Gonzaga won 29 straight games to open the season and spent four weeks sitting atop the AP Poll before losing at home, on senior night, to BYU. Gonzaga’s wins include two against the RPI top 10 (Florida and Arizona) on neutral courts, three wins against Saint Mary’s, an RPI top-25 team, and RPI top-100 wins over Iowa State, Akron, BYU, Tennessee, and San Francisco (twice).
That game against BYU aside, or rather a five-minute stretch in the second half of that game aside, this has been an incredibly dominant team from start to finish.
Traditionally an offensive juggernaut — think Dan Dickau draining threes, Adam Morrison leading the nation in scoring, or the Olynyk Clinic of 2013 — Gonzaga has become the most balanced team on both sides of the ball in the country. KenPom rates the Zags’ defense as the second best in the nation and their offense as the 10th. No other team ranks in the top-10 of both categories.
A trio of power conference transfers in Nigel Williams-Goss (16.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.6 apg), Jordan Mathews (10.4 ppg), and Johnathan Williams (10.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg) kept the program afloat after losing Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis to the NBA.
Those three, along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar award finalist Przemek Karnowski (12.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and preseason all-WCC point guard Josh Perkins (8.4 ppg), make up one of the most formidable starting fives in all of college basketball.
And then Mark Few brings a McDonald’s All-American off the bench, as his seventh man. Freshman center Zach Collins (10.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg) plays just 17 minutes per game. The reserve big man keeps pressure on opposing front courts when Karnowski or Williams need a breather.
How far can the Zags go?
All the way.
The Zags have been the No. 1 team in KenPom since Jan. 19. Their adjusted efficiency margin of +33.03 ranks fifth ever in the KenPom era. Only 2002 Duke, 2008 Kansas (National Champions), 2015 Kentucky (Final Four), and 2015 Wisconsin (lost in title game) have done better.
There is not a clear flaw in this team.
How can the Zags get knocked out?
Two things could make for an early exit: Either a self-inflicted wound does them in or they face a team that gets unbelievably hot that night. This might not sound like great analysis, but take a look back at the last time the Zags were a 1 seed.
Wichita State, a 9 seed that didn’t take many threes, and didn’t make many of the ones they took, went 14-28 from long range against Gonzaga. And Gonzaga’s best perimeter defender, Gary Bell Jr., developed a stress fracture in his foot during that game.
Things will need to play out like that once again for the Zags to get sent home before the Final Four.