"It's easy to come to the conclusion that smaller schools are getting in this year," said Michael Litos, author of "Cinderella: The Rise of the Mid-Major," but he disagrees.
The Zags "ran through their conference, have some big nonconference wins and they got the No. 1 seed," he said. "It's nothing to do with being a mid-major. They won 31 ball games, and they earned it on the court."
Litos, who also does radio color commentary for Virginia Commonwealth basketball games, said he feels the term mid-major is "hollow and shallow and fairly irrelevant these days."
Gonzaga's sustained success has allowed the school to spread its wings in recruiting, attracting prospects from as far away as Tennessee, Minnesota, Canada, Germany and Poland -- a geographic reach similar to that of the Indiana Hoosiers.
The Zags pay their head coach of 15 years, Mark Few, more than $1 million, putting him just behind the coaches at historically solid basketball schools like Cincinnati and North Carolina State.
Consider also that Gonzaga's basketball expenses have risen from $1.9 million in 2005 to $6.1 million last year, according to the U.S. Department of Education, which means better facilities and players.
That doesn't keep them in the company of Duke ($15.9 million) and Louisville ($15.5 million), but it does put them ahead of Miami ($5.8 million) and Ohio State ($6 million).
'A whole lot of ingredients'
When you combine these factors -- money, recruits, nonconference schedule, years of success -- it's tough to call a team like Gonzaga a mid-major, even if they do hail from the West Coast Conference, Litos said.
Still, there's some prejudice, he said.
"When people get into their office, close the door and stare down at that piece of paper, they see Louisville, Duke, Kansas," Litos said, explaining that those teams' histories have more sway than they should.
"History doesn't matter. All that matters is what this team can do," he said. "But we use that to shape our mindset, and that is part of that mid-major bias. It's similar to why the pundits aren't picking the Zags to go to the Final Four."
Asked where they had the Zags in their own brackets, Litos said he had them losing in the Elite Eight to Ohio State, and Pomeroy said he doesn't do brackets; he just likes to watch basketball.
The consummate statistician, Pomeroy noted that the odds were against the Zags winning, but that holds true for any team. On average, No. 1 seeds win only three games in the tourney. You need six for the trophy.
But Gonzaga has "a whole lot of ingredients that go into postseason success," Litos said. They have an experienced backcourt, they rebound well, they're athletic and can run the floor.
Their three-point shooting is decent at 37.1%, but their team 50.4% shooting places them second among tournament teams. Their 77.6 points a game is 12th-best in college hoops.
Add to that the consistency that comes with Coach Few.
"If you need a sailboat to be guided through a storm, you want the best doggone captain out there, and that's Mark Few," Litos said.
Few's ability to adapt to situations and coach his players in the style he's crafted over 15 years gives Gonzaga the "steady guiding hand" that any team -- big or small -- needs in the tournament, Litos said.
Underdog? Ha, bring it
Spokane Councilman Ben Stuckart, a second-generation Gonzaga alum whose parents had season tickets in the John Stockton days (1980-1984, when the Hall of Famer played guard), said the team also has moxie.
"They're a special team. When they get their backs up against the wall, they push though," he said, pointing to the Oklahoma State game when a final-minute Gary Bell three-pointer helped Gonzaga topple the No. 22 Cowboys.
When the Zags take the floor at Salt Lake City's EnergySolutions Arena on Thursday, Stuckart expects his birthplace to be a "dead town." Everyone will be watching Gonzaga-Southern, he said.
Spokane is abuzz with Gonzaga's success. "Go Zags" and "Love Our Zags" signs adorn homes, yards, storefronts and car windows. During a city meeting on Tuesday, no business was addressed for 20 minutes because everyone wanted to talk Zags basketball, Stuckart said.
As for the "no-respect" talk, Stuckart brushes it off.