One of the beautiful things about sports is that sometimes underdogs do win. The majority of people tend to root for the underdog in sports. That is unless your team happens to be the favorite. In situations where you have no particular stake in the game, though, you probably find yourself rooting for the little guy.
When the favored team wins, it just isn’t nearly as exciting. There is no surprise element. They did what they were supposed to do. Outside of supporters of the favored team, the only people who are likely to be upset about the favorites losing are those who have money on that team.
Unfortunately for gamblers, there are no sure things in sports. Occasionally, the outrageous occurs. Gonzaga has found themselves on both sides of big upsets in the past quarter-century.
Gonzaga is a private Catholic university in Spokane, WA. For the past 20 plus years, the Gonzaga Bulldogs have been well known, around the country, as one of the best college basketball programs in the nation.
Gonzaga’s first year in college basketball was 1907-08. The team immediately got off to a strong start going 9-2 in their inaugural season. They were able to assemble that impressive first-year record despite the fact that they didn’t even have a coach. Gonzaga continued to perform well throughout the rest of the century, compiling a strong winning record.
However, despite their winning ways, it wasn’t until the 1993-94 season that Gonzaga really began to garner any national attention. In that season, they won the West Coast Conference (WCC) and qualified for the National Invitation Tournament. This was their first trip to a postseason tournament.
The following season Gonzaga won the WCC tournament, earning automatic qualification to the NCAA tournament. It would mark their first appearance in the tournament, where they would soon become a perennial contender.
The Bulldogs missed the tournament the next few years but reappeared to make a statement during the 1998-99 season. Gonzaga played like an elite team compiling a 28-7 record after winning the WCC tournament once again. That performance earned them the 10th seed in the West Region of the tournament.
During their first trip to the tournament in ’95, Gonzaga got bounced in the first round. This time around, fortunes favored them a bit more heavily.
The number 10 seeded Gonzaga drew number seven seeded Minnesota in the first round. They then pulled off the minor upset in a convincing fashion with a 12 point victory. This set them up for a big challenge.
Next on the docket was the number two seeded Stanford. Anyone tracking live sports odds (if you are not doing it yet, check it out) at the time would have noted how big of an underdog the Bulldogs were in the matchup. Gonzaga managed to pull off the shocking upset, winning by eight and moving on to a matchup against number six seeded Florida in the Sweet 16.
Once again, the Bulldogs would play spoiler. This time they did it in a nailbiter, edging Florida by a score of 73-72. Gonzaga was the lowest-ranked team to reach the elite eight that year, and at the time, it put them into a tie for the furthest that a number 10 seed had ever advanced in the tournament, becoming the fifth team to do so.
Unfortunately, that is where the spectacular run by Gonzaga would come to an end. Up against the eventual tournament winners, the number one seeded Connecticut. The Bulldogs would fall five points short.
Despite dropping in the Elite Eight, the Bulldogs had officially arrived as one of the top teams in the nation. From that point on, Gonzaga was a yearly contender making it into the tournament every single year it has been held.
During that time, they have been the conference regular-season champions every year but one. They have also won the conference championship in all but five of those years.
Including their ’99 appearance, the Bulldogs have made it to the Sweet Sixteen 11 times. They have advanced to the Elite Eight on five of those occasions and have gone onto the Final Four twice, both times advancing to the Championship game.
Despite all of their success, Gonzaga has also faced a fair amount of disappointment in recent years. They have moved out of their former role as an underdog and into their current position as a favorite. While it shows a healthy program, it makes getting into the tournament less of an accomplishment to be celebrated and more of a necessity.
In the 2012-13 season, the Bulldogs found themselves ranked number one in the nation for the first time, and as a result, they got their first number one seed ranking in the tournament. However, just as in the previous three seasons, Gonzaga fell out of the tournament during the Round of 16.
In the 2016-17 season, Gonzaga destroyed the competition all season long. The Bulldogs won their first 29 games and earned another top seed ranking. This time they would ride their success all the Championship Game. It would be the first time that they advanced beyond the Elite Eight. Unfortunately, they would take their second loss of the season, falling to North Carolina by six points.
In the 2023-21 season, Gonzaga once again found themselves to be a favorite. They had a perfect regular season going 26-0. They were the top seed overall in the tournament and carried their untarnished season into the Championship game against Baylor. Gonzaga were heavy favorites in the matchup, but this time found themselves on the wrong side of the upset.
Baylor took down Gonzaga by a solid 16 points, and the Bulldogs saw their perfect season come to an end as they moved to 0-2 in Championship games.
Gonzaga was once a fan favorite when they were playing David trying to take down Goliath. Now they have become Goliath, though, and outside of their loyal fan base, people have turned on them. Fans with nothing else at stake are rooting for all the other underdogs to come up and knock Gonzaga down.