Column: Zags deserving of a No. 1 tournament seed

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Together they’ve got the Bulldogs at 27-2 with two games left until the West Coast Conference tournament.

It would all be heady stuff, except Gonzaga has been here before. Maybe not quite this high in the rankings, but coach Mark Few’s team has won four of every five games since he took over in 1999, and the Zags always seem to be in the mix late in the season.

If there’s a knock against the Bulldogs _ the official team nickname, though they’re known everywhere as the Zags _ it’s the usual one for teams from smaller schools (Gonzaga’s enrollment is about 7,500). They play in a conference with schools they almost always dominate, making it hard to get a fix on just how good they are once the conference schedule begins.

If they were a football team, they’d be Boise State. The formula is win a few tough ones early, then beat up on conference wannabes and move up in the rankings while teams in more competitive conferences struggle. This deep into the season, though, Gonzaga has no doubt it belongs among the elite teams in the country.

“The polls mean a lot more this time of year than they do in November, December, even January,” Few said. “All of us are being judged on the true body of work. It’s definitely rewarding. It establishes us as a national program, which I believe we have been for the last 10 years. This group has done a great job of competing at that level, winning games at the highest level.”

To win a bunch of them in a row in the NCAA tournament requires the kind of talent that some Gonzaga teams of the past have lacked. The difference this year might be Olynyk, a rare big man with the ball-handling instincts of the guard he once was.

After redshirting as a junior last year, he’s now a potential first-round NBA pick averaging 17.7 points and seven rebounds a game.

“He grew up and his game grew up,” Few said.

The same might be said about the school nobody in basketball considers little anymore.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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