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.
Aug 3, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
A cool documentary-style approach to the Under Armour Association in preparation for the Elite 24.
Aug 3, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT
Nebraska is hoping a four-game trip in Spain helps with their freshmen.
Aug 3, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT
Baylor is losing a reserve forward to transfer.
Aug 3, 2015, 4:50 PM EDT
Mamadi Diakite, a four-star forward, could decide between three schools soon, per a report.
Aug 3, 2015, 4:50 PM EDT
There are two glaring weaknesses to Kris Dunn’s game. Here’s how he’s gone about trying to fix them this summer.
Aug 3, 2015, 2:40 PM EDT
Tony Carr is a four-star point guard that picked Penn State over Maryland, SMU and Providence.
Aug 3, 2015, 12:29 PM EDT
The investigation was conducted by an outside law firm and paid for by the university.
Aug 3, 2015, 12:05 PM EDT
Alkins might be the best player from New York City since Lance Stephenson.
Aug 3, 2015, 9:20 AM EDT
The schedule isn’t the best you’ll see this season, but it’s pretty solid nonetheless.
Aug 2, 2015, 9:45 PM EDT
St. John’s remains under consideration for the Brooklyn native.
Aug 2, 2015, 6:37 PM EDT
He’s the younger brother of five-star 2017 forward Michael Porter Jr., and Michael Sr. considered joining the Washington staff this spring.
Aug 2, 2015, 5:10 PM EDT
With Vince Hunter in the professional ranks and Matt Willms dealing with a foot issue, this is an important pickup for the Miners.
Aug 2, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Markelle Fultz will take two official visits once he leaves adidas Nations.
Aug 2, 2015, 2:45 PM EDT
Wenyen Gabriel’s tremendous summer only got better with this off-handed throw down on a defender.
Aug 2, 2015, 1:45 PM EDT
Xavier added another piece in the 2016 class with a guard commitment.
Aug 2, 2015, 12:33 PM EDT
N.C. State added a dynamic wing scorer late in their 2015 recruiting efforts on Sunday as reclassified 6-foot-7 wing Maverick Rowan committed to the Wolfpack. A three-level scorer, Rowan was previously committed to Pitt and later backed off of his pledge to the Panthers before deciding to move up a grade by taking two summer…
Aug 2, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT
Texas A&M finished off a tremendous 2015 recruiting class with one more combo guard.
Aug 2, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
After a rough July that included suspensions and a recruit heading to prep school, Arkansas received some good news on the first day of August.
Aug 2, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Brandon Childress, son of Wake Forest great Randolph Childress, was the first commit in the class for the Demon Deacons.
Aug 1, 2015, 10:01 PM EDT
The lawsuit stemmed from the incident in the spring of 2014.
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