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Originally published Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 4:57 PM

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Bud Withers

Could Zags luck out and get NCAA tournament games in Spokane?

The Gonzaga basketball team is 12-3 and on course to claim what would no doubt be a controversial berth for first- and second-round NCAA games March 18 and 20 at Spokane Arena.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

Around Gonzaga these days, there are more important things to worry about than NCAA tournament seeding and siting, beginning with a treacherous matchup tonight at St. Mary's. The Gaels have quietly put together a 15-2 record and a tidy 36 RPI.

But winning at St. Mary's would continue to position Gonzaga nicely for a postseason plum almost unthinkable in October.

The Zags are 12-3, have a 19 RPI and are on course to claim what would no doubt be a controversial berth for first- and second-round NCAA games March 18 and 20 at Spokane Arena.

Mapquest puts that driving distance at 1.6 miles from the Gonzaga campus. Walking, or dribbling, it's a lot shorter.

Besides the obvious chops necessary — an eye-catching resume and a favorable nod from the computer rankings — there are two requirements of teams that would hope to land in their own cities to start the tournament.

First, those opening-round games have to be hosted by staff other than that school's. Check. Washington State is the official host for the Spokane sub-regional.

Second, the hopeful school can't have played more than three games in that arena in the current season. Check. Gonzaga will have played one, against Oklahoma.

So it all comes down to performance by Gonzaga, and overall, that's been good, save for a debacle against Duke in New York and a misstep at home against Wake Forest. The Zags have significant-to-worthwhile victories against Wisconsin, Cincinnati and Illinois.

There was a time when the men's tournament routinely put teams on their home floors in the early rounds. Then, in 1986, 11th-seeded LSU, playing two games in Baton Rouge, La., began a march to the Final Four, and that year, the NCAA basketball committee voted out the practice. Starting in 1988, nobody played on their home floor to start the tournament.

Combing the NCAA record book, I could find only four instances since then of teams playing first- and second-round games in their own city. Villanova, about five miles from the Wachovia Center, did it in 2006 and 2009, both times winning twice.

In 2002, Pitt made the 2.5-mile trek from campus down to Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, where it also won two.

"Our guys could stay in their own rooms, didn't have to pack, and the place was packed with Pitt fans," says Pitt spokesman Greg Hotchkiss. "It was fantastic."

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And then there was the anomaly of 1991. Georgia State, in downtown Atlanta, got the all-time smiley nod from the committee and played at the old Omni, which a spokesman says is about six blocks away. The committee probably figured its magnanimity didn't matter, and it turned out right; Arkansas beat 16th-seeded GSU, 117-76.

To do this, Gonzaga probably needs to be no worse than a No. 4 or 5 seed. It might not want to put too much imagination in the hands of the committee, because there would be no shortage of catcalls from first- and potentially second-round opponents, who likely would be traveling a considerable distance for a Bulldog Backyard Bucketfest.

Friendly fans guarantee you nothing, of course, as Gonzaga found out rudely here at KeyArena in 2004, when it got schooled by Nevada in the second round. But compared to getting sent to Raleigh to play Davidson and Stephen Curry, as the Zags did in 2008, you like your odds.

Rim shots

• Latest to create a social-media stir is Wendell McKines, New Mexico State forward, who criticized NMSU fans on his blog, writing, "Our fans are a bunch of front-runners. What's even more horrible is, we're in a city where our biggest (fan) competition is Buffalo wild-wings."

• One of the remarkable statistical streaks going is at Kansas, where the Jayhawks, entering Wednesday night's game at Nebraska, had held 89 straight opponents — three seasons' worth — to less than 50-percent shooting.

• At Mississippi State, they're counting down the blocked shots (61) Jarvis Varnado needs to pass the NCAA career leader. The chase would probably be sexier if he weren't pursuing Wojciech Myrda (1998-2002) of Louisiana-Monroe.

• Duke's Mike Krzyzewski is only four behind North Carolina legend Dean Smith's career total of 133 ACC road victories. The number takes on perspective when you consider that Maryland's Gary Williams, who has been Terps coach 20 years, is next all-time behind Krzyzewski with 67.

• Lost in the bungled mess of the WSU-Oregon double-overtime game of Dec. 31 was the 38-second span ending the first OT when the Ducks' Tajuan Porter scored 11 points.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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About Bud Withers

Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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