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Gonzaga stays consistent, expectations keep growing

Bullldogs looking more and more like favorites each passing game

NCAA Basketball: San Francisco at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs are 10-0 after defeating San Francisco 85-62 during their West Coast Conference opener on Saturday. There is no doubt that the team is talented, but the Zags also have consistency, which is especially difficult during such an unusual season.

“They truly like each other,” said head coach Mark Few when asked how his players stayed consistent. “They like playing together, so I think not wanting to let your teammate down, your friend, your buddy, it’s part of it. They are also all innately highly competitive so the staff tries to tap into that.”

The Zags have now won 23 straight WCC openers since 1996. During the preseason, the WCC coaches selected Gonzaga as the favorites to win the 2020-21 regular season. Gonzaga also got its first ever No. 1 preseason national ranking, and to this day has yet to drop a spot.

Like many other teams in the nation, the Zags have faced COVID-19 related challenges. Gonzaga had to cancel five games from Dec. 5 to Dec. 14 due to COVID-19 protocols. Right after the pause, the Zags had to face the then-No. 3 Iowa.

Few admitted he was not feeling confident about that game, saying that getting ready for it was probably the biggest challenge he’s had to face in his 20+ years as a coach.

“Even using the term monumental challenge would be doing it a disservice,” he said during the pregame press conference. “There’s a conditioning factor, we are trying to get up to speed. There’s timing, rhythm and execution issues.”

Few said the first practice back looked like the first practice in the fall with lots of mistakes and lack of conditioning. Those were real concerns but once the game was over, Gonzaga had pulled off a 99-88 victory over Iowa.

The Bulldogs couldn’t be counted out then and definitely can’t be counted out now. They’ve been solid all season, so experts continue putting high expectations on them.

During halftime against San Francisco on Saturday, Seth Greenberg said on ESPN that Gonzaga was the best passing and offensive team he has seen in 20 years. Sean Farnham contributed to that conversation by saying he believes Gonzaga will go undefeated and win a national championship.

Would that be difficult? Sure, and it’s probably still too early to say that, but it isn’t completely crazy because the Zags have already proven themselves with a strong nonconference schedule. They picked up victories over four AP Top 20 teams (Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa and Virginia), which according to ESPN Stats and Info, no other college basketball team had ever achieved in their first seven games.

There is no doubt that Few has been a huge reason for the Zags success. Since he took over as head coach in 1999, Gonzaga has won or shared 19 WCC regular-season titles and taken home 16 WCC tournament titles.

The coach knew the 2020-21 season would provide all sorts of challenges, but his recipe for success, he said, was to just “roll with it.” Few said his players are just eager to be on the court, so they don’t mind changing opponents, venues or times as long as they get to play basketball.

“We talked about it all the way back in September and October, this was going to be a different year, it was going to be disjointed,” Few said. “It was going to be different, it was going to be hard. We all need to stay flexible and we all need to stay nimble.”