Gonzaga has been named the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament’s West region, and as is the case with any 1-seed, the Zags are a legitimate threat to win the national title. He’s what you need to know about Mark Few’s 32-1 Bulldogs.
Coach: Mark Few | Current record: 32-1 | NCAA Tournament record: 24-19
Best finish: Elite Eight (2015) | Last year’s finish: Loss in Sweet 16 to Syracuse
Starting lineup: G Nigel Williams-Goss | G Josh Perkins | G Jordan Mathews | F Johnathan Williams | C Przemek Karnowski | ( Top reserve: F Zach Collins )
Leading scorer: Williams-Goss (16.9) | Leading rebounder: Williams (6.5)
National championships: N/A | Last Final Four: N/A
Why Gonzaga might win it all: This is the No. 1 team in the country, according to KenPom.com. That’s been the case for almost two months now. Not only that, but Gonzaga’s efficiency returns are among the top five in the past 15 years of college basketball. Gonzaga has a top-10 offense and the No. 2-rated defense in terms of points-per-possession. This team is long, experienced, and has beaten the likes of Arizona, Iowa State, Florida — and a three-game sweep of Saint Mary’s. This is, without debate, the best Gonzaga team in history.
Why Gonzaga might not win it all: When faced with the chance to win its final game of the regular season and complete a 30-0 mark, the Bulldogs took a slip. This program has, infamously, never made a Final Four. Those elements, perhaps, will come into play. Gonzaga looked tight in its lone loss, to BYU. It hasn’t faced many scenarios this season wherein games have been up for grabs with three minutes to go. Might pose a problem.
Player to watch: Karnowski. He’s not the MVP, but he’s a massive human with a dominant ability to post up on the low block. Also, he’s an incredible passer. There truly is no one in college basketball like big Shem. He almost had to give up basketball after last season’s back injury. Instead, he returned with a growth to his game and a big-time influence on the vets who transferred in. Without Karnowski, Gonzaga doesn’t sniff a 1 seed this year.
One guy soaring: Williams-Goss could be named a First Team All-America. The former Washington player has adapted beautifully in Spokane. His averages: 16.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.8 apg, 1.8 spg. He’s also an incredible foul shooter, hitting 91 percent of his attempts. Given that the Zags are a 1 seed, Williams-Goss might be the most underrated player in America. If he was putting up the number he is on any of the other teams who are 1s, he’d be the frontrunner for National Player of the Year.
Notable stat: 23.4. That’s Gonzaga’s average margin of victory this year. That’s nearly four points higher than the No. 2 team, Wichita State. Last year’s highest team in margin of victory was Stephen F. Austin — at 16.9. The last time a team had a better MOV: 1999-2000, when Duke’s difference was 24.7.
Final thought: A lot of people reading this will outright dismiss Gonzaga’s Final Four chances. I’d advice against that. The sample size is deep, the non-conference competition was good, and Saint Mary’s is a top-25 team. Gonzaga’s proven. And even if you think the WCC is weak, here’s what you can’t deny: There have been worse leagues for 15 years, and nobody has dominated their conference in scoring margin like the Zags. Mark Few is getting close to Hall of Fame nomination consideration. This team is experienced, athletic, disciplined. It’s really good. The irony is more people are discussing the chances Gonzaga chokes than the chances Gonzaga wins it all. The latter is more likely.