claims First Ever Number One Ranking

If you haven't been paying attention to college basketball this year, it's been a pretty wild ride. Five different teams have sat atop the AP Top 25 Polls this season, and the latest newcomer to the summit is the Gonzaga Bulldogs of the West Coast Conference.

This is the first time in school history that the Zags have held the number one ranking (last week's number two ranking was their previous high, and they broke it one week later). Gonzaga's rise is a testament to the level of parity that exists in college basketball today. Back in 1999 when Gonzaga made their Cinderella run to the Elite Eight, they were this scrappy underdog. Now, a little over a decade later, this small school in Spokane, Washington with under 5,000 undergrad students can compete with national powers like Duke, Indiana, and Kansas on a yearly basis and actually field the top-ranked team in the country.

The college basketball landscape has become so much more competitive in the last decade. The tradition powers end up coming out on top at the end of the year, but the level of play in conferences like the Missouri Valley, Horizon League, Colonial Athletic Association, and the previously mentioned West Coast Conference have all been able to make splashes in the regular season and come tournament time. George Mason and VCU made it to the Final Four, Butler made it to the National Championship in back-to-back seasons. St. Joseph's had an incredible undefeated regular season with Jameer Nelson and Delonte West.

Gonzaga has been able to go from that tiny school that made a run in the tournament to that tiny school that just keeps winning and is a tournament presence every year. Eamonn Brennan said it best over at ESPN's college basketball blog when he wrapped up his weekly "Poll Thoughts" column with this:

Being ranked No. 1 means a lot to any program. To a dominant Kentucky or Duke it means rightful success; to a long-suffering Indiana or Michigan it means resurrection.

To a program like Gonzaga, it is the culmination of a decade of work, a demolition of the barriers that are supposed to keep mid-majors in place, and a testament to the best thing about college basketball: If you're good enough, everybody belongs.

College basketball is truly a meritocracy, and Gonzaga has proven its worth this year. Forward Kelly Olynyk emerged as an All-America candidate. Elias Harris continued his solid play into his senior season. The back court of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. have provided steady and progressively improved play all season. Role players like Sam Dower, David Stockton, Mike Hart, Drew Barham and Polish big man Przemek Karnowski have combined to form one of the deepest rosters in the country. At 29-2 (16-0 in WCC play) Gonzaga is wholly deserving of the top ranking. 

Does the ranking mean that Gonzaga is better than teams like Indiana and Duke? Of course it doesn't (though they have the capability to be as good as those teams on any given day). It's just a nominal ranking and will mean nothing once the tournament arrives, but it's still significant to see that a small program like Gonzaga can make its way to the top past the traditional powers.

Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to see your favorite teams all season.


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