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 1, 2014, 11:57 PM EDT
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Oct 1, 2014, 10:40 PM EDT
Chemistry was a key component in Dayton’s run to the Elite Eight. They’ll begin the 2014-15 season looking to rebuild that without three expected contributors.
Oct 1, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT
Amida Brimah averaged 4.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game as a freshman, and he’s fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery.
Oct 1, 2014, 7:14 PM EDT
The Big Ten is the first of the five conferences granted autonomy to send recommendations to the NCAA.
Oct 1, 2014, 6:06 PM EDT
With Missouri’s top three scorers from last season having moved on, Johnathan Williams III will be a key figure in 2014-15.
Oct 1, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Spencer averaged 9.1 points and 3.2 rebounds per game last season.
Oct 1, 2014, 4:07 PM EDT
Both with charged with drunk driving offenses during the offseason.
Oct 1, 2014, 3:03 PM EDT
SDSU’s front court depth will take an early season hit.
Oct 1, 2014, 1:39 PM EDT
Haith earned a commitment from a three-star point guard from Western New York.
Oct 1, 2014, 11:52 AM EDT
Van Vleet has been attending speaking engagements this offseason, trying to give back to the youth.
Oct 1, 2014, 11:02 AM EDT
Jawun Evans is one of the top three point guards in the class.
Oct 1, 2014, 9:55 AM EDT
Do you think the MLB needs some ice for that burn?
Sep 30, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
A former Baylor commit is suing his former high school for allegedly altering his grades.
Sep 30, 2014, 9:42 PM EDT
Missouri is losing a wing shooter.
Sep 30, 2014, 8:50 PM EDT
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Sep 30, 2014, 7:44 PM EDT
Harvard landed another quality recruit.
Sep 30, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
IUPUI unveiled a new court design this week.
Sep 30, 2014, 5:10 PM EDT
Western Kentucky fans were given three options and selected one for the upcoming season.
Sep 30, 2014, 3:55 PM EDT
NBA teams know all about efficiency stats and advanced analytics. College freshmen and sophomores may not.
Sep 30, 2014, 1:56 PM EDT
Evans may be the best point guard in the Class of 2015, but it’s up for debate.
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