Gonzaga — the best team from Day 1 — is the last team standing in my bracket

The best trio in college basketball leads the best offensive team in college basketball. It’s hard to top that.

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Gonzaga celebrates the 2021 West Coast Conference tournament title.

AP Photos

It took one game. One half, really. On an American football Thanksgiving, a college basketball game was snuck in bright and early in Fort Myers, Florida. And anyone who watched knew Gonzaga — which had 54 points against Kansas by the intermission — was the real deal and then some.

The best offensive team in college basketball scored 102 against the Jayhawks, with the best trio in college basketball — Drew Timme, Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert — scoring 25, 24 and 23, respectively. The passing, the cutting, the togetherness in the Zags’ first game of the season? Sublime.

Some wonder if Gonzaga plays good enough competition, but consider what it did when it got the chance: It popped Auburn for 90 points, West Virginia for 87, Iowa for 99 and — unfathomably — famously defensive-oriented Virginia for 98, with Kispert connecting from deep nine times.

Is it necessary to add that Gonzaga won all those games? It is 26-0, after all, and aiming to become the first unbeaten national champion since Indiana in 1976.

This is the team, folks.

No offense, Illinois. Sorry to you, too, Loyola.

I have the No. 1-seeded Illini in the Final Four in my bracket, a destination befitting a rugged, talented, driven, extraordinarily fun team. Can they win it all? Sure, they can. Lesser teams have cut down the nets at the conclusion of sports’ best postseason.

But the Illini have stumbled six times, and each time they were knocked on their heels by a more aggressive opponent and couldn’t fully recover. Fellow No. 1 seed Baylor out-roughed, out-toughed and rebuffed Illinois in December and will get the chance to do so again in a national semifinal. It’ll be harder this time, but the Bears — loaded with experience and stellar guard play — will get it done.

And that sets up the final that almost has to happen in a pandemic season. Gonzaga and Baylor were supposed to play in early December. They were seen by nearly all at the time as the clear best two teams in the land, but which one was better? The game of the year never happened, canceled due to COVID-19 protocols.

Zags win. They’re the team, folks.

And here’s to the health and safety of all the players and teams. Let’s see this thing reach the finish line. No matter how it gets there, it’ll be all good.

All my bracket picks:

WEST

Round 1 winners: Gonzaga, Missouri, UCSB, Ohio, USC, Kansas, Oregon, Iowa.

Round 2: Gonzaga, UCSB, Kansas, Oregon.

Sweet 16: Gonzaga, Oregon.

Elite Eight: Gonzaga.

EAST

Round 1: Michigan, St. Bonaventure, Colorado, Florida State, Michigan State, Texas, Connecticut, Alabama.

Round 2: Michigan, Florida State, Michigan State, Alabama.

Sweet 16: Florida State, Michigan State.

Elite Eight: Florida State.

SOUTH

Round 1: Baylor, North Carolina, Winthrop, Purdue, Texas Tech, Arkansas, Florida, Ohio State.

Round 2: Baylor, Purdue, Arkansas, Ohio State.

Sweet 16: Baylor, Ohio State.

Elite Eight: Baylor.

MIDWEST

Round 1: Illinois, Loyola, Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Syracuse, West Virginia, Rutgers, Houston.

Round 2: Illinois, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Houston.

Sweet 16: Illinois, West Virginia.

Elite Eight: Illinois.

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