Is Gonzaga Really the Best Team in the Nation?

Gonzaga Basketball is rolling. They are now 24-0 with their latest win over Santa Clara. That’s right, no losses. In fact, they didn’t trail for 264 minutes of play (13 halves) during this season. ESPN staff writer C.L. Brown recently put out an article describing why Gonzaga is “proving to be a team worthy of its rank” which you can read here.

In the article, he gives all the statistics as to why Gonzaga is deserving of their high seat in college basketball. Brown remarks on their versatility, balance and experience. I agree with him on those three topics. However, what happens when this team meets the competition of Baylor, Kansas, Kentucky, Oregon or Villanova?

What the Zags have going for them

The Zags have many positives going for them. They are skilled, experienced and have strong statistical production from many players.

Nigel Williams-Goss of Gonzaga Men's Basketball

Nigel Williams-Goss takes the ball to the hoop (Photo courtesy of The Seattle Times)

Nigel Williams-Goss is the real deal. He is in the top five prospective players for the Wooden award and averages 15.6 points per game. In addition to points, he is adding 5.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. His stats just showcase his talent for distributing the ball to teammates and being able to get into the paint and finish.

Josh Perkins is shooting 44.1 percent from behind the arc. When Willams-Goss needs a kick out, he is there to make the three. All of Gonzaga’s players that average over 20 minutes per game are also shooting over 40 percent from the field. This includes the freshman Zach Collins and senior Przemek Karnowski, who both dominate in the post.

The Zags’ senior class has made it to the NCAA tournament each year. Last year, they lost to Syracuse by three in the sweet sixteen. Josh Perkins missed a runner at the end in the final seconds before Syracuse hit two free throws to secure the win. Gonzaga lost in the Elite Eight to Duke two years ago, which was just their third loss that season.

Gonzaga also averages 85.4 points per game and only allows 61.7 points per game. Needless to say, they are efficient on both the offensive and defensive ends. The Zags defense has also held many teams to very low shooting percentages from their pressure. Mark Few takes great pride in their defensive intensity, and how they close out on shooters and guard the paint.

why they won’t go far in the tournament

Sports Analyst Eric Rothman in regards to the game against BYU said “this was probably the toughest true road game for the Zags so far this season.” ESPN analyst Adrain Branch agreed with him. The fact that BYU (a non-ranked opponent) is the toughest road game thus far speaks volumes of the competition they are playing.

Their game looks flawless because they haven’t had the best competition. In clips from games against Pepperdine and BYU, their offense looks stellar because the defense is lacking. They might be able to feed the high post in two passes, but it’s because help side is nonexistent. Someone might credit that to Karnowski or Collins’ efficiency in the post, but that is for the viewer to decide.

This is not to degrade Williams-Goss or Coach Few. However, who have they really played this season? UCLA and Kentucky are averaging over 90 points per game. UCLA also shoots 53.5 percent from the field and play teams like Oregon, Kentucky and Arizona. Gonzaga doesn’t have any teams averaging figures that are stellar compared to the rest of the country.

The Zags also have their undefeated record working against them. They have a huge target on their back. While they might have experience in the tournament, this is a new year with new people and greater stakes.

Who will hand Gonzaga their first loss?

No. 18 Saint Mary’s might be the team to end the streak. According to ESPN’s BPI, the Zags only have a 45 percent chance of beating St. Mary’s and above 90 percent for the rest of the games this season.

The Zags have had trouble with St. Mary’s in the past. Last year Gonzaga lost to them twice in two very close games. The Gaels will also be looking for sweet revenge after the 23-point loss this season to the Bulldogs. If you have ever played sports, you know just how satisfying it is to beat a team, let alone an undefeated one.

Matchup wise, Saint Mary’s is ranked second in the nation for points allowed (56.6 per game). Their defense is what propels their offense and ultimately what wins its games.

The offense is pushed by junior Jock Landale, who is averaging 16.9 points per game. He scored 22 points against Pacific in a close victory and 14 against San Diego this weekend. Joe Rahon is a senior that contributes experience and big minutes. Over his two years at Saint Mary’s, he has averaged over thirty minutes because he impacts the game in all areas. Rahon is averaging 8.8 points per game 6.0 assists per game.

Gonzaga will have their work cut out for them. Their perfect season is within reach, but will they be able to take the heat when the going gets tough? Yes, they have versatility and experience, but how will it compare to ACC and Big East teams?

 

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