Gonzaga has a tough out with Oklahoma State

Officially, the offense was “outraging public decency.”

No, that wasn’t what the NCAA basketball committee did to Gonzaga on Sunday. Rather, it was a chapter in the fretful season endured by Oklahoma State, which the Zags found on the 8-9 seed line, the winner likely to face Arizona in San Diego.

Conspiracy theorists in Zag Nation again may have a bone to pick with the committee, but at least this time the grounds are different. Historically, the bracket gives Gonzaga some funny geography — you know, a high-altitude game in Albuquerque with acclimated Wyoming in 2002; a date in Raleigh, Stephen Curry’s back yard, with Davidson in 2008; a matchup with West Virginia in Pittsburgh two years ago, a stone’s throw from coach Bob Huggins’ homestead.

No quibble this time on the site. San Diego is on the Zags’ West Coast Conference itinerary, and as forward Sam Dower Jr. said, “We have a good fan base in California.”

But about that opponent: Oklahoma State was preseason No. 8 in the AP poll, and by Thanksgiving week, it was No. 5.

A little later, it got interesting. Forward Michael Cobbins tore an Achilles late in December, ending his season. Then there was sturdy sophomore guard Marcus Smart, who raised eyebrows last spring by announcing he could wait a year for the NBA (nbadraft.net’s 2014 mock has him the No. 4 pick overall).

On the night of Feb. 8 at Texas Tech, Smart accounted for college basketball’s most incendiary story of 2013-14, shoving an imbecile, 50-something fan who had baited him and drawing a three-game suspension.

That absence helped shape a seven-game Oke State losing streak, and clearly, the committee didn’t give a lot of indulgence to the notion that the Cowboys should have an alibi in Smart’s absence.

Which is understandable, except Gonzaga’s dance partner makes for an underseeded team. The Cowboys beat Kansas two weeks ago and it took an overtime against the Jayhawks to oust them from the Big 12 tournament.

“I think they’re probably vastly underseeded,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, “based on how they’re playing at this particular time.”

But Smart’s shove wasn’t the only indiscretion of a fractious OSU season. A week earlier, freshman guard Stevie Clark got busted after midnight on that outraging-public-decency rap, legalese for urinating out a vehicle window. Cowboys coach Travis Ford decided a third strike by Clark was enough, and booted him.

So it hasn’t exactly been the Good Ship Stillwater in 2013-14. Still, while the Zags may lead in harmony, it’s usually advisable to have the superior athletes.

For his part, Few wasn’t judgmental of Smart, because he got to know him helping coach the 19-and-under U.S. team that won a gold medal last summer in Prague.

“He’s an unbelievable competitor, a high-character guy and a great leader,” he said. “If you keep score, he’s going to try to win. That’s how my guys are.

“Go through any of our lives; we all have an incident or two here or there we regret.” Then Few, chuckling, quoted his octogenarian, Presbyterian preacher/father Norm: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

If Smart and Co. represent more of a challenge than Gonzaga earned, Few seemed to take it in stride, saying: “I don’t think any of us were that concerned or hung up with the seed this year. We knew we were going to be somewhere in the middle of that pack. We knew we were going to get a really, really tough opponent.”

Done. But maybe Few has an acute sense of history, too. The Zags have won all five meetings in the series, some tenuously, all in the last decade.

This marks No. 16 in Gonzaga’s consecutive streak of NCAA trips, and Few made sure last week to impart the message that they’re all special, and not to take anything for granted. Even if it’s seemingly written into the GU student code of conduct.

“It’s kind of what we do and who we are,” Few said.

And now it’s where you go, and whom you play.


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