Medcalf: Zags lost more than just a game

As March Madness approaches, one program or player usually captivates the country.

It happens every year. Fans and media members alike tend to gravitate toward someone or something each spring in our collective efforts to personify the moment. The NCAA tournament is all about dreams and overcoming obstacles to achieve them.

And the Big Dance's arrangement presents enough uncertainty and unpredictability to support our assumptions and hopes that a team apart from the game's powerhouse country club can somehow make a run to the Final Four. So we search for the marginalized squad or star -- college basketball's young Carrie Underwood -- with the potential to fulfill the perennial storyline.

Gonzaga was supposed to be that squad in 2013.

About a month before it became the first 1-seed to exit the tournament following a Saturday night loss to 9-seed Wichita State, the Bulldogs fit perfectly into the concept. With win after win, Gonzaga climbed the polls until it was the top-ranked team in America.

The Zags defeated Oklahoma State and Kansas State during their nonconference season, lost to Butler on a fluke play in January and toyed with the West Coast Conference in the weeks leading up to day that they secured the program's first No. 1 national ranking.

It was the story of improbable triumph that some craved and ultimately embraced. The annual knock against Gonzaga, however, remained. The Zags have a niche -- they're the blue-chip mid-major -- but few postseason results to justify the praise.

So there were haters, too. Oh, were there haters. They didn't believe the hype. They thought Kelly Olynyk's numbers were skewed by the competition he faced in the WCC. They figured those nonconference wins were blips, not concrete evidence that the Zags deserved more credit.

This is a program, of course, that hasn't advanced beyond the Sweet 16 since that stunning 1999 Elite Eight run that put it on the map. So why should anyone believe them now with so many missed expectations from the past?

Just one loss. That's all it took for the Zags to confirm their doubters' suspicions.

To read the rest of Myron Medcalf's Home Court report, click here.