How did Gonzaga snag an unlikely five seed at the NCAA Tournament? The explanation starts with an old WCC rival

Mar. 18—Gonzaga's late-season push, highlighted by quality road wins at Kentucky, San Francisco and Saint Mary's, allowed the Bulldogs to clinch their 26th straight bid to the NCAA Tournament and avoid significant tension or drama on Selection Sunday.

As for how the Bulldogs snagged an unlikely No. 5 seed, allowing them to open the postseason in Salt Lake City as opposed to any number of options on the East Coast?

Gonzaga might want to thank an old West Coast Conference rival for the favorable seed and location.

When the Selection Committee released its full 1-68 seed list Sunday evening, Gonzaga checked in at No. 21, normally translating to a No. 6 seed at the NCAA Tournament. BYU came in four full spots higher than Gonzaga, but fell one spot below the Bulldogs on the seed line.

"How did the Zags flip their season and get all the way to a five seed?" CBS Selection Show Adam Zucker posed to a group of panelists during Sunday's bracket reveal.

"The committee chair, Charles McLelland, told us because of BYU's inability or not being able to play on Sundays ... that Gonzaga was a six seed and got moved up because BYU had to be on that Thursday/Saturday rotation," CBS analyst Clark Kellogg said.

Because of BYU's affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), the school's NCAA-sponsored sports aren't permitted to compete on Sundays. During BYU's 12-year stint in the West Coast Conference, the same policy forced the league to restructure its postseason tournament format, moving semifinal games from Sunday to Monday.

"The official seed list confirms what I suspected," and Field of 68 contributor Rocco Miller posted on X. "BYU was supposed to be the best 5-seed and moved down a seed line (6-seed) to accommodate not playing on Sundays."

BYU may not have encountered any issues during the first week of NCAA Tournament play, with games on Thursday and Saturday, but the Cougars would've funneled into a Friday/Sunday scheduling format had they advanced to the second weekend.

Instead, the Gonzaga program responsible for roughly 20% of BYU's total losses from 2012-23, became the beneficiary, grabbing a No. 5 seed when most bracketologists had penciled the Bulldogs in as a No. 6 or 7. Adding insult to injury, Gonzaga will open the tournament just 45 miles from BYU's campus in Provo, while the sixth-seeded Cougars face 11th-seeded Duquesne the same day in Omaha.

"I don't know if we'll ever get an explanation on that," BYU coach Mark Pope told local media on Sunday. "It seems like a significant bump. I think out of the top 36 or so teams, we're the only team not seeded correctly based on the NCAA's list of how they rank teams. But the only thing that matters to us is we're in this thing, we get a chance to play, we're playing a great team, and we're going to try to go play great."

Reacting to Gonzaga's seed, longtime coach Mark Few said, "for us to be in Salt Lake, I think they rewarded us for going out and playing people in the nonconference."