SPOKANE — Kelly Olynyk is aware that some college basketball observers question Gonzaga’s merits as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Mind you, Olynyk isn’t overly concerned. After all, the Gonzaga star says, it’s difficult to get angry over comments you can’t hear.
“David Stockton’s dog ate our (television) remote, so we can’t change the channels, so we haven’t really had the opportunity to watch any of that stuff,” the affable Olynyk explained Sunday afternoon after the Bulldogs were tabbed the No. 1 seed in the West Region.
Gonzaga (31-2), seeded fourth overall and ranked No. 1 in both major Top 25 polls, opens against unranked No. 16 seed Southern University (23-9) of Baton Rouge, La. The game will be televised at 1:10 p.m. Thursday on TBS from EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City. Gonzaga is favored by 23 points.
A men’s No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed. Southern visited Gonzaga two years ago and lost, 117-72, in the only game between the two programs.
The No. 1 seed is a first in Gonzaga history. Players and coach Mark Few repeatedly said “it’s an honor,” but the Bulldogs are headed to the NCAA tournament for the 15th consecutive year, so the scene at the McCarthey Athletic Center was a typical one for a Selection Sunday at Gonzaga.
The small children of coaches and other athletic department personnel shot baskets. Players and coaches sauntered casually from one interview to the next. Star forward Elias Harris took some good-natured ribbing after Cosmopolitan magazine named him to some sort of list of college basketball’s “hottest players.”
“It’ll be cool to tell the kids later on,” Harris said with a smile.
The muscular Harris wore a T-shirt that carried the following message: “Short shorts started here.” The message refers to the basketball trunks of former Gonzaga and Utah Jazz great John Stockton, who spread Gonzaga-love in Salt Lake City during his 19-year Hall of Fame career with the Jazz.
“We’ve got a great fan base down in that area thanks to everything that John accomplished ... hopefully, they’ll lean our way,” Few said.
The Bulldogs, riding a 14-game winning streak, probably won’t need any fan support to hold off the Jaguars. Things figure to get more interesting in Saturday’s third round (the four “play-in” games Tuesday and Wednesday officially count as the first round) when the Gonzaga-Southern winner meets the survivor of Thursday’s 10 a.m. contest between eighth seed Pittsburgh (24-8) and ninth seed Wichita State (26-8).
Southern plays in the traditionally weak Southwestern Athletic Conference. SWAC teams are 5-32 all-time in the NCAA tournament, and Southern is 1-7.
SWAC teams have posted a 1-20 record in the tournament since Southern upset Georgia Tech in 1993. The Jaguars have not played in the tournament since 2006. Gonzaga is 6-0 all-time against SWAC opponents.
Four Jaguars average 9.2 points per game or better. Derick Beltran, a 6-foot-4 senior guard, leads the team with 15.9 ppg. Malcolm Miller, a 6-6 junior guard, averages 15.8 ppg and a team-high 6.0 rebounds.
Miller ranks third in NCAA Division I with 46.0 percent shooting on 3-pointers, and Southern ranks second in field-goal shooting percentage defense (36.5) and 3-point field-goal percentage defense (28.5). However, Southern’s schedule is filled with the likes of Champion Baptist, William Carey and Spring Hill.
The Jaguars have held four opponents to fewer than 50 points during a 7-1 closing run that includes a current three-game winning streak.
Southern finished second in the SWAC behind Texas Southern, then won the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by winning the conference tournament.
The father of Gonzaga guard Gary Bell, Jr. grew up in Baton Rouge and attended Southern. Other former Southern students include baseball Hall of Famer Lou Brock, former Seattle SuperSonics guard Avery Johnson and Pro Football Hall of Famer Mel Blount. Jaguars center Maduk Bol is the son of former NBA center Manute Bol. Gonzaga backup point guard David Stockton, John’s son, grew up in Salt Lake City before moving to Spokane when his father retired from basketball. Former Southern athletic director Greg LaFleur is an ex-NFL tight end the father of ex-Gonzaga star Robert Sacre.