There is something special about the WCC this season. While the conference as a whole looks generally the same from top to bottom, there is a beam of promise coming out of Spokane, Washington. I am here to declare that the Gonzaga Bulldogs are Final Four contenders.
I have to admit that I haven’t seen a WCC team this good since Adam Morrison, J.P. Batista, Ronny Turiaf, and Derek Raivio led their 2005 team to the Sweet 16. If not for a second-half meltdown, in which the Zags threw away a 20-plus point lead, the run could have gone even deeper. With the exception of the Gaels who have had decent success in the NCAA for a team of their caliber, success has been merely monopolized by Gonzaga.
This season the Bulldogs are an unblemished 10-0 in conference play and 23-2 overall, good for fifth in the AP poll and third in the USA Coach’s poll. I am sure that you have heard as much as I have that the WCC lacks quality wins as a whole with the Zags holding the one and only victory against Oklahoma State. Well, I have heard this too and it only takes looking at each win individually on the schedule to see just how legitimate it is.
For Gonzaga, who have dominated the Big 10 this season, those wins come against the likes of Kansas State (AP #10), Davidson (12-1 in conference), Baylor (decent Big 12 team who competes), and Saint Mary’s. This is a decent resume that only has the potential to be better after road games to Saint Mary’s and BYU.
For how much losing occurred in the top five of the polls last week, I was a little surprised to only the Bulldogs move up only one spot in the polls. Granted, they had a down week in quality wins, but consistency is consistency.
Nevertheless, Gonzaga is as deep as they have ever been. They play nine to 10 guys and on top of that, they have a number of weapons to use on the offensive end. Kelly Olynyk is a player of the year candidate who made great strides in his redshirt year to get to where he is now. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. make a solid backcourt combination that can throw a number of varieties at you depending on the game situation.
The Zags have been known in year’s past as a run and gun style team. They still are, but they know how to score in the half court. Sam Dower is a consistent presence in the paint, who can step outside when he needs to. Outside of their core, Gonzaga makes up a team of guys who understand their rolls and how to fulfill them when the time comes.
They are the second best team in the country in field goal percentage (50.7) and sixth in the country in points per game (78.6), which tells you that they know how to get it done on the offensive end. The way I see it, the key to success for the duration of the regular season and into March Madness is continued consistency. They have been frazzled in games before. It’s simply a matter of how they respond in those moments that will define their season.