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Zags won't put head in sand about possible conference shift

Zags won't put head in sand about possible conference shift

By Eddie Pells, Associated Press | Posted - Mar. 17, 2017 at 5:17 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gonzaga got the credit it deserved this year — in the form of a No. 1 seed — for making its schedule as challenging as it could.

Maybe it shouldn't be so hard, though.

Preparing for Saturday's second-round game in the West region against Northwestern, coach Mark Few says "we don't have our head in the sand" when it comes to the conference realignment that has shaken up college hoops over the past decade, and how those changes could eventually come to the campus in Spokane, Washington.

"I think about it. I'm always talking to that guy about it," Few said, as he pointed toward Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth. "We've got a brand. We're going to do what's best for Gonzaga. If something presents itself, we're certainly looking, the way other people have looked and analyzed to see how it would work for them."

Few said Gonzaga, now in its 19th straight tournament and onto the second round for the ninth straight year, has no problem scheduling pretty much any team it wants. This season's non-conference schedule included tournament teams Florida, Iowa State and Arizona. Still, once January rolls around, conference opponents overtake Gonzaga's schedule and the Bulldogs roll. Their conference record over the last five seasons: 80-8. Only two of those losses have come to teams other than St. Mary's or BYU.

Asked if he secretly wished there were a few more UCLAs and Arizonas on the schedule every year, junior guard Silas Melson responded: "Honest answer, yes. We're totally fine with the competition we play. But watching on TV, the Big Ten games, Pac-12, we want to be among the best like that."

If Gonzaga was really going to move, it would have more in common with teams in a conference such as the Big East, where having a football team is not a prerequisite to joining.

Of course, playing an entire schedule against teams on the other side of the country would be a stretch. Bottom line: Few isn't ruling out anything.

"I've got nothing concrete for you, but we don't have our head in the sand," he said. "We're going to do what's best for us. Our entity and our brand are national now."

Other things to watch in the West region on Saturday:

QUEST FOR RESPECT: Though they're focused on Gonzaga, Northwestern players say they've found some motivation thanks to the story line surrounding the strange finish in their win over Vanderbilt.

The Wildcats got the winning points after Vandy's Matt Fisher-Davis intentionally fouled Bryant McIntosh with 14.6 seconds left, even though the Commodores had just taken the lead. McIntosh made both free throws and the Wildcats won. The crazy play put an unusual spin on Northwestern's history-making first win at this, its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.

"Everyone wants to talk about the foul," senior Sanjay Lumpkin said. "But they don't want to talk about the plays we made down the stretch. ... But that's something we've faced and something I've faced all the time I've been at Northwestern, when everything has been overshadowed."

YOU LOOK FAMILIAR: The record book says Saturday's meeting between No. 2 seed Arizona and No. 7 seed St. Mary's will be their first since 2005. That's really not the case.

They've squared off in preseason scrimmages the three seasons before this.

"You get familiar with the personnel, familiar with the style, as well," senior guard Joe Rahon said.

The stands were empty and the teams were focused as much on putting the fine touches on their own work as getting a win, so it was not anything near NCAA-Tournament-like pressure.

But as forward Calvin Hermanson said, "the scoreboard's still on. It was competitive."

Arizona coach Sean Miller said the teams were supposed to scrimmage to start this season, as well, but his school called it off to schedule an additional preseason game.

"It's ironic we're playing but I'm not surprised," he said. "We knew when faced them and saw them on television that they're a team that's going to be in this tournament."

BIG EAST REUNION: The Big East is back, if only for a day.

The fourth-seeded West Virginia Mountaineers (27-8) resume their one-time conference rivalry against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (26-9) in a matchup of teams that play with contrasting styles.

Notre Dame, which entered the tournament committing fewer than eight turnovers a game, faces the smothering defense of the team that goes by the nickname "Press Virginia." That places a focus on Notre Dame junior point guard Matt Farrell, who has gone 16 consecutive games without committing more than three turnovers.

"We just need to stay poised with the ball," Farrell said. "We need guys to be receivers. We need to be strong with the ball."

OLD NEIGHBORS: Xavier guard Malcolm Bernard has a better feel than most for upcoming opponent Florida State and what the third-seeded Seminoles can do.

He and the Seminoles used to be neighbors.

Bernard played pick-up ball and spent social time with many of the Seminoles last year when he played at Florida A&M, which is also in Tallahassee.

"So I am very familiar with their games and how they play and who they are," said Bernard, who is spending his last year of eligibility as a graduate student at Xavier after graduating from FAMU in his lone season there.

Florida State figures it will need to pick things up to advance to the Sweet 16. Missed free throws (15 of 39), turnovers (16) and defensive lapses down the stretch let Florida Gulf Coast back into their first-round game. The Seminoles held on 86-80.

"We've just got to come into practice today, work on free throws, work on executing, less turnovers, and get the game plan down for Xavier," FSU guard Dwayne Bacon said. "We definitely need to play better, though."


AP Sports Writers John Wawrow and Terrance Harris contributed to this report.


More AP college basketball: and\_Top25

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Eddie Pells


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