College basketball is big news in Washington right now. Gonzaga is the No. 1 team in the nation for the first time in school – and state – history.
The Husky and Cougar men are playing in the Pac-12 tournament this weekend in Las Vegas. And Seattle is hosting the Pac-12 women’s tournament.
KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel weighs in on it all.
Zags' rise to the top
Art saw signs of Gonzaga's success three months ago.
"I saw them in December when they played their annual 'Battle in Seattle' game at KeyArena. They played Kansas State - a very good team, which is now ranked ninth in the country. They beat them by 14 points and I wrote then 'This is a final four team.'"
Have what it takes
Art continues to expect great things from Gonzaga this season.
"They have all the elements in terms of a quality point guard and a quality big man - that is kind of the base requirement for success in the (NCAA) tournament. They've got a very good coach who's very settled in Gonzaga. (He) wants to stay there, doesn't want to go big time so you can't undercut his recruiting by saying 'He's going to be gone in two years.' They've just made a powerhouse, a national brand of their basketball program."
'Jump ball' for No.1 this year
Art says, this year, parity is everywhere in the college basketball scene. No one team stands out.
The criticism of Gonzaga comes from the weak schedule in the West Coast Conference. It's not part of the big six of basketball conferences and is instead known a "mid-major conference."
"People tend to denigrate the validity of it, but they've beaten just about everybody they've played. They've only lost two games and they were both to quality opponents. So I think they are as deserving as anyone of No. 1. and I see no reason why they can't go far."
Winning outside of WCC
Art says Gonzaga gained national attention with victories outside of its conference.
"They played five Big 12 teams and beat them all. I think there are a lot of reasons to give Gonzaga just as much credit as Indiana or some of the other teams. I have no doubt that they are going to represent well. This is not going to be a 'one and done' deal for Gonzaga."
UW and WSU still in the game
They may be overshadowed by Gonzaga's success, but both the University of Washington and Washington State still have some skin in the game. They're playing in the Pac-12 tournament this weekend in Las Vegas.
UW is on a three-game winning streak. WSU broke a nine-game losing streak with an upset win over No. 23 UCLA Wednesday, 73-61. WSU also gave the Zags a run for their money this season, only losing by two points.
Seattle in spotlight with Pac-12 women's tournament
KeyArena is hosting the Pac-12 women's basketball tournament this weekend. Seattle won the contract to host the tourney for the next three years. It had been in Los Angeles for the past four years but attendance wasn't strong.
Art says it's a big deal for the city.
"This is kind of a foothold in the event hosting business that Seattle used to be very good at. They hope to grow the audience each year. I think it could be fun. It's a cheap ticket. And KeyArena will have some hoops action in March, which I think is pretty cool."