The Gonzaga Bulldogs and head coach Mark Few just finished a historic regular season after taking down BYU in the West Coast Conference Finals, 88-78. They enter the NCAA Tournament as the #1 ranked team in the nation, and will be a one seed in the bracket.
Gonzaga enters The Big Dance undefeated at 26-0. They are the last team to do that since the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats, who lost a heart-breaker to Wisconsin in the Final Four. The Bulldogs seek their first National Championship in program history, and this is a team that can definitely get it done.
Few’s squad boasts the highest-scoring offense in the country, scoring 92 points a game. They’re defense isn’t elite, letting up 69 points a game. But with a 23-point differential… it hasn’t seemed to matter much.
So Much Talent Across the Court
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The Bulldogs are led by a four-headed monster of All-American-caliber players. Corey Kispert (19 points, 5 rebounds), Drew Timme (19 points, 7 rebounds), Jalen Suggs (14 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) and Joel Ayayi (12 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists) headline a stacked Gonzaga rotation game in and game out.
Ayayi’s arguably the fourth scoring option on this team, but he would be in the conference player-of-the-year conversations in most other conferences.
Timme’s a do-it-all big man who holds a 66% field goal percentage, one of the highest in the country.
Kispert can shoot you out of the gym, and has a strong pro-comparison to Joe Harris of the Brooklyn Nets.
And then there’s Jalen Suggs, who in my opinion is the best overall athlete in college basketball this season.
Suggs Almost Played Quarterback in College
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Suggs and Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham are both in the discussion for the #1 NBA Draft selection in June. Cunningham will most likely go first, but Suggs is no drop-off at two.
Suggs was a dual threat quarterback and corner in high school, and received football scholarships from Minnesota, Iowa State and Ohio State. Yes, THE Ohio State. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Suggs said he was going to commit to Ohio State, but after a long sit-down with his father, decided to pursue his basketball career.
It looks like he made the right decision.
Gonzaga, the Sleeper?
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It sounds crazy, I know. Gonzaga’s the top-ranked team in the sport, and hasn’t lost a game all year. But for some strange reason, many fans across the college basketball community don’t see the Bulldogs as a championship team.
In their defense, there is a somewhat-solid argument to be made.
Gonzaga plays in the WCC, an often-considered “weak” conference. BYU is the only other WCC team in the NCAA Tournament. Besides overcoming a 12-point halftime deficit to beat BYU by 10 in the conference championship, Gonzaga in a sense bulldozed their way through the season. They went 15-0 in WCC play, and 11-0 in non-conference play.
So when you see the teams that round out the top five (Baylor, Illinois, Michigan, Iowa), by definition yes, those teams have proven more this season. Baylor has only lost one regular-season game in the Big 12, one of the top two conferences in the nation. Illinois, Michigan and Iowa all battled through some of the best games of the year in the Big Ten, the other top conference in college basketball.
Are they more “battle-tested” than Gonzaga heading into the NCAA Tournament? Yes.
Does that mean Gonzaga doesn’t have what it takes to win? Absolutely not.
People forget because it was three months ago, but Gonzaga has already beat some of the top teams in the country this season.
A Historic Start
In four of their first seven games this season, Gonzaga played against top-20 teams. They beat Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa and Virginia in those four games. No team in NCAA basketball history has beat four top-20 teams in its first seven games.
Fast-forward back to today, and all four of those teams are still inside the top 20 (Kansas #11, West Virginia #10, Iowa #5, Virginia #16).
While none of these teams, for better or worse, are the teams they were back in December, they’re all still highly ranked and headed to the tournament. And Gonzaga’s beaten all of them.
This is arguably Mark Few’s best Gonzaga team yet, and they can keep up with anyone offensively in the tournament.
“I kept screaming, ‘It’s March! It’s March!’ I’ve been waiting to play in these moments my entire life.”
Jalen Suggs is ready to dominate the month of Gonzaga. pic.twitter.com/55KvuMJ6Y2
— Brenna Greene (@BrennaGreene_) March 10, 2021
Is history on Gonzaga’s side to win the National Championship? No.
Since Bob Knight’s 1976 Indiana Hoosiers won the National Championship with a 27-0 undefeated record, five teams have entered the NCAA Tournament undefeated.
None of them went on to win the championship. One lost in the Sweet 16, three in the Final Four, and one in the Championship Game.
Gonzaga is now the sixth team since ‘76, and is looking to not only end this trend, but also end its program’s National Championship drought.
As all college basketball fans know, anything, and I mean literally anything, can happen in March. They don’t call it March Madness for nothing.
This year’s tournament will for sure be one of the craziest we have ever seen. One location. Limited fans. 68 teams. Only one will be cutting down the nets April 5th, and people shouldn’t be surprised if it’s the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
They have the coach. They have the players. History may not be on their side, but talent sure is. I’m not going to be the guy to pick against Gonzaga in my bracket until at least the Final Four, and neither should you.