With West Basketball on the rise – led by No. 1 seed Gonzaga – is the end of the men’s NCAA title drought in sight?

SAN FRANCISCO — Gonzaga men’s basketball coach Mark Few isn’t sure there’s a valid reason—besides that it’s incredibly difficult to do—why West hasn’t produced an NCAA men’s basketball tournament champion since Arizona in 1997.

What is certain is that many Western teams, including their Zags in 2017 and 2021, were able to end a title drought that has now reached 25 years. Gonzaga was a win the previous season from becoming the first unbeaten national champion since Indiana in 1976, but Baylor took home the hardware with an 86–70 victory in Indianapolis.

Few are convinced that the West Coast Conference is as good as it has been in their 32-year association with the convention.

West, in general, is earning the No. 1 seed in Sweet 16 with Gonzaga, Arizona, and UCLA, and the Zags and Wildcats. Gonzaga and UCLA staged an epic overtime fight in last year’s Final Four, and USC and Oregon State made up the Elite Eight.

“It’s been good,” some said of basketball in the West. “Lute (Olson, Arizona coach) had good teams, UCLA and UNLV had good teams. We grew up watching him. It’s great, it’s in a good place right now.”

When Gonzaga defeated South Carolina in a national semifinal, West ended a title drought in nearly 20 years, but Oregon fell to North Carolina 77–76, preventing an All-West final. Gonzaga took the lead with less than 2 minutes to spare but the Tar Heels scored the last eight points to win the championship.

Some stats questions will be raised again with the Zags, the tournament’s top overall seed, set to face fourth-seeded Arkansas in Sweet 16 on Thursday at the Chase Center.

“They pitted against each other (in the same bracket) like a lot of us stuff,” said some. “And so obviously with the population center being on the East Coast, they get more teams, but for whatever reason they end up doing stuff to us. Who knows, we and UCLA were even different in that last four last year- were in different brackets or not. ?

“I heard it was talked about in 2017 and apparently it continues.”

Cutting the net requires six wins in a pressure-filled, win-or-home tournament. Consider that Baylor’s title last year was the first Big 12 title since Kansas in 2008. The 2000 Michigan State Spartans were the last Big Ten champions.

“Winning a national title is extremely difficult,” said Dan Monson, who guided Gonzaga to the 1999 Elite Eight before moving to Minnesota and his current post at Long Beach State. “I remember I was in the Big Ten and people were saying how many years it’s been since I won the Big Ten School. That’s why it’s so cute and iconic because it’s really hard to do.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with West Coast basketball. There’s only one champion every year and that’s hard to do.”

Utah, then a member of the Western Athletic Conference, and advanced to the 1998 Final Four with the Utes falling to Kentucky at the Stanford Championships. Arizona’s final trip to the Final Four ended in a title-game loss to Duke in 2001.

UCLA scored three consecutive finals from 2006–08, but lost against Florida in 2006, the first of the Gators’ two consecutive titles. The Bruins won the 1995 title over Arkansas.

“There aren’t as many schools in the West to begin with,” said Washington State coach Kyle Smith. “There are three teams in the West that are able-bodied with Gonzaga and Arizona and haven’t slept at UCLA since they reached the Final Four last year.

“In my bracket it’s Arizona, UCLA. I have the Pac-12 running 14-2 so I’m pretty optimistic. But there’s no real theory (for the drought). It’s hard to do. I mean Kentucky have only one title (since 1998) and the number of professionals they have in the last 10-15 years is truly amazing. North Carolina has put out three (since 2005).

Smith has been at WSU for three seasons after three years in San Francisco at the WCC. He spent six years in the Ivy League as Colombia’s head coach before taking on the USF.

“I think (Pac-12) is a little underrepresented, but the numbers are not moving,” he said. “I think we are doing very well in the postseason and we will definitely be back next season, but again we can have two of the top eight teams.

“The West Coast Conference was a really really good year and the Mountain West had four[in March Madness]. There are some good coaches and programs. I’ve always been biased because I coach here, but I don’t mind the East Coast bias thing. Understand because I was in Colombia for six years. I forgot about these leagues, I couldn’t keep up with watching them. Don’t blame the East Coast, they just can’t last that long.”

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