Gonzaga with a tremendous season on the verge of college basketball’s holy grail.
19 straight years in the NCAA Tournament.
18 straight years where they have not conquered their region.
This time, they have a chance to conquer their personal Everest.
But to do so, they have to deal with a true party crasher- Xavier, who for most of the season did not resemble last year’s 2 seed but seems to be getting hot at the right time.
One of the things about a Final Four run is that everything has to fall into place.
Especially for the smaller schools.
One could argue that Gonzaga drawing Xavier instead of Arizona is a case of things falling into place, but on the other side, things may be falling into place for Xavier (Got arguably the most vulnerable 3-6 seed combos in their region.
Maryland and Florida State were not as formidable a 3-6 as opposed to the East (Baylor-SMU), South (Cincinnati-UCLA), or Midwest (Oregon as a 3 seed).
But these small schools from smaller conferences that made these runs needed things to fall perfectly.
While the Shockers did not have it easy in 2013 making the Final Four, they did catch one break- in between Gonzaga/Ohio State, they did not have to face the 4-5 seeds (Kansas State and Wisconsin). Instead, they drew a LaSalle team that seemed in over their heads by the time they got to the Sweet 16.
And even against Ohio State, they survived that inevitable “Fork in the road” moment when they saw a 20 point lead dwindle down to 3. Tekele Cotton hit a big 3 pointer that ended up cushioning the lead back up for good when a Miss could have led to a devastating scenario.
The Rams of 2011 for the most part looked dominant against big name high seeds- Purdue, Georgetown, Kansas.
But in between was a game vs 10 seed Florida State (instead of 2 seed Notre Dame) and a game where VCU was trailing in the final seconds of overtime. They scored on an inbounds play with 7 seconds left and blocked a shot on defense to preserve their only close win as they went from First Four to the Final Four.
2010- While one could argue they were underseeded compared with Pittsburgh/Vanderbilt, the Bulldogs still ended up facing Murray State instead of Vandy in the round of 32.
In the regionals at Salt Lake City, they faced a potential crossroads twice- Syracuse had a 4 point lead with 5:23 remaining. Kansas State scored 9 unanswered points to tie the Elite 8 with 3 minutes left.
In the Final Four, they had to hold off a spirited last minute rally by Michigan State and held on thanks to timely defense, rebounding, and free throws.
Butler survived all of those do or die scenarios.
Then there was 2011 as an 8 seed.
Old Dominion at the buzzer.
Pittsburgh in the dying seconds- specifically a missed free throw that could have given the
Panthers a lead, then a stunning foul with less of a seconds left.
In the Elite 8 against Florida, they trailed by 11 points. Then had to survive a potential game winning 3 at the end of regulation.
They survived all of those fork-in-the-road moments and made their second straight Final Four.
Even the dominant Rebels of 1990 saw their tournament lives flash before their eyes against Ball State in the Sweet 16.
The Cardinals had the ball with less than 15 seconds left down 2 and a chance to pull off an unfathomable upset.
The Rebels survived, but even they had to face a potential fork in the road en route to a mostly overpowering tournament run.
All these small schools had those fork in the road moments.
Gonzaga has had a fork in the road moment so far- West Virginia had a lead with less than 1:30 left in the Sweet 16.
But timely defense and a big three point shot pulled this game out of the fire.
They may have another fork in the road moment against Xavier.
Will this be Gonzaga’s moment of truth to make the Final Four?
We shall see.
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