I am stuck in the middle with you!?

Gonzaga wants nothing to do with the middle but everything to do with the No. 1 seed

Some might feel squeamish about making Elias Harris and the Gonzaga Bulldogs the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But not Matt Hodgson, Mitchell Young and Saint Mary’s. “How couldn’t they be?” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “They have two or three losses less than anybody else. They don’t have any holes. They’re legit.” Enlarge photo

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press file photo

Some might feel squeamish about making Elias Harris and the Gonzaga Bulldogs the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But not Matt Hodgson, Mitchell Young and Saint Mary’s. “How couldn’t they be?” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “They have two or three losses less than anybody else. They don’t have any holes. They’re legit.”

SPOKANE, Wash.

Coach Mark Few has heard all the arguments about why No. 1 Gonzaga doesn’t deserve a No. 1 seed when the NCAA Tournament field is announced Sunday.

And he realizes the issue now is out of his hands.

“We did a great job of controlling what we could control,” Few said this week after Gonzaga won the West Coast Conference’s automatic bid to the Big Dance. “We’ve done an amazing job, and that’s all we can do.

“Watch us and what we’ve done,” Few said. “Look at our results.”

The results are pretty impressive. Gonzaga (31-2) played a tough nonconference slate, went undefeated through the WCC, posted the first 30-win season in its history, and dusted two opponents in the league tournament. Their only losses came to Illinois in December and at Butler in January, and they have the best record of any Division I team.

Critics of the Zags have one major argument: The WCC is a middling league, meaning Gonzaga doesn’t face the type of tough conference schedule that teams in the Big Ten or ACC endure. It’s been a constant argument almost since Gonzaga burst onto the national scene in 1999.

Few doesn’t buy it.

“I don’t know how many of those (major conference) teams would go undefeated in our league,” said Few, who noted BYU and Saint Mary’s, not to mention Spokane, are difficult places to win. “And maybe if we get put into their leagues, maybe we’d only have three losses. I don’t know.”

Since their rise to prominence, the Zags always have played a brutal nonconference schedule to try to build a résumé for March. This year was no different.

In a scheduling quirk, they played five teams from the Big 12 – West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State – and beat them all. They also beat Clemson of the ACC and Washington State of the Pac-12, plus a bunch of opponents from lesser leagues.

“Our body of work speaks for itself,” guard Mike Hart said recently. “We’ve had a great group of games and a schedule that has been tough.”

The result is that Gonzaga ranks No. 6 in the RPI – behind Duke, New Mexico, Louisville, Miami and Indiana – but only 72nd in strength of schedule among 347 teams.

The coach of archrival Saint Mary’s believes the Zags deserve a top seed.

“How couldn’t they be?” Randy Bennett said. “They have two or three losses less than anybody else.”

“They don’t have any holes,” said Bennett, whose 27-win team lost three times to the Zags this season, including 65-51 in the WCC tournament title game Monday. “They’re legit.”

Gonzaga center Kelly Olynyk said the Zags deserve a No. 1 seed.

“In my opinion, we should be,” Olynyk said after scoring 21 points in the WCC title game.

While critics may not like the WCC, the Zags really have no other conference that is a natural fit. The WCC for decades has been a collection of small, religious-based colleges that don’t play football and are based in California, Washington and Oregon. Only the recent addition of BYU skewed that profile.

Other western leagues would be problematic for the Zags. The Pac-12, for instance, is made up of large research universities with big football programs. The Mountain West also is primarily a league of large public universities where football is king. No other conference in the West – not the Big West, the Big Sky or the WAC – offers any more prestige than the WCC.

But conference affiliation is not what is on the minds of Gonzaga players.

“The end-all is the NCAA Tournament title,” Olynyk said. “That’s the goal of every team playing right now.”