Mar 2, 2013, 7:04 PM EST
Following No. 1 Indiana’s loss to Minnesota on Tuesday, and Virginia’s big upset of No. 3 Duke, No. 2 Gonzaga appears poised to seize the school’s first No. 1 ranking ever. The questions began to circulate immediately: Do they belong on top? Can they handle the pressure?
The first step in quieting the naysayers happened today: Gonzaga pounded Portland 81-52. It’s not a particularly impressive win in context of the weakness of the West Coast Conference this season, but it’s mega-impressive in the larger context of the top five this season. Indiana is the latest No. 1 team to suffer a surprising loss, but hardly the first. So, we’ll not scoff at the Bulldogs for handling the pressure of that next win, which was absolutely required for anyone to even think of naming them No. 1 next week.
Given that the WCC is providing no challenge for the Zags this year, the deeper question remains: can they win in the Big Dance? Can they make the Final Four? Anything less, at this point, would be an immense letdown for a program that has been knocking on the door for more than a decade.
There are a couple of ways to answer this question. One is the eyeball test. We can all look at what Gonzaga puts on the floor, think back to prior Final Four participants, and say “do they have what it takes?”
The Zags are lousy with upperclassmen, and those upperclassmen are key contributors. Kelly Olynyk, a junior, has put himself in the conversation alongside Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Duke’s Mason Plumlee when the best big men in the nation are discussed. By his side are seniors Elias Harris and Guy Lanrdy Edi and junior Sam Dower. Even freshman Przemek Karnowski has had his moments, which gives Gonzaga a distinctive size plus depth advantage over most opponents they face. The backcourt is a bit younger, featuring sophomores Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr., but legacy junior David Stockton brings some experience to the table.
That’s a team with experience, size, shooters, quality point guard play and a brilliant coach in Mark Few. The eyeball test plays out in their favor.
Second, we can do the math. Tempo-free statistics were developed in hopes of providing predictive metrics with a little science behind them. Per Kenpom.com, Gonzaga has the nation’s third-best adjusted offense, and 23rd-best adjusted defense. In this context, “adjusted” means strength of schedule has been factored in. Those two numbers – combined, adjusted, folded and spun in a centrifuge – put the Zags at No. 4 in the Kenpom rankings, behind Florida, Indiana and Louisville. In fact, Gonzaga is sort of a reverse-Louisville, with the Cards showing the single-digit defensive ranking and double-digits in offense.
So, math also makes them one of the top four teams in America.
Finally, there’s always superstition. Look at Gonzaga’s two losses: When Illinois beat the Bulldogs on December 8, they were ranked No. 13 in the nation. When Gonzaga went into Indianapolis and lost a thriller in Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler was ranked No. 13. C’mon. Everyone knows that’s the unluckiest number there is. As long as they don’t face a 13-seed in the NCAAs, they should be golden.
The Zags are built to win in March, and well-led. They’ve had similar teams in the past, and never made the ultimate leap, being surpassed by latter-day mid-major heroes like George Mason, VCU and, yes, Butler. This is the year they must make good on that promise, because the opportunities will grow thinner in the future. With St. Mary’s recently slapped with a four-year probation, the WCC as a whole is about to take a serious credibility hit, giving each league opponent two less chances to earn an RPI-enhancing win in the regular season. That places even more pressure on NCAA hopefuls from the conference to schedule tough out-of-conference teams, which generally means lots of long-distance road trips – assuming anyone wants to take them up on it.
So, overall, it looks like the Gonzaga Bulldogs will be No. 1 come Monday, and that they’ll do what must be done to retain that spot. Whether they finally make the Final Four or hoist a title trophy is another question entirely. Right now, Gonzaga has the perfect storm brewing. An opportunity this great may never come again.
Eric Angevine is editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.
Mar 6, 2015, 8:45 PM EST
Syracuse has four top-100 recruits signed for next season.
Mar 6, 2015, 7:40 PM EST
Syracuse is facing a loss of scholarships and wins on top of probation.
Mar 6, 2015, 6:00 PM EST
The 6-foot-2 guard will have two years of eligibility remaining.
Mar 6, 2015, 4:42 PM EST
The junior shooting guard has been out the last seven games with an ankle injury.
Mar 6, 2015, 4:16 PM EST
Tyler Adams played in just four games as a freshman in 2011-12 before a heart ailment ended his playing career. He’ll be in the starting lineup Saturday when the Hoyas host Seton Hall.
Mar 6, 2015, 2:54 PM EST
Brown went 69-83 in five seasons at the helm at Holy Cross.
Reductions in scholarship, off-campus recruiting will have significant impact on Syracuse moving forward
Mar 6, 2015, 2:14 PM EST
Since they’ve signed for players for next season, Syracuse won’t begin the process of removing 12 scholarships over a four-year period until the 2016-17 season. But there’s still work to be done.
Mar 6, 2015, 12:35 PM EST
The basketball program will be on probation for the next five years, and they’re losing 12 scholarships over the next four seasons.
Mar 6, 2015, 12:20 PM EST
The Summit League will have one of the most entertaining tournaments, as always.
Mar 6, 2015, 11:29 AM EST
The Wisconsin freshmen have to dive for a loose ball off of the edge of the raised Williams Arena court as a rite of passage when the team plays at Minnesota.
Mar 6, 2015, 10:20 AM EST
Kentucky appears to be the only lock with less than two weeks to go before Selection Sunday.
Mar 6, 2015, 9:30 AM EST
The winner in Cambridge will be one win away from earning the Ivy League’s NCAA tournament berth.
Mar 6, 2015, 8:16 AM EST
All of this weekend’s hoops action.
Mar 6, 2015, 7:30 AM EST
The NCAA has yet to interview Cliff Alexander in regards to the case, with the report citing the family’s hiring of legal representation factoring into that.
Mar 6, 2015, 1:34 AM EST
All of the bubble winners and losers from Thursday.
Mar 5, 2015, 10:23 PM EST
No. 6 Wisconsin is the outright Big Ten champion, and Delaware State’s Kendall Gray went off for 33 points and 30 rebounds.
Mar 5, 2015, 8:34 PM EST
With the NBA and NBPA having different views on the limit, college basketball can only wait and see what happens.
Mar 5, 2015, 7:36 PM EST
The only sure thing at this point is that Perry Ellis won’t be on the floor when the Jayhawks visit No. 15 Oklahoma Saturday.
Mar 5, 2015, 6:44 PM EST
DVSport will handle the video replay technology, with Precision Timing Systems handling the timekeeping.
Mar 5, 2015, 5:38 PM EST
Patrick McCaw has been one of UNLV’s most consistent players this season, but he’ll have to miss Saturday’s game at San Jose State.
- Reductions in scholarship, off-campus recruiting will have significant impact on Syracuse moving forward 5
- NCAA sanctions Syracuse; 12 lost scholarships, nine-game suspension for coach Jim Boeheim 31
- Bracketology: No. 1 seed line remains unsettled 6
- Weekend Preview: Duke-Carolina Part Two, and which bubble teams have the most on the line? 1
- Bubble Banter: Davidson with a big win, Stanford in trouble, and … VCU? 2
- Justin Anderson out this weekend after undergoing appendectomy 0
- West Coast Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards 0
- NCAA sanctions Syracuse; 12 lost scholarships, nine-game suspension for coach Jim Boeheim (31)
- College Basketball Talk’s Latest Top 25: How far will Wisconsin and Gonzaga fall? (26)
- You Make the Call: Was Texas guard Isaiah Taylor fouled on this drive? (16)
- Mike Krzyzewski refuses comment on Rasheed Sulaimon sexual assault allegations (11)
- Bracketology: Villanova takes ahold of the fourth No. 1 seed (9)