There’s a place for the Zags among the blue bloods now.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs played in the 2017 National Championship game. The Zags went toe-to-toe with arguably the most successful program in college basketball history. They led at halftime and were one shot away in the final minute. Against North Carolina.
Do you realize how insane that paragraph is?
This is Gonzaga we’re talking about. People still can’t pronounce the school’s name. People whose job is literally to say the school’s name in official NCAA Tournament highlight videos.
This is a program that didn’t make an NCAA Tournament until 1995. But since 1999, they’ve made them all. They’ve won at least one game in each of the past nine. They’ve made three Elite Eights. And this year they made it to the program’s first Final Four.
So much for the disappointment in March narrative. So much for the Gonzaga hasn’t and won’t narrative.
“We did a lot of things people didn’t think we could do this season,” Nigel Williams-Goss said after the game.
They won 29 straight games. They lost just twice all season. They were ranked No. 1 in the polls, earned a 1 seed and spent the majority of the season atop KenPom (they’re still there now). Perhaps most important of all was that they rated as the nation’s best defensive team.
Gonzaga’s not just a team of hot-shooting guards who can outscore big-name teams in November, December, and March. Gonzaga is now a bonafide juggernaut on both sides of the ball. And this wasn’t a fluke. Gonzaga’s defensive ratings have been climbing steadily for the past few seasons.
This was a process, and it all came together this year.
It came together with the program’s first McDonald’s all-American. Freshman Zach Collins totaled 19 blocks during the NCAA Tournament, nine of which came in Phoenix. Collins is also likely to become the program’s first one-and-done player. Perhaps the final box left to be checked in Gonzaga’s ascent to the level of an elite program.
This season, the Zags proved to us all that they’ve truly made it.
“These guys will realize just what an amazing accomplishment they had and what an amazing effect they had,” coach Mark Few said after the Bulldogs’ championship game loss. “The basketball community was really stale on the Zags. And these guys ignited it and got everybody back to believing that this program was capable of doing this, and more than capable of winning a national championship. They absolutely ignited the whole world to that.”
This is a success story two decades in the making, whether it got stale or not, that won’t end with or be overshadowed by this defeat. Because Few and the Zags took the right path to becoming a blue blood.
“I’ll tell you this,” Few said, “they did it the right way. These are high character dudes, and are good students, are hoopers, and that’s what college basketball is all about.”
Gonzaga’s story, which goes on, is what college basketball is all about. It’s a story that’s not over. For all that Gonzaga has achieved, there’s still one thing left to do. We learned that on Monday night.