When you think mid-majors, it’s impossible not to think of Gonzaga. Since 1998, the Zags have made it their business of disrupting the tournament almost every year. Since the Bulldogs’ stunning run to the Elite 8 in ’98, they’ve remained a fixture in the Big Dance ever since–now entering their 18th straight tournament. Much of that credit has to go to head coach Mark Few. Since taking over for Dan Monson, after his surprising move to the University of Minnesota, Few furthered the school’s emerging presence as a fixture of the March tournament over the next 17 years.
Like Monson before, Few is often attached to major conference opportunities. However, unlike his former fellow assistant coach and friend, Few has rejected the chance to move. Some have gone so far to call the Few/Gonzaga a perfect marriage–and it’s hard to argue with its legacy of success.
Ever since graduating from Oregon in 1989, Few has been a Bulldog rather than a Duck. Joining then-coach Dan Fitzgerald’s 1989 team as an assistant coach, Few hit the ground running alongside future-coach Monson. Working alongside his friend he met through previous coaching camp stints, the two would grow into the coaching backbone of Gonzaga’s perennial March Madness runs.
The 1999 season saw the Zags reach the tournament for only the second time in the school’s history. After their electrifying run, Monson’s postseason departure made way for Few to take over. Few didn’t miss a beat. In his first season, the Bulldogs returned to the Sweet 16 after capturing the West Coast Conference tournament title. The next 16 seasons under Few would prove to be just as fruitful as his first. Today, Few’s accolades include 13 WCC Tournament championships, 15 WCC regular season championships, 11 WCC Coach of the Year honors and five trips to the Sweet Sixteen.
During Few’s 16 seasons leading Gonzaga, the Bulldogs have become a threatening opponent every season. Even on off years, the Gonzaga name alone reminds clubs that anything can happen when Few’s men take the court. During their streak–the fourth-longest active streak in the nation–they failed to surpass the Sweet 16 during every attempt. That came to an end last year when the #2 ranked Zags finally cracked the Elite 8 before running into eventual champion Duke.
This year’s draw could be one of Few’s toughest tests. Barely keeping their streak alive, the Zags secured their 11th seed berth thanks to another WCC Tournament title. Their opening round match has them squaring off with one of the hottest names entering the tournament: sixth-seed Seton Hall. A true test right out the gate, we’ll see what Few’s squad can do this time around.
Since taking over in 1999, Few has produced wins and NBA caliber players on a consistent basis. At this point, Gonzaga is only a mid-major because it’s outside of the major five conferences. In every other sense of the word, Mark Few and Gonzaga have more than cemented their name as a menacing major threat to any opponent come March. Much like their mascot, the Bulldogs aren’t always the prettiest but they’re adored by millions of fans for their grit and determination.
And that’s why their appearances in the big dance are no longer few and far between.
This article originally appeared on Jim Fiore’s LinkedIn Pulse.