Mar 2, 2013, 7:04 PM EDT
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.
Oct 31, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
For the past two years, the Philly product has averaged five points per game.
Oct 31, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
Just Bruce Pearl being Bruce Pearl.
Oct 31, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Another SEC school used a similar system on its way to a national title game appearance in 2000.
CBT’s Recruiting Roundup: UCF lands a unique center, Tennessee’s impact wing, Saint Louis gets rising center
Oct 31, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
News and notes from the world of college basketball recruiting.
Oct 31, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Despite 29 wins (13 in conference play) Louisiana Tech missed out on the NCAA tournament. Michael White looks to change that this season, although, his team will have to go through the likes of UTEP and newcomer Western Kentucky, first.
Oct 31, 2014, 1:12 PM EDT
With the number of guards in the Kansas program, playing time was likely to be scarce for Conner Frankamp.
Oct 31, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
Isaac Fotu’s part of the NCAA’s investigation into the program, and other schools have attempted to poach some of Hawaii’s remaining players.
Oct 31, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Virginia is coming off of a dual-ACC title and returns the majority of the key players from that team.
Oct 31, 2014, 11:37 AM EDT
No surprise that Kentucky’s on top. Also of note: No. 3 Wisconsin received more first-place votes than No. 2 Arizona.
Oct 31, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
The Cincinnati transfer was expected to factor into a rotation that’s replacing five seniors from last season’s team.
Oct 31, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Is this team better than Philly?
Oct 30, 2014, 11:53 PM EDT
Quick action by construction workers ensured that it was declared ready for play two days after being flooded.
Oct 30, 2014, 10:41 PM EDT
Some officials are in hot water after compromising a system used by 20 different Division I conferences.
Oct 30, 2014, 8:58 PM EDT
Saint Louis adds more depth to its front court with this verbal commitment.
Oct 30, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
I can do that.
Oct 30, 2014, 7:26 PM EDT
John Egbunu was an American Athletic Conference All-Freshman Team selection at USF last season.
Oct 30, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
The Preseason Atlantic 10 Player of the Year is looking to lead VCU deep into March.
Oct 30, 2014, 5:55 PM EDT
Chris Clarke is a perfect fit for Donnie Tyndall.
Oct 30, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
The Golden Griffins have to account for the loss of four starters from last season’s 21-win team.
Oct 30, 2014, 3:56 PM EDT
Feel free to take this as my challenge to you all.
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