Richard Wiens, The Triplicate

OK, by now those of you who are so inclined have filled out your brackets for the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Which is a shame, because you really could have benefitted from the following information: Gonzaga University will win the national championship.

Del Norte High's season is long over, the annual Crescent City Jaycees tournament is in the books, but the arrival of spring always heralds prime time for hoops at the higher levels.

The pros, ehh, they'll be playoff-ing until practically summer. But the men's and women's college tournaments are things of beauty, three weeks of single-elimination games that begin today for the men.

Just think of it: As of this morning, 64 teams in each tournament can win the championship simply by putting together a six-game winning streak. Compare that to the sordid world of college football, where the only way to play for a national title is to crack a code dictated by biased pollsters and absurdly programmed computers.

And in office pools everywhere, we get to play along by making our picks, plunking down a few bucks and kibitzing with co-workers andndash; the most wholesome way to gamble on sports.

I've stayed attached to a pool made up mostly of former colleagues of mine at the Spokesman-Review newspaper. This year that poses a quandary, because the newspaper and the aforementioned university are both in Spokane. Plenty of people in my pool will be picking Gonzaga simply because theywantthe Zags to win. Statistically, I'd be better off picking one of the traditional powers like Louisville or Indiana. Except andhellip;

All signs point to Gonzaga. Consider:

andbull; The Zags are ranked No. 1 nationally for the first time in their history.

andbull; They have the best college player in the country. A giant with great hands and zippy outlet passes, Kelly Olynyk is the second coming of Bill Walton. You've just never heard of Olynyk because he's Canadian and didn't used to be very good and is vowel-deprived, making his last name hard to remember. But see him and you'll never forget him. The first time Triplicate reporter Jessica Cejnar caught his act on TV she was incredulous, asking, "Is that 7-foot guy wearing a mullet?"

andbull; The Catholic Church has never had a Jesuit pope, until now. Gonzaga is a Jesuit school that has never won the national championship. Coincidence? Don't bet your bracket on it.

The Zags represent college basketball's better nature. In an era of freshman superstars who turn pro after just one year of higher education, Gonzaga's starting lineup consists of four seniors and one junior. In a sport dominated by a

handful of big universities with big budgets, they hail from a tiny school in the middle of nowhere also known as Eastern Washington.

This is their 15th straight tournament appearance, and I've been with them from the start. Newsrooms are supposed to be bastions of impartiality, but I still remember jumping up and down with my Spokesman-Review colleagues when the Zags hit a last-second shot to knock off Florida and make it to the Elite Eight back in 1999.

So excuse me if I slip away for a couple of hours this afternoon to watch Gonzaga embark on the so-called Road to the Final Four. It could get bumpy, and an early exit is always possible, but I'm following those signs.