Few's fingerprints all over Gonzaga's winning blueprint

Rick Brown

Gonzaga is playing in its 17th consecutive NCAA Tournament. The last 16 have been under coach Mark Few, who has led his teams to the Sweet 16 appearances in 2000, 2001, 2006 and 2009.

SEATTLE – Gonzaga's consistency as a West Coast basketball power follows a blueprint that any program would love to emulate. So what makes the Bulldogs tick?

"Him," Drake coach and former Gonzaga assistant Ray Giacoletti said.

"Him" is Mark Few, who will coach the Bulldogs against Iowa in an NCAA round-of-32 game Sunday at KeyArena. Few is in his 26th season at Gonzaga and his 16th as the head coach.

"He's been the constant," said Giacoletti, a Gonzaga assistant from 2007-13. "He's watched the whole thing evolve. I think his balance is different than most coaches in college basketball or football. He's low-key. He rarely raises his voice, but he's the most in-control guy I've ever been around in my life. The kids feed off that. His teams play with the utmost confidence."

And with a high level of consistency, too. The Zags are playing in their 17th consecutive NCAA Tournament. The last 16 have been under Few, who has coached his teams to the Sweet 16 appearances in 2000, 2001, 2006 and 2009.

"Last night on television they made reference to the fact that this was the first NCAA win for Iowa in 14 years," Giacoletti said. "Now that puts things in perspective."

The Bulldogs, seeded second in the West, beat North Dakota State 86-76 on Friday to improve Few's NCAA record to 17-15. It was the Bulldogs' school-record 33rd victory this season. Under Few, Gonzaga has won the West Coast Conference title 14 times and the postseason tournament a dozen times. This is the sixth time Few has taken a top-four seed into the NCAA Tournament.

But perspective and the NCAA Tournament are often strange bedfellows. No Sweet 16 appearances since 2009 seems to be a rallying cry for fans in the Pacific Northwest.

"All the talk there is that they haven't been able to get back to the Sweet 16, or the Final Four," said Giacoletti, who still talks to Few every other day. "How about 16 years of consistency? His body of work should speak volumes. Yet our society is so focused on this three-week tournament. I get it. I understand it. It's like a drug. It's gotten so powerful and so big."

Giacoletti was the lead recruiter on Gary Bell Jr., one of Gonzaga's starting guards, and Kyle Dranginis, a junior guard. The player the Hawkeyes need to keep an eye on is senior guard Kevin Pangos, the WCC player of the year. He will make his 139th straight start Sunday, the longest consecutive streak in college basketball.

"They call him the consummate Zag," Giacoletti said. "If the gym lights are on at midnight on a Saturday, it's him in there. If you had a daughter, you'd wish they were dating. For Kevin, it's school and basketball and doing things the right way. He's a pretty unique kid that way."