SALT LAKE CITY — A No. 16 seed has never defeated a No. 1 seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, but the Southern University Jaguars and FOXSports.com say history could be in the making Thursday afternoon against Gonzaga.
“We could be the first to make that happen,” Southern coach Roman Banks said. “We’re not afraid to be the first in anything.”
A FOXSports.com article with no byline read, “The Zags could be the first No. 1 seed to lose its NCAA opener.”
Most observers strongly disagree. The top-ranked Bulldogs (31-2) are favored by 22 points over Southern (23-9) in Thursday’s second-round game at EnergySources Arena. TBS televises the contest at 1:10 p.m.
The winner plays Saturday against the winner of the game between No. 8 seed Pittsburgh (24-8) and No. 9 seed Wichita State (26-8).
Las Vegas gives 12-1 odds on Gonzaga winning the national championship. No odds are listed for Southern. Louisville is the favorite at 9-2.
Despite their No. 1 national ranking and No. 1 seeding in the West, Gonzaga is garnering little support from national media and broadcasters as a Final Four candidate.
Not that the Zags aren’t getting some love. Kelly Olynyk is on the regional cover of Sports Illustrated magazine this week.
“Olynyk may be the best player in the country you haven’t seen,” ESPN basketball analyst Greg Anthony said.
Last week, Gonzaga senior Mike Hart was named captain of Sports Illustrated’s All-Glue team (i.e. unsung heroes). Hart originally made the Bulldogs out of walk-on tryouts.
“It’s an unbelievable story that somebody ought to turn into a Hollywood movie,” Zags coach Mark Few said.
Banks said the versatility and mobility of the 7-foot, 238-pound Olynyk creates “a match-up problem” for a Jaguars team that lacks size.
“He’s definitely one of the five best players in the country,” Banks said.
Banks said the Jaguars “have a chance” against Gonzaga if his guards play well.
“We have one of the better backcourts in Division I,” Banks said.
BANK(S) ON IT
Banks has engineered a stunning turnaround at Southern during his two years at the Baton Rouge, La., school.
Two seasons ago, the Jaguars finished 4-26, including a 117-72 loss at Gonzaga. Southern’s academics were in such disarray that the NCAA banned the Jaguars from postseason play last season, when they finished 17-14.
“We had to put together a plan in the classroom and actually walk kids to class,” Banks said.
Cosmopolitan magazine selected Gonzaga’s Elias Harris as one of the 25 “hottest guys” in the NCAA tournament.
“Hailing from Germany,” the article read, “Elias has … a deep, sexy, subtle European accent.”
Harris recently caught an elbow in practice and needed seven stitches to close a gash across the bridge of his nose. He now sports a slight scar.
“I’m not too concerned about it,” Harris deadpanned. “Just a little warrior scar. Makes me even more attractive.”
Southern’s strength of schedule (SOS) ranks last among the 347 NCAA Division I teams, according to the Pomeroy College Basketball Rankings. Gonzaga is 96th.
Gonzaga and Southern had one common opponent this season. Both teams played South Dakota early in the season, with the Bulldogs winning 96-58 at home and the Jaguars winning 83-79 on the road.
The NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) ranks Gonzaga sixth and Southern 180th. Duke is first.
Redshirt freshman guard Kyle Dranginis usually doesn’t see a lot of court time with Gonzaga, but he keeps teammates entertained off the court with his wide assortment of animal noises and voice impersonations.
“He could have his own cartoon show,” starting guard Gary Bell Jr. said.
Added Hart: “He’s a goofball. He’s always cracking jokes, acting silly.”