UNC Greensboros Gonzaga connection

In 2001, when the Spartans made their last trip to the NCAA Tournament, Bankhead was a freshman three-point specialist for the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Zags went to the Sweet 16 that season —their third straight trip to the second weekend. By the end of his collegiate career, Bankhead had totaled 48 starts for Mark Fews Bulldogs. He made the NCAA Tournament in all four of his seasons in Spokane.

With 169 made threes over his career, Bankhead ranked in the top-10 all-time at Gonzaga until Josh Perkins passed him earlier this season.

“Our fans will get a chance to come out and support our team,” head coach Tara VanDerveer said. “Our team is really excited. We learned a lot from the Pac-12 tournament. We’ve had good practices last week, and we’re ready to go.”

Bankheads ties to Gonzaga didnt come to a close with the end of his collegiate career in 2004.

That the 15th-ranked Cardinal are a 4-seed and hosting the first two rounds is a tribute to their comeback from a 6-6 nonconference season. They played most of that stretch without leading scorer Brittany McPhee, who missed nine of those games with a foot injury.

After a season of professional basketball in Germany, Bankhead returned to Spokane and took a job as an administrative assistant on Mark Fews staff. He held that position for two years until fellow Gonzaga assistant Bill Grier took the top job at the University of San Diego.

In 2007 Bankhead followed Grier to the Toreros. Grier and Bankhead led San Diego to the NCAA Tournament in their first year, upsetting Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament final. They failed to make it back to the dance in any of the subsequent seven seasons, though, and were let go in 2015.

Between his two years on Fews staff, eight years coaching against Gonzaga, four years as a player, and one year as a walk-on, Bankhead has well over a decade of experience dealing with the Zags. Equally important, Bankhead has been a part of seven NCAA Tournament teams.

Gonzaga (27-5), which finished first in the WCC and won the conference tournament for the second straight year, is the 13 seed.

The 13 seed Spartans got a tough draw against 4 seed Gonzaga. But Bankheads presence, and insider information, could be the secret weapon the Spartans need.

Stanford was one of six Pac-12 teams that had tickets punched to the Big Dance during Monday’s selection show.

March Madness is called March Madness for a very specific reason, and the Zags have definitely been on the receiving end of it throughout their 20 year streak in the NCAA Tournament. Everything can be coming up Milhouse at one moment, and the next moment you are staring at a Stephen Curry led Davidson squad, or a Wichita State team intent on draining every single three pointer on the planet, or a UCLA squad that refuses to give up.

The furthest the Zags have advanced in the tournament is to the Elite Eight in 2011 under former head coach Kelly Graves. Gonzaga fell to Stanford 83-60 in Spokane. Graves is now the coach of the Oregon Ducks, who were awarded the No. 2 seed in the Spokane Regional. Games at the Arena will take place on March 24 and 26. Notre Dame is the No. 1 seed for Spokane.

The Zags, after a lot of work, hard effort, and ultimately just trying again year after year, finally made their first Final Four last season. Granted, last years season was one of the best teams in college, and the best team in school history. It also had one of the key ingredients required for deep runs in the NCAA Tournament: A balanced offense and defense.

The Zags missed the tournament the following year. But for the next seven seasons, the Zags made an appearance. They made it as far as the second round in 2009 and reached the Sweet Sixteen three years in a row, from 2010 to 2012.

Here is the list of all of the Final Four teams since 2010 and their corresponding KenPom rankings, with the team that won the national championship that year bolded.

There is a pretty key consistent throughout the years. Teams either 1) are balanced offensively and defensively, or 2) completely excel at either offense or defense. Now granted, like all years, there are some teams that do not fit into the mix, but generally speaking, the combined offensive/defensive attack is one of the ways to go.

March Madness West Region Predictions: Is Xavier over rated as top seed?

Last year, there were six teams that had a top 20 ranked offense and defense by Ken Pomeroy. Three of those six teams ended up in the Final Four. Of the other three: Wichita State lost to Kentucky, which then lost to North Carolina, and Villanova just got flat out upset. It happens.

This year, there are basically five teams with an offense and defense ranked within the top 20, and technically only three: Gonzaga, Duke, and Michigan State. Lets give Virginia (No. 21 offense, No. 1 defense) and Villanova (No. 1 offense, No. 22 defense) a pass into this esteemed group.

Gonzagas run in the tournament started in 2007 when the Zags were given a 12th seed. They were throttled in the first round by fifth-seeded Middle Tennessee 85-46.

The key reason for Gonzaga Final Four related enthusiasm is that the other top three seeds in the West Bracket, No. 1 Xavier, No. 2 North Carolina, and No. 3 Michigan, are all absent from this balanced group.

Video: How much will it cost to travel to Boise to watch the Zags?

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are like last years version of West Virginia, the woefully underseeded team that no one really wants to meet at any point of the NCAA Tournament. Granted, that West Virginia team ran into the No. 1 seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs, but the difference here is in the details. Gonzaga is ranked six places higher in KenPom over Xavier.

Xavier, UC Bearcats in top 6 of AP Top 25

Part of what makes Gonzaga such a ridiculously tough out is the fact that the team is so absurdly balanced. They are one of the few teams with five players averaging double digits in scoring. Johnathan Williams is the leading scorer, but he is just as likely to find the ball in his hands late in the game as Zach Norvell.

Video: Gonzaga Women Are Headed To Stanford In NCAA Tournament

The Zags are also a surprisingly tournament prepared team. Everyone talks so much about what Gonzaga lost from last season, but they leave out what Gonzaga kept for this season. Johnathan Williams, Killian Tillie, Josh Perkins and Silas Melson all played major minutes for a championship level squad last season. Rui Hachimura saw time last season and Zach Norvell redshirted through the run. It isnt like this is a group of lambs walking into the slaughter. These are veteran players who have big on the biggest stage college basketball has to offer.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Gonzaga womens dealt a No. 13 seed

Finally, after bucking the Final Four monkey last season, this Gonzaga team is the most dangerous because they have nothing to lose. They are the No. 8 team in the country but the No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They werent even picked to win the WCC by their own fellow coaches. Josh Perkins summed it up perfectly: We didnt get the respect that we deserved, nationwide or in the conference. We had a big chip on our shoulders, and I think it showed this weekend.

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