“People are paying attention to so many other things right now,” said Adam Morrison, one of Gonzaga’s best known players and an N.B.A. first-round draft pick who now works as a radio analyst for the team. “It just feels kind of melancholy,” he said of a season unfolding amid the pandemic.
Morrison’s heady final season enthralled the sports world, landing him magazine covers as an All-American his junior year, during which he shared the Oscar Robertson Trophy for player of the year with Duke’s JJ Redick. Morrison’s 2005-06 Gonzaga team lodged one of the outsider program’s best shots at a title before flaming out in the Sweet Sixteen in an epic collapse against powerhouse U.C.L.A.
This year’s Zags have none of the markings of a long shot. Gonzaga’s undefeated campaign included wins over Iowa, Kansas, Virginia and West Virginia — ranked teams from ballyhooed conferences. The team’s streak of 21 straight double-digit victories while ranked No. 1 topped the mark held by the 1971-72 U.C.L.A. Bruins of John Wooden and Bill Walton, a squad that went 30-0 on the way to winning a national championship.
March Madness should be a victory lap for Gonzaga, but in a year that seems only meant to bolster the N.C.A.A.’s financial bottom line, the postseason will go on without the celebratory spirit of the past. The men will play their championship tournament in Indianapolis, the women in San Antonio. Fan attendance at both tournaments will be limited.
If this is when Gonzaga finally wins its first title, would the team’s win feel historic in a year when college basketball has been played as if on mute?
All of this makes me think of last year’s Oregon Ducks women’s basketball squad. The team with Sabrina Ionescu, the most recognizable name in college basketball, male or female, that season.