You could hear it as soon as this week’s AP Poll came out. The sound of keys being mashed angrily rang across the Twitterverse and from the comment sections of every online sports publication.
It could only mean one thing: Gonzaga had risen to the top spot in the poll.
“Gonzaga is not the best team in the country,” the trolls assert.
Their reasoning has been the same for years. Usually, that reasoning is shaky at best. This year, it’s outright wrong. Let’s prove it.
Wrong assumption No. 1: They don’t play anybody!
Take a look at the following numbers. They represent the number of wins against the KenPom top 50 by teams in the top 10 of the AP Poll. Try to guess which one is Gonzaga.
9, 7, 7, 6, 5, 5, 5, 4, 3, 2
They don’t play anybody, right? So it must be two. Actually, that’s Arizona. Okay, then maybe it’s three. Nope: Kentucky. Four? Virginia. It’s five. Gonzaga has defeated five top-50 teams: Florida (10), Iowa State (27), Arizona (13), Tennessee (38) and Saint Mary’s (14). It’s not the best on the list, but is far from the worst. “They don’t play anybody” is no defense for the trolls this year.
Wrong assumption No. 2: They’ve never made a Final Four/They’re always overrated!
First of all, this has absolutely nothing to do with this team or with the AP Poll. That’s a comment about previous Gonzaga teams.
But we can disprove this statement anyway by looking at when Gonzaga has overachieved in the tournament. Over the Zags’ run of 18 consecutive tournament appearances, they’ve been a 9 seed or worse seven times (meaning they were not expected to win any games based on their seed). In six of those years, they won a game. In four, they made the Sweet 16 (last year), and in one, they made the Elite Eight.
Gonzaga has also matched its seeded expectation an additional six times over the last 18 years.
Seven of Gonzaga’s NCAA Tournament runs have been ended by 1 seeds. On three occasions, the Bulldogs have fallen to the eventual champs (1999 Elite Eight vs. Connecticut, 2009 Sweet 16 vs. North Carolina and 2015 Elite Eight vs. Duke).
You can remember when the 2013 Zags were a 1 seed and fell to the Wichita State team that went to the Final Four, but you also need to remember that starting guard Gary Bell broke his foot in that game.
Wrong assumption No. 3: Put them in [insert power conference here] and they’d never make the Tournament!
First of all, the WCC isn’t awful. Right now it sits 11th in KenPom. Since BYU joined in 2011-12, it has been rated as high as eighth. It’s clearly near the same level, year in and year out, as leagues like the American, Missouri Valley, Mountain West and Atlantic 10.
As of press time, four of the WCC’s 10 teams rank in the top 100 of KenPom.
Sure, Gonzaga wouldn’t run the table in this year’s ACC. But, then again, Gonzaga is 22-0, so you never know. After all, nobody has been able to beat them yet, because they’re really freaking good.
Which brings me to my final point.
Wrong assumption No. 4: They’re Gonzaga. They don’t deserve this.
False. They do. It’s been decided. They’re really good. Every year, they’re really good. This year, at this moment, they’re the best team in college basketball.
First of all, the computers love Gonzaga. KenPom has had the Bulldogs in the top spot since Jan. 19, back when the Zags were just 18-0. They’re first in Massey, third in Sagarin, and as of last night, they ranked 10th in RPI.
They’re objectively the best team in the country according to efficiency metrics. Gonzaga ranks sixth in offensive efficiency (121.0) and third in defensive efficiency (87.9). No other team can boast such balance. UCLA, for example, ranks first in offensive efficiency (123.8) and 125th in defensive efficiency (101.9).
Secondly, the experts love Gonzaga. They’re currently the top team in the country according to the people who decide those things. That includes the AP Poll, Coaches Poll, and CBS’s Top 25 (and one). They have two McDonald’s all-Americans on their roster (Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins).
Finally, they haven’t lost. The objective of a basketball game is to win. That’s all Gonzaga has done this season.
They’ve earned it.