Is This Finally the Year for Gonzaga?By Marc U.
For years, the Gonzaga Bulldogs were often the Cinderella of the NCAA basketball tournament. The Zags would typically run rough-shod over teams out in the West Coast Conference and then make life miserable for top teams from the power conferences during March Madness. While the Zags have always come up short in their bid to make the Final Four, it hasn’t stopped them from continuing to dominate most of their competition.
I’m sure publicly Head Coach Mark Few would tell you that he feels a sense of pride for teams like Butler and VCU who have made the trip to Final Four but I have to believe he burns deep down privately for a chance to finally get his Bulldogs over that hump.
What Few and Gonzaga have done for themselves is one thing, but consider what they’ve done for their conference as well. Over the last 10-12 years of Gonzaga’s dominance, conference foes have been forced to get better or stand pat. St. Mary’s is one of those that has chosen to compete. The last four West Coast Conference tournament championships have been played between the two schools with each grabbing two wins.
It would seem these two are once again on a collision course for a 5th straight time as the Gaels trail Gonzaga by a game and a half in the standings. Other teams have also raised their level of play as well. Santa Clara, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount have all seen differing levels of success during Gonzaga’s current run. It has to be viewed as a compliment when you raise the level of your competition’s play.
So where are the Zags now as we approach March? They are in a familiar spot atop the West Coast Conference and may arguably have their best shot at finally getting to the Final Four.
At 25-2, the 5th-ranked Bulldogs have won eight straight games and are seriously going to push for a number one seed in the NCAA tournament. As teams like Michigan, Duke and Syracuse lose games down the stretch, it becomes increasingly more likely the Zags can capture at least a number two seed should they run through the rest of their schedule unharmed.
Whomever is going to knock off Gonzaga is going to have to do it by playing great defense. The Zags are currently third in the nation in field goal percentage at just over 50% and rank 11th in the nation in scoring. That means the Bulldogs are getting high-percentage shots and move the ball around well. They are 33rd in the country in assists.
Gonzaga is led by Kelly Olynyk who is averaging 18 points and seven rebounds per game and provides Coach Few with a big-man presence he hasn’t always had. Elias Harris and Kevin Pangos chip in 14.5 and 12 points per game respectively.
If there was ever going to be a year for Gonzaga this would seem to be it. Good front-court and back-court play are combining to give them a great season. Now let’s see how far they can advance it.
Games Out West this Week
#24 Colorado State at UNLV – Nobody rebounds the ball better than the Rams who have won six straight. Bigger question could be is this a trap-game for CSU? They host #19 New Mexico next Saturday and trail the Lobos by a half-game. I like UNLV to pull the upset.
Washington at #9 Arizona – The Wildcats will play at Utah tonight and should be able to end their two-game slide against the Utes who are under .500 on the year. The Huskies have dropped six of their last eight and will enter Tucson at a bad time as the Wildcats look to right themselves. Go with Arizona.