Commentary: Gonzaga’s continued success magnifies the Husky woes even more

 

 

For as strange as the last 11 months have been, some things never seem to change.

But it’s not just seeing Tom Brady win another Super Bowl. It’s also being in the middle of a college basketball season, and watching the sheer dominance of Gonzaga men’s basketball.

The Zags are once again putting on a clinic. A perfect 18-0 record. Wins over three Top 25 teams – two of which ranked in the Top 5 when they faced them. And say what you want about the strength of the West Coast Conference, they have won nine conference games by an average of more than 24 ½ points! Their closest conference win was a 14-point win over St. Mary’s.

In more than 20 years as head coach, Marc Few has never won fewer than 23 regular-season games. Ironically, if they finish this regular season undefeated, because of COVID-19 cancellations, they’ll be 23-0.

But this isn’t meant to just be a glorification of Gonzaga hoops. It is also an opportunity to ask the question about the quality of college hoops in this half of the state. As extraordinary as Gonzaga is, and with Washington State actually trending in the right direction – including an impressive road win at Oregon this week – how unimpressive, uninspiring and flat-out disappointing is what is happening with the Huskies?

For as much buzz as there is in Spokane, there is virtually none on Montlake. And any momentum Mike Hopkins built in his first couple seasons with the Huskies is no longer there.

Now, I understand things are cyclical. That was the excuse Huskies athletic director Jen Cohen gave this week to the Seattle Times, when asked if Hopkins’ job was in jeopardy. Then again, the Huskies are just 3-14 this season, one year after winning just five conference games. You can say all the goodwill Hopkins built up from a conference title two years ago, along with their first NCAA Tournament berth in eight years, has evaporated.

Then again, Hopkins still has four more years on his contract after this season, and the school owes him a guaranteed $12 million. Making a move and eating that sum during a pandemic that has already been financially crippling wouldn’t be the best look either.  

The point is: As nice as it is that these athletes are able to compete right now, sports are all about relevance, and the Huskies really don’t have much right now. And if this trend continues past this season and into next year, Cohen is really going to be forced to look in the mirror and see whether it’s time to make a change.

Because cyclical change certainly hasn’t seemed to affect teams like Gonzaga. They reload every single year. But Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart leave the Huskies – who is left to replace them? In Hopkins' fourth season now, shouldn’t the pipeline be a little fuller than it is?

In the end, the incredible success we continue to see at Gonzaga year after year has to eventually wear on a Husky fan base that is living through another mediocre season. Tonight is about recognizing the Zags success, but also putting the Hopkins era on notice for the first time.

With the amount of talent that comes from the Pacific Northwest, it really shouldn’t be so hard. The Zags rarely poach from this area anyway.

And if a small school like Gonzaga can build and sustain so well over there, it can and should be done here too.