Gonzaga’s brand and past success puts them in league with the other power programs, but still no one outside of the Power 5/Big East has won the National Championship since UNLV did it in 1990. The last time it happened before that was Louisville in both 1980 and 1986, but Louisville was always considered a power program and they have since joined a power conference.
Villanova won it all last year, and was the first non FBS (formerly 1A) team to win the title since UConn did it in 1999 (and UConn has since transitioned up to the FBS). The last time it happened before that was when that same Villanova school won it in 1985.
The last time a team without football of any kind won it all was Marquette in 1977. Marquette is now a member of the Big East.
So, the question is when was the last time a school without football of any kind, and that is also outside the Power Five/Big East, won the National Championship??
It’s been a while.
It’s been since 1963 when Loyola Chicago won it all.
So, Gonzaga has kind of broken the mold. They emerged from a league that was almost always a one bid league and typically not inside the bubble to a program that both made the NCAA Tournament and routinely won tournament games. They parlayed that into becoming nationally relevant and were regulars in the Top 25. That in and of itself is a huge accomplishment. We’ve seen teams have great seasons and/or tournament runs, but aside from Butler (who is now in the Big East) almost none of them became a permanent fixture at the level that Gonzaga has, and although Butler made it to the final game in back-to-back years, they didn’t manage to win it all. Gonzaga has a chance to do that tonight.
North Carolina was here a year ago. They won their Final Four game against Oregon in a game that was sloppy at times, particularly down the stretch. Oregon seemed to come up empty on key possession after key possession, but somehow kept themselves in the game and even had a chance to win it in the final seconds. North Carolina missed four straight freethrows that could have extended a one point lead to three points, which is awful, but they managed to get two consecutive offensive rebounds off of the missed freethrows, and Oregon never got a chance to win the game on the final possession. They weren’t always great during the season, but they’ve looked really good in this tournament after they blew out a very good Butler team, and then held on for dear life to knock off Oregon and Kentucky. Their path to the championship game has been more challenging (at least when you look at the seeds) than Gonzaga’s has. They were also this deep a year ago.
Gonzaga vs South Carolina was a fantastic game to watch. It was the opposite of sloppy. South Carolina fell behind by as many as 14 in the second half and it really looked like Gonzaga was going to blow it open, but they scored 16 straight points and got the lead. Gonzaga’s defense picked it up after that and stopped South Carolina from converting on several key possessions, but it was a very well played game on both ends. Gonzaga is a great tournament story because of what was listed above, but South Carolina’s story may be even greater. I can’t say enough about the job Frank Martin has done there. I don’t know if I’ll even attempt it. The program was routinely missing the NIT and had no electricity around it at all. Had he just gotten them into the NCAA Tournament I would have praised the job he’s done. He got them to the Final Four!! If there are words in the English language that can properly illustrate how amazing that is then I don’t know what they are.
Tonight is always an exciting night, but for me (and a lot of us on the staff) it feels like the last great hit song of a great concert. As great as it is, there is a part of you that doesn’t want the show to end. That’s how I feel, and I think that’s how some of at Hoops HD feel. We won’t see another college basketball game of any kind until the last week in October (or thereabouts) when preseason exhibition games begin, and we won’t see another meaningful or competitive game until that always anticipated (if you’re us) second Friday in November. I say this every year, and as each year goes by, the more true I think it becomes. I actually like November better. I like knowing that the greatest expanse of college basketball is still in front of us. The Tournament is great. The Final Four is great. The Championship Game is great. But, ALL of college basketball is great, and I like November because that is when we have so much of it in front of us.
But, tonight will be great too!! And, possibly historic if Gonzaga can pull it off.