Gonzaga has established itself as the preeminent basketball force outside of the traditionally strong basketball conferences. So much so, that it’s difficult to even describe them as a mid-major anymore.
Out of the West Coast Conference, Mark Few and the Bulldogs are not far off from being considered one of the blue bloods of college basketball. Certainly, they would need to win a national championship before they can enter that discussion, but the long standing success has been impressive.
Over the years, many other mid-major teams have exploded onto the scene by making deep runs in the NCAA Tournament, maybe even advancing to the Final Four like George Mason did in 2006. But what has set Gonzaga apart is their consistent success over multiple decades.
Gonzaga has been a rather recent phenomenon. They didn’t make their first NCAA Tournament appearance until 25 years ago in 1995 where they lost to 3-seed Maryland by 24 points in the first round. The Bulldogs then had a brief hiatus, not reaching the Big Dance again until four years later in 1999, which is when they burst onto the national scene.
In 1999, Gonzaga advanced to the Elite Eight as a 10-seed, and thus began a streak of 21 straight NCAA Tournament appearances which is still active. During that time, Mark Few has guided the Bulldogs to 10 Sweet 16s, 4 Elite 8s, and 1 Final Four.
In a recent interview with Liberty Athletic Director Ian McCaw for ASOR RedSpin Podcast, he praised the job Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay has done in his five seasons back at the helm of the Flames.
“He is building an amazing program and legacy at Liberty,” McCaw said in the interview. “It’s really unparalleled. I believe we have an opportunity to become the Gonzaga of the East in the basketball world under his leadership. It’s really gratifying to see the work he and his staff have put in brought to fruition this year. I’m so proud of him and what they’re accomplishing. That program is bound for greatness.”
That’s certainly large praise and a high mountain to climb considering Liberty has yet to make consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament, but a big vision and large goals is what Liberty University was founded on.
“There’s some inherent challenges that we have, but Ephesians 3:20 says, ‘Now to him who is able to do exceedingly and abundantly above all we can ask, think, or imagine,'” McKay said when asked about the Gonzaga comparison. “We subscribed to that verse from day one. I’m not going to say we’re going to win the National Championship or be in the Final Four, but I probably wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we would have an opportunity to pursue the very best in terms of success that college basketball has to offer.”
At 19-1 this season, McKay and the Flames are closer than ever to achieving those goals, but Cinderellas are made in March.
“It’s a daily process, just like our maturity and our faith takes a daily commitment and effort,” McKay continued. “We’re going to walk in the grace and the freedom that it’s not going to define us if we don’t make it, but we’re certainly going to keep pursuing it.”