Gonzaga has long been a bit of a laughingstock once the NCAAB tournament rolls around. Sure, the Bulldogs always enter the bracket coming off a dominant season in the WCC but they have always been bounced early. Despite making the Madness for 19 consecutive seasons, Gonzaga has only made the Elite Eight twice and has never advanced past that round.
This year feels different. This Gonzaga squad is one of the best in the nation and if Northwestern taught us anything this year, it's that droughts need to end at some point. So, here are three reasons why Gonzaga is going to be cutting down the nets in Glendale.
Gonzaga has always sported a good team that relies heavily on one or two guys to score. The tandems of Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis or Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris were dominant for the Bulldogs in the past but the program's reliance on a selective few offensive guys has hurt them in the past.
This Gonzaga squad is much different. This Gonzaga team has five players averaging double-digit points and only two of those players are averaging more than 25 minutes per game (Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews). The depth of this team is staggering when you consider it has an all-American point guard (Williams-Goss), possibly the best true center in the country (Przemek Karnowski) and brings a potential first-round pick in the NBA draft off the bench (Zach Collins).
Williams-Goss is the main offensive piece but the transfer has struggled on a few occasions this season. Williams-Goss, who leads the team in scoring, has scored 12 or fewer points on nine occasions this season. In those nine games, Gonzaga is 9-0 with four different players leading the team in scoring in each respective game.
Gonzaga plays nine deep and there is only minimal drop-off between the starters and the bench players. Of the top nine players on the Gonzaga team, based on minutes played, they all shoot above 41 percent from the floor and over 38 percent from deep (aside from Karnowski, who attempted one trey all season).
Battle-Tested Away From Spokane
March Madness offers a lot of different looks for teams, with most playing in locations and arenas they have never seen before. This will not be an issue for Gonzaga, as the team has not lost a single game away from McCarthey Athletic Center all season. Of course, you can’t necessarily put a lot of stock in the Zags’ travel schedule within the watered-down WCC, but just a look at their non-conference slate proves their dominance.
Gonzaga played four non-conference games away from Spokane, Washington, all of which have been neutral-site outings. Two of those four neutral-site games came against Iowa State and Arizona, who find themselves in the NCAAB tournament. Those two games saw Gonzaga post an average scoring margin of plus-4.5 while holding the Cyclones and Wildcats to an abysmal 22.9 percent from beyond the arc.
Cakewalk To The Final Four
No 1 seed has an easier path to the Final Four. Kansas could easily be facing off against Purdue and Louisville/Oregon. UNC is in the same bracket as UCLA and Kentucky. Villanova has potential games with Virginia, Florida, SMU, Baylor or Duke.
Gonzaga’s path, if chalk holds, sees them playing Northwestern, West Virginia and Arizona. Northwestern looked pretty bad down the stretch, losing seven of its last 12 games. West Virginia is a winnable game for Gonzaga as long as the Bulldogs can avoid turnovers, something they have done well all season. Arizona would be the toughest task, but the Wildcats’ lack of defense means the Zags could score at will.
Long and short, Gonzaga has a pretty easy trip to the Final Four, all things considered. Not to say they won’t face challenges, but the Zags would beat pretty much every other team in the West Region more often than not. If Gonzaga could make it all the way to the Sweet 16 last season without Karnowski, imagine how deadly the Bulldogs will be with a healthy, stacked lineup.