Perfection, in sports, is the unattainable standard.
Even in a dominant victory, there are still myriad missteps, brain lapses and gaffes for a coaching staff to point out in the film session the next day.
Still, it is that pursuit of perfection that drives athletes to be excellent. And the Gonzaga men’s basketball team? It has been flirting with perfection all season long.
I’m not just referring to the Zags being 29-0 heading into their Elite Eight matchup with USC. That’s damn impressive, just as being the first undefeated men’s college basketball team in 45 years would be. I’m talking about the way Gonzaga has dominated in historic fashion. We might just be looking at the best college basketball team since the turn of the century.
That may sound like a hyperbolic statement, but the advanced statistics say otherwise. The Ken Pomeroy rankings have become a go-to for fans and writers to evaluate a team’s efficiency, and those ratings say that nobody is better than the Zags.
Gonzaga’s adjusted efficiency margin of 37.87 is not only the best in the country by a good seven points, it is the best since KenPom introduced his rating system in 2002. The Gonzaga offense is considered the best in the country. Its defense is ranked seventh. The combination has led to one of the most dominant seasons in college hoops history, and the scoreboard has shown it.
In their 29 games, only once have the Zags allowed an opponent to finish closer than 10 points. That happened Dec. 2, when Gonzaga beat then-No. 11 West Virginia 87-82. Other than that, all double-digit victories.
There was the 12-point win against then-No. 6 Kansas in November. There was the 11-point win over then-No. 3 Iowa three weeks later. There was the 23-point win over then-No. 16 Virginia — the last team to win the national title — the day after Christmas, followed by the blitz through the West Coast Conference.
Some may argue that the relative ease of the WCC inflates the Zags’ resume. Problem is, they’ve been playing in that conference for decades and have still managed to make six consecutive Sweet 16s, which is the longest streak in the nation. They’ve made three trips to the Elite Eight during that run, plus the national championship game. Oh, and they also pulled off three double-digit victories against conference rival Brigham Young, which earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament.
This isn’t Wichita State, which entered the tourney undefeated in 2014 before losing in the second round. Those Shockers didn’t take on national powers in the early part of their schedule, nor did they pummel their conference foes in the way that the Zags did. And three games into this year’s tourney — Gonzaga has won by 43 (vs. No. 16 Norfolk State), 17 (vs. No. 8 Oklahoma), and 18 (vs. No. 5 Creighton). Yes, the Zags are only halfway home, but they haven’t shown a morsel of weakness.
The truth is, nobody really knows where the production is going to come from in a given game. It could be Edmonds native and leading scorer Corey Kispert (19.0 ppg, .462 three-point shooting), who had 23 points in the first round, 16 in the second and 12 in the third. It could be second-leading scorer Drew Timme (18.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg), who had just 10 in the first round before exploding for 30 in the second and 22 in the third. Or it could be freshman Jalen Suggs, the projected lottery pick who’s been relatively quiet in the tournament (although he did score 16 against Oklahoma) but is averaging 13.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists this season.
It’s not often that sports deliver the story most fans are hoping for. The Cinderella teams rarely pull off those late-round miracles; the dream headline rarely comes to fruition.
But Gonzaga has a chance to do something you don’t see in sports too often: win a title as the consensus favorite and still receive nationwide fanfare.
The way Mark Few built this program from a mid-major darling into a national power is unique. For the Zags to finish undefeated for the first time since Indiana did in 1976 would be a fitting culmination.
Perfection in sports is never completely achievable. This Gonzaga team, however, is on the brink of coming about as close to it as possible.