In addition to winning all 26 of their games, they have trounced AP Top 25 foes by an average of 10.5 points. But unless they finally make the Final Four, none of that stuff matters
They have been the No. 1 team in the country for three weeks and show no signs of giving up that spot.
In addition to winning all 26 of their games, they have trounced AP Top 25 foes by an average of 10.5 points.
Advanced statistics, such as those published by Ken Pomeroy, confirm their status as the nation’s best.
But unless they finally make the Final Four, none of that stuff matters.
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Once again, the Gonzaga Bulldogs find themselves in the midst of an immaculate regular season. They have been sublime offensively and defensively and are Aristotle deep.
Huskies fans got a first-hand look at their dominance when the Zags blitzed UW, 98-71, in Spokane, leading 27-6 early and 47-22 at halftime. And by all indications, they have only gotten better since.
Even so, this has become a familiar tale for the former darlings of college basketball. They tease us with regular-season heroics, only to end with postseason hiccups.
In the six NCAA tournaments Gonzaga has been a four seed or higher, it has never gone further than its seed suggested it would, and has thrice been bounced in the second round. And while it’s true that the Zags tend to thrive as Cinderellas, they need to start embracing their inner stepsister, too.
Perhaps you think this column reeks of disrespect for a team that hasn’t lost since last March. On the contrary. I think holding Gonzaga to the same standard as the Dukes and Kentuckys of the world is as respectful as it gets.
This program is too powerful, too well-coached to be OK with anything but a Final Four run. And this year’s squad is more equipped to do so than any of its predecessors.
It’s no secret that the great Gonzaga teams have been particularly adept at pouring in points. Adam Morrison’s 2006 squad had the second-highest rated offense in the country according to Pomeroy, and Kelly Olynyk’s 2013 team was third.
But there has generally been a drop-off — or in some cases, a free fall — on the other side of the ball, as the 2006 team was ranked 170th defensively and the 2013 team 30th.
The 2016-17 Zags, however, are fourth offensively, fourth defensively, and pretty much devoid of any conspicuous flaw.
How many teams these days have a McDonald’s All-American coming off the bench? Not many, but that’s exactly what Gonzaga has in Zach Collins, who is averaging 10.6 points in 17.2 minutes.
How many teams have seven players averaging at least eight points per game? Among those in the AP Top 25, Gonzaga is the only one.
The Zags’ .516 field-goal percentage is third behind UCLA and Creighton. They have three players shooting above 60 percent and boast an ideal blend of size and speed.
When the NCAA tournament selection committee said they would be the No. 4 overall seed if the season ended last Friday, it was a slight to a team that has beaten No. 5 Arizona by seven and has now beaten No. 22 Saint Mary’s by double digits twice. But it was also understandable. At some point, you have to respect history, right?
College basketball may be the most unfair sport out there right now. No matter how much a team excels for the first four months, its whole season can be dismissed by one off game in March.
And even though Gonzaga has an impeccable résumé, the combination of it playing in the West Coast Conference and never getting past the Elite Eight likely seeped into committee members’ minds.
But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a great team. Former UW Husky Nigel Williams-Goss is one of the most sound point guards in the country, Polish center Przemek Karnowski (7 feet 1) is one of the most imposing big men, and given how no Zag is projected be taken in next June’s draft, Mark Few is one of the most proficient coaches.
The strides this program has taken over the past 18 years is immense. It would have been impossible to foresee the Zags as the top-ranked team in all the land for three weeks running.
Still, it’s hard to start celebrating their achievements just yet. Gonzaga has proved more than most would have imagined, but for it to be considered an elite program, there is still one more thing to prove.