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NCAA Tournament Profile: Get to know the Gonzaga Bulldogs

The Zags are built to party like never before in their 21st consecutive tournament appearance.

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational-Duke at Gonzaga
Gonzaga is the only team to defeat Duke while the Blue Devils were fully healthy. And the Zags weren’t even fully healthy at the time.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

You should know by now. This is Gonzaga. They’re always here.

Also, it’s pronounced Gon-Zag-Uh. Say it right.

How’d they get here?

Broadly speaking, by making each of the previous 20 NCAA Tournaments and building a program that is now among the nation’s very best.

Specifically, by winning 30 games and losing just three. Their three losses all came against Quadrant-1 teams that ended up making the NCAA Tournament. All three came away from home — versus Tennessee in Phoenix, at North Carolina and versus Saint Mary’s in Las Vegas.

The Zags earned a No. 1 seed despite not landing the West Coast Conference’s automatic bid thanks to a strong non-conference showing that saw them beat a full-strength Duke in the Maui Invitational, plus a perfect 16-0 record in regular-season WCC play.

Who’s their coach?

Seriously? It’s Mark Few. He’s the winningest active head coach in Division I history.

Few joined Gonzaga’s staff in 1990 as a grad assistant before becoming a full-fledged assistant in 1992. He held that position through the 1999 season, when Gonzaga burst onto the scene with an Elite Eight run, before taking over the top job in Spokane. He’s never missed the NCAA Tournament as a head coach.

Who are the players to know?

This might take a while, so let’s go through it bullet point style:

  • Josh Perkins: A fifth-year senior point guard who is the program’s all-time leader in assists (690). Yes, he’s dished out more in a Gonzaga uniform than John Stockton (554) did during his college career, despite the fact that Stockton is the NBA’s all-time assist leader (15,806). Perkins is Gonzaga’s lone remaining starter from its loss in the 2017 National Championship game.
  • Rui Hachimura: The greatest Japanese basketball prospect of all time and the face of this Gonzaga team. Hachimura is a lethal offensive threat near the basket and in the mid-range. He was named MVP of the Maui Invitational.
  • Brandon Clarke: A junior transfer from San Jose State in his first season with the Zags. Clarke has blocked 102 shots this season — compared to just 99 missed field goals — which ranks as the third most in the country this season and sixth all-time at Gonzaga. Not for a season, but for a career. Again, this is his first year with the Zags.
  • Killian Tillie: Hampered by an ankle injury to start the season, which kept him out until January, and then again by a plantar fascia injury which caused him to miss seven games from February into March, the French stretch-four is a lethal three point shooter and strong inside presence. He was a projected NBA Draft pick this season, yet he comes off the bench.

And then Zach Norvell Jr. and Corey Kispert, a pair of big, sophomore sharpshooters, who round out the starting lineup. Geno Crandall, a grad transfer from North Dakota, is the Zags’ back-up point guard and best perimeter defender. Jeremy Jones, a former quarterback at Rice, and Filip Petrusev, a freshman big man from Serbia, are role players.

What makes them dangerous?

They can flat-out score the basketball.

Gonzaga is the highest scoring team in the country this season averaging 88.8 points per game. They’re also the most efficient offense in the country with an offensive rating of 123.8. That’s the highest in the KenPom era (since 2002) and could be the highest ever.

The Zags have a bunch of guys who can shoot the three at a high level, but Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke taking care of business inside the arc makes Gonzaga so dangerous. Gonzaga’s 62.3 percent shooting inside the arc is tops in the country.

If you’ve got some time, let Jordan Sperber explain in the following film breakdown.

How far can they go?

Gonzaga is a one seed; they’re expected to go to the Final Four. They’re more than capable of that. They could win it all.

That said, the West Region is a minefield of slow, long and defensive teams like Texas Tech, Michigan and Syracuse. But, when you’ve got an historically dominant offense — again, perhaps the most historically dominant offense of all time — why sweat a few quality defensive teams?

Gonzaga opens in Salt Lake City, the closest first round site this season from Spokane. From there, should the Zags advance, it’s down to Anaheim. As a member of the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga is no stranger to Southern California. From there, it’s on to Minneapolis. I drove to Phoenix two years ago to cover Gonzaga’s first trip to the Final Four. Minneapolis is a shorter trip from Spokane than Phoenix.

The matchups might not be ideal for Gonzaga, but the geography certainly is. And who’s to say those matchups aren’t ideal? Sure, there are a bunch of tough, defensive teams between Gonzaga and those nets in Minneapolis. But those defensive teams have never — literally never — seen an offense like Gonzaga’s.