Gonzaga should simulate to the NCAA tournament

Gonzaga McCarthy Athletic Center Arena
The McCarthy Athletic Center Arena is home for Gonzaga's basketball team. PHOTO CREDIT: SS2027//Wikimedia Commons

March can’t come soon enough for the Gonzaga men’s basketball team. The Bulldogs have demolished every college basketball team in their path this season, and are a clear favorite to win it all. Fans have come accustomed to the Zags donning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and coming up short. However, this year, head coach Mark Few is going to rewrite the script and capture his first national championship. 

It’s been torture for opponents to play Gonzaga this year. Only West Virginia has been able to keep the Zags within 10 points, and that was only because Gonzaga’s star point guard, Jalen Suggs, was at less than 100 percent after an injury in the 1st half. Few’s Bulldogs have already wiped the floor with Kansas, Iowa and Virginia. Now, an undefeated season is essentially a lock as Gonzaga looks towards March.

I honestly feel bad for the West Coast Conference. If any team in the WCC can keep the game within single digits, they honestly deserve a banner.

The only team left that can beat Gonzaga is Gonzaga themselves. Joe Lunardi can go ahead and grab a sharpie marker, and write in the Zags for the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.

Unlike some Gonzaga teams in the past, this year’s Bulldogs have been battle tested and are a legit contender. The Zags used to be frauds, but that notion needs to be put to bed. After not making a single Elite 8 from 2000-2014, Gonzaga has advanced to at least the Elite 8 in 3 of the past 5 seasons. And, 2021’s roster is their best team yet. 

Guard play, size, depth, the Bulldogs check all the boxes. Suggs, a 6-foot-4-inch freshman point guard, is most likely a top-3 pick in next year’s draft. He is also the catalyst of the Gonzaga offense. Suggs has plenty of weapons at his disposal, led by the wingman Corey Kispert. While Kispert has improved each season in Spokane, Washington, he’s now a cornerstone piece in the offense. Averaging over 20 PPG, while shooting over 50 percent from 3, Kispert has been skyrocketing up draft boards and made Gonzaga a collegiate powerhouse. 

Gonzaga has a great facilitator and scorer, but what about a big man? So, that’s where sophomore Drew Timme comes in. At 6’10’’, the Texas native is a skilled scorer and can hang with the best big men in the country on defense.

In case Gonzaga’s “big 3” have an off night, the Bulldogs have enough depth to compete with anyone. Having Florida transfer Andrew Nembhard as a backup point guard should be illegal. While Nembhard averaged 11 points and 5 assists per game as a starter with the Gators, now he’s essentially putting up the same numbers on the Bulldogs bench. On top of that, junior guard Joel Ayayi is averaging 11 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists. He has the talent to start on any team in the country. I’m not sure if there has ever been a more complete team in college basketball than this year’s Gonzaga squad. 

If it weren’t for COVID-19 cancelling the Bulldogs matchup with No. 2 Baylor, I may already be saying let’s crown Gonzaga as the champion. Gonzaga and Baylor make up a clear top 2 in college basketball, and fans will most likely get to see that matchup once and for all in the Final 4 later this year. 

Mark Few has an offensive juggernaut at his disposal, and if history repeats itself, that’s essential to winning it all in March. The 5 previous NCAA champions have all finished the season ranked in the top 12 in offensive efficiency. This year, Gonzaga is ranked 1st in offensive efficiency, and they are more efficient than all 5 previous NCAA champions. The Bulldogs offense is flat out special, end of discussion.

Offensive efficiency ratings of the last 5 college basketball national champions:

TeamOffensive Efficiency (Rank)Result
2015 Duke Blue Devils1.172 (3rd)Won National Championship
2016 Villanova Wildcats1.134 (7th)Won National Championship
2017 North Carolina Tar Heels1.130 (12th)Won National Championship
2018 Villanova Wildcats1.197 (1st)Won National Championship
2019 Virginia Cavaliers1.141 (5th)Won National Championship
2021 Gonzaga Bulldogs1.238 (1st)?

So, who can stop Gonzaga? Sadly, no one will even come close to taking down the Bulldogs in the regular season, unless coach Few decides to rest all his players. COVID-19 may have cancelled Gonzaga’s matchup with Baylor in December, but the 2 teams are on an unavoidable crash course to square off in the Final 4. If anyone is going to contain Gonzaga, it’s the ferocious defense of Baylor. Baylor is ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency, and the Bears have the offensive firepower to hang with the Bulldogs. We’re still weeks away from the brackets being released, but Baylor and Gonzaga are by far the best 2 teams halfway through the season.

However, my one concern with Gonzaga is their schedule. In the WCC, usually St. Mary’s and BYU can challenge the Zags and keep them sharp down the stretch of the season. But Gonzaga already dismantled BYU 86-69, and St. Mary’s just lost to Santa Clara. So, there should be no challenge for the Zags in conference play. On the surface that seems like a positive, but the Bulldogs can’t get complacent. March basketball is win or go home. Gonzaga will be forced to flip it into another gear after playing lesser competition for 2 straight months. 

The reason college basketball is so exciting, is the fact the little guy always has a chance. Gonzaga may no longer be the little guy, but many fans still don’t see the Zags as a true threat when the brackets get rolled out. A national championship would go a long way in silencing the haters, and this is the year to do it. Mark Few can write the encyclopedia on how to build a college basketball program from the ground up. To cap it off he needs a ring. Zags by a million. Book it!

A.Scott, Deputy Editor for The Challenge. Lifelong Jets, Mets, Nuggets and Flyers fan still looking to celebrate his first pro sports championship. Retired degenerate sports gambler who likes to come out of retirement. Learned how to count cards at the age of 18, but has yet to put the skill to good use. Primarily writes about the MLB, but will dip his toes into the NFL, NBA, college basketball and UFC. When I’m not writing for The Challenge or for a local news station in Syracuse, you can catch me either on the golf course or pounding brews with bros. “Don’t worry, be happy!” R.I.P. Mac Miller

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