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.
The end of the Division II Drury/Quincy game is one of the best college basketball finishes of the year (VIDEO)
Feb 1, 2015, 10:00 AM EST
The ending to a college basketball game doesn’t get much better than this.
Feb 1, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
With the impending football game, not a lot of college hoops on Sunday.
Jan 31, 2015, 11:43 PM EST
Andrew Papenfus made his season debut for the Broncos Saturday night, just over three months after a benign tumor was removed from his brain.
Jan 31, 2015, 10:42 PM EST
Kendall Anthony scored 20 points in the second half to lead Richmond to the 64-55 win, but the status of Weber is VCU’s greatest concern.
Jan 31, 2015, 9:03 PM EST
No. 4 Duke lands a stunning, come-from-behind win over No. 2 Virginia.
Jan 31, 2015, 8:31 PM EST
In the midst of Louisville’s comeback from an 18-point deficit, Montrezl Harrell showed why he’s considered to be one of the best athletes in college basketball.
Jan 31, 2015, 8:02 PM EST
Louisville outscored North Carolina by 16 from the foul line and by 15 in second-chance points, which helped them erase an 18-point second half deficit.
Jan 31, 2015, 7:10 PM EST
Also of note Saturday afternoon was No. 18 Northern Iowa rolling past No. 12 Wichita State.
Jan 31, 2015, 6:39 PM EST
UNI went on a 22-6 run over a ten-plus minute stretch as they moved into a tie for first in the Missouri Valley.
Jan 31, 2015, 3:11 PM EST
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame see comeback fall short at Pitt.
Jan 31, 2015, 2:34 PM EST
Trevor Lacey makes one of the best buzzer-beaters of the season to give N.C. State a road win at Georgia Tech.
Jan 31, 2015, 1:45 PM EST
Florida’s Alex Murphy with a nominee for Saturday’s dunk of the day.
Jan 31, 2015, 1:15 PM EST
Bruce Pearl received a warm ovation from Tennessee fans in his first game back as an opposing head coach.
Jan 31, 2015, 12:34 PM EST
Illinois will continue to be without two injured guards as both players were suspended indefinitely.
Jan 31, 2015, 12:15 PM EST
A tumultuous season gets worse for UMBC.
Jan 31, 2015, 11:15 AM EST
Raheem Appleby showed surprising hops as the 6-foot-4 guard threw down a solid dunk over a Western Kentucky defender.
Jan 31, 2015, 10:10 AM EST
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino believes one of his underclassmen will definitely leave for the NBA.
Pregame Shootaround: Duke battles Virginia and Wichita State gets its biggest Valley test on a busy Saturday
Jan 31, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
Duke and Virginia highlights a busy Saturday slate.
Jan 30, 2015, 11:01 PM EST
Here is a rundown of all the action from Friday night.
Jan 30, 2015, 9:30 PM EST
The Jayhawks will wear these on Feb. 28.
- Briante Weber suffers season-ending knee injury in No. 14 VCU’s loss to Richmond 0
- No. 4 Duke ends No. 2 Virginia’s unbeaten season 1
- Foul line, offensive rebounding aid No. 13 Louisville’s comeback effort 0
- Saturday’s Snacks: No. 4 Duke rebounds to beat No. 2 Virginia, and No. 8 Notre Dame falls 0
- No. 8 Notre Dame upset by Pitt 1
- Auburn coach Bruce Pearl greeted with cheers during first return to Tennessee (VIDEO) 2
- Rick Pitino on Terry Rozier’s impending NBA Draft decision: ‘He’s not coming back’ 0
- Duke dismisses reserve shooting guard from program (13)
- Bill Self on the loss of Kansas-Missouri rivalry: ‘It hasn’t been great’ (8)
- Jerian Grant, No. 8 Notre Dame erase another double-digit deficit as they beat No. 4 Duke (7)
- Coach K earns career win No. 1,000 in No. 5 Duke’s win over St. John’s (4)
- Kentucky lands commitment from international Class of 2016 big man (4)