Could Zags survive the Big Ten?

Examining where Gonzaga would stack up in the nation's top conference

Originally Published: January 31, 2013
By John Gasaway | Basketball Prospectus
Kelly OlynykKelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsCould Kelly Olynyk and the Gonzaga Bulldogs hold their own in the Big Ten?

At 19-2 overall and 6-0 in West Coast Conference play, the Gonzaga Bulldogs appear well on their way to a WCC regular-season title and a very high seed in the NCAA tournament. (My colleague Joe Lunardi currently projects the Bulldogs as a No. 2 seed.) Mark Few's team may not run the table in conference play -- there are road games yet to be played at Saint Mary's and Brigham Young -- but it's a safe bet that the Zags will finish the regular season with a gaudy record. Again. Gonzaga has posted an .875 winning percentage in conference games over the past five seasons.

Forgive me for saying so, but we've seen this movie before. We know Gonzaga is one of the best teams in the nation, we know they'll compete with Saint Mary's (and, the past two seasons, with BYU) at the very top of the WCC, and we know we'll see them in the NCAA tournament come March.

But what would happen if we gave the Zags a little more competition? How would Gonzaga do if we gave the program a one-season membership in Division I's toughest basketball conference, the Big Ten? (And, more important, how will they fare against any Big Ten teams they may face in this season's NCAA tournament, and where do they fit into the national title race?)

Not to be overly practical or anything, but the first problem will be geography. Gonzaga's nearest rival in its new conference will be Nebraska, and Lincoln is 1,425 miles away from Spokane, Wash. Sure, some portion of the league also will have to visit Spokane, but by the end of the season the Zags will have logged many more miles than any of their competitors. (A bit like West Virginia in real life.)

So to keep things fair, let's temporarily relocate Gonzaga to Chicago, the heart of Big Ten country. (Few will thank us later for the noticeable increase in the number of direct-flight options.) Now what? What would happen if the Bulldogs were put in the Big Ten for one season?

(Note: You can see the Zags in action when they play Loyola Marymount Thursday night -- 11 p.m. ET, ESPN2.)