Gonzaga's history as an NCAA Tournament Cinderella came full circle Sunday, when for the first time the Bulldogs were named one of the four No. 1 seeds in the 2013 tournament.
Gonzaga is the top seed in the West Regional, with Big Ten tournament champion Ohio State second, New Mexico at No. 3 and Kansas State fourth. Gonzaga was a No. 2 seed in 2004. In 2006, they were third-seeded and lost in the Sweet 16.
Coach Mark Few said the program was "just happy to be in the conversation," with teams like Miami (Fla.) and Duke, who were given No. 2 seeds.
Gonzaga was 16-1 on the road and has the best record in the nation entering the tournament at 31-2. One of the victories that earned Few's troops high marks was over Kansas State, but will the Bulldogs' otherwise light resume stand up in a region lacking heavyweight clout but full of land mines?
TEAMS TO BEAT
Gonzaga wins with its frontcourt. The Bulldogs depth inside is next to impossible to match. Kelly Olynyk, a 7-footer who makes his presence felt on both ends of the floor, is sure to get attention in the pregame buildup but it's a team of efficient role players with solid guard David Stockton helping orchestrate the offense.
No. 11 Belmont over No. 6 Arizona: The Wildcats have lost plenty of ground since January, when they looked to be a lock for a No. 1 seed. They enter Thursday's game with losses in five of their past 10 games. Belmont won at Stanford, 70-62, earlier this season. Ian Clark made nine 3-pointers against Northwestern and hit 46.3 percent of his 3-pointers.
No. 12 Ole Miss vs. No. 5 Wisconsin: The Badgers want to play at a grind and very few teams are better defending in the half court. They can be exasperating for teams unaccustomed to their snail speed offense and uncanny patience working the ball around the perimeter. The Badgers struggle to score -- they were 5 of 29 from the floor in the first half of their semifinal victory over Michigan -- and aren't equipped to keep pace if the Rebels can force them into catch-up mode.
No. 15 Iona vs. No. 2 Ohio State: The Gaels are first in the nation in points and when Ohio State misses shots -- they ranked 122nd in scoring offense --the Buckeyes were beatable. Iona averaged 8.4 3-pointers per game with Sean Armand and Lamont Jones combining for 39.6 points per game.
PLAYERS TO KNOW
Ohio State G Deshaun Thomas: When Thomas gets to the free throw line, he's capable of scoring 25 easily. He had 19 points or more in 19 games this season and has three years postseason experience.
Kansas State G Rodney Magruder: Stars haven't always flourished in Bruce Weber's system, a motion offense that had no room for isolation breakdowns and one-on-one basketball. Magruder made the subtle adjustments and is thriving down the stretch. He averaged just 15.7 points per game, but that ability to dominate down the stretch can help set the Wildcats apart this month.
NUMBERS TO NOTE
55.4: Points per game allowed by Pittsburgh. Opponents managed only 60 possessions per game and the physical Panthers, no high-scoring outfit by any measure, are also top 10 nationally in rebounds.
18.2: Gonzaga's scoring margin, which was first in the nation.
65.2: Olynyk's field-goal percentage. He's ranked third in the nation in that category.
9.7: Turnovers per game by Wisconsin this season. The Badgers were top 15 in that category as well as scoring defense, 3-point defense, assist-turnover ratio and personal fouls per game.