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.
Nov 24, 2014, 7:00 AM EST
Putting together a top 25 this early is tough to do as we balance expectations with early season performance.
Nov 24, 2014, 1:10 AM EST
No. 1 Kentucky set a new school record, Ohio State’s Shannon Scott broke Aaron Craft’s single-game assist record and more.
Nov 24, 2014, 12:15 AM EST
‘Buckets’ earned his nickname because he gets … buckets.
Nov 23, 2014, 11:49 PM EST
A week that began with a win at No. 7 Florida ended with a commanding victory over Charlotte at the Gildan Charleston Classic.
Nov 23, 2014, 9:57 PM EST
West Virginia has better depth and toughness than they had a season ago, and those improvements paid off in Puerto Rico this weekend.
Nov 23, 2014, 8:55 PM EST
The 5-foot-10 guard has a standing vertical of 38 inches. That’s pretty good.
Nov 23, 2014, 8:10 PM EST
Kadeem Jack missed the first two games of the season with a thumb injury.
Nov 23, 2014, 6:55 PM EST
With Cullen Neal already dealing with an ankle injury, Arthur Edwards is the latest Lobo dealing with a health issue.
Nov 23, 2014, 5:34 PM EST
Rakim Lubin was averaging five minutes per contest in UConn’s first three games.
Nov 23, 2014, 5:16 PM EST
House scored 18 points, shooting 7-for-11 from the field, in Texas A&M’s 64-51 win over New Mexico.
Nov 23, 2014, 3:55 PM EST
Yale forward Matt Townsend was named a Rhodes Scholar this weekend, a rare honor only give to 32 American students each year.
Nov 23, 2014, 2:41 PM EST
Danuel House made his presence felt immediately for Texas A&M.
Nov 23, 2014, 2:10 PM EST
Oakland forward Tommy McCune had to overcome the loss of his mother after she lost her battle with cancer, but he’s shown flashes of great play early this season as he moves forward.
Nov 23, 2014, 1:10 PM EST
The high school ranks gave us a great dunk this weekend.
Nov 23, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
One of the best unsigned players in the 2015 class is down to three schools but then visited another school on Friday night.
Nov 23, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
Looks like Larry Nance Jr. is fully recovered from last season’s ACL injury.
Division III school makes buzzer-beating three-pointer against same opponent in back-to-back years (VIDEOS)
Nov 23, 2014, 10:00 AM EST
This is one of the wildest buzzer-beaters I’ve ever seen and the back story makes it that much more incredible.
Nov 23, 2014, 9:10 AM EST
Tournament action resumes on a busy Sunday of college hoops.
Nov 23, 2014, 3:56 AM EST
Concerns about Cook moving off the ball seem foolish through five games.
Nov 23, 2014, 2:00 AM EST
No. 21 Nebraska was the lone ranked team to fall on Saturday, but give them credit for being willing to go on the road to play a dangerous opponent.
- College Basketball Talk’s latest top 25: Kentucky reigns, but how far will Kansas, Florida slide? 0
- Providence star LaDontae ‘Buckets’ Henton may be the nation’s most under-appreciated star 1
- West Virginia shows signs of progress in Puerto Rico Tipoff win over No. 17 UConn 1
- Quinn Cook is thriving as an off-guard, and No. 4 Duke will reap the benefits 0
- Rhode Island upsets No. 21 Nebraska, 66-62, in overtime 0
- Lauren Hill surprises teammates, fans with another layup in her second college game (VIDEO) 2
- The ‘Chaminade Crew’ and how Jonathan Holmes has changed the culture of Texas hoops 0
- Poll: 54 percent of people think Kentucky beats the 76ers, 54 percent of people are dumb (31)
- No. 1 Kentucky’s size, depth overwhelms No. 5 Kansas, makes 40-0 seem possible? (5)
- Pregame Shootaround: No. 14 Iowa State needs to be on upset alert tonight (3)
- Miami upsets No. 8 Florida thanks to the Angel Rodriguez takeover (3)
- Colorado’s second half run a product of its focus on getting the ball inside (3)