bracketology

Gonzaga may square off against two eventual No. 1 NCAA Tournament seeds within the first two months of the 2021-22 college basketball season if new bracketology projections pan out the way ESPN’s Joe Lunardi expects.

To little surprise, ESPN’s bracketology expert also anticipates Mark Few’s Bulldogs will return to March Madness not only as a No. 1 seed, but as the top overall seed at the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

According to Lunardi’s newest set of bracketology picks, released Wednesday by ESPN.com, the Zags are projected to be the No. 1 overall seed in March and the top seed in the West region, where they’d likely play opening-round games in Portland or San Diego. Lunardi’s predictions pit Gonzaga against the winner of a play-in game between Morgan State and Nicholls State.

If the Bulldogs hope to notch a No. 1 seed for the fourth time in school history, they might need favorable results against opponents who could also find themselves on the tournament’s top line when the Big Dance starts in March.

Lunardi’s three other No. 1 seeds include Texas (East), UCLA (Midwest) and Kansas (South). In one of, if not the most, anticipated nonconference games in McCarthey Athletic Center history, Gonzaga will play host to Chris Beard and Texas on Nov. 13. Less than two weeks later, the Bulldogs and UCLA will play in a Final Four rematch that’s tentatively set for Nov. 23 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Gonzaga is scheduled to play four other teams that made Lunardi’s latest bracket. Out of conference, the Bulldogs have challenging neutral-site games against Alabama and Texas Tech. Alabama is a preseason No. 4 seed in the East region, according to Lunardi, while the Red Raiders are a No. 7 in the South. WCC rival BYU made Lunardi’s field, as a No. 12 seed in the West, while Saint Mary’s squeaked in as a No. 10 seed in the Midwest. Lunardi listed both the Cougars and Gaels among the “last four byes.”

The projections also include Washington State as one of the first four teams out. The Cougars, under the leadership of third-year coach Kyle Smith, have the longest NCAA Tournament drought in the Pac-12 Conference, missing every year since 2008.

Expectations of another historic season for Gonzaga aren’t coming only from Lunardi. His ESPN colleague, Jeff Borzello, recently placed the Bulldogs atop a way-too-early college basketball poll, citing Andrew Nembhard’s impact – “he should be one of the best point guards in the country in 2021-22,” Borzello wrote – as a reason why GU could return to the tournament as a top seed.

In a recent preseason “Top 25 And 1” ranking published by CBSSports.com’s Garry Parrish, the Bulldogs checked in at No. 1 followed by their toughest nonconference foes – UCLA and Texas – at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively.

The annual college basketball preview magazine put out by Athlon Sports also had the Zags at No. 1, followed by No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Kansas and No. 4 Texas. Athlon’s preseason All-American teams included the names of two GU players, Drew Timme, a first-team selection, along with that of incoming freshman Chet Holmgren, who was named to the second team.

Theo Lawson can be reached at (509) 939-5928 or theol@spokesman.com.