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Postseason awards: Gonzaga cleans up the individual honors

Mark Few, Jalen Suggs, and Corey Kispert were the best in the nation.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-USC vs Gonzaga IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs, not a mid-major team but in a mid-major conference, swept through the Mid-Major Madness postseason awards. While they didn’t lift the big trophy at the end of the 2020-21 season, the Zags still proved they deserved their spot as one of the best teams in the nation. Our staff rewarded them accordingly.

Team of the Year

Gonzaga was ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press poll for the first time in program history. The Bulldogs stayed in that spot all season and entered the NCAA Tournament as the top overall seed, which was also a first in school history.

They were one win away from a perfect record, but their 31-1 finish is still more than respectable. This season marked the Bulldogs’ fifth straight 30-win season, which is an NCAA record.

It could be argued that the West Coast Conference does not provide the strongest competition other than maybe the BYU Cougars, who were 20 in the last NET rankings on March 14. But the Bulldogs also scheduled some strong competition in the non-conference. Gonzaga beat No. 6 Kansas, No. 11 West Virginia, No. 3 Iowa and No. 16 Virginia.

The Bulldogs can attribute their success to a deep roster. Their offense was the best in the nation — dominant in the paint and great in transition. Although they lacked rim protection, KenPom also had them as one of the top defenses in the country.

The Bulldogs had some slow starts during the season and they weren’t always perfect but they still managed to become the 20th team in Division I men’s basketball history to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated.

Gonzaga has never won a national championship but the program has now made it to the Sweet 16 for the sixth consecutive time and has been in two of the last four title games.

Gonzaga became the first school in the Wooden Award’s history to have three players named to the 10-man All-American Team. Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert and Drew Timme made the cut.

Coach of the Year: Mark Few

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-USC vs Gonzaga Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There is no question that Mark Few is building himself a Hall of Fame career. Since taking over the Bulldogs in 1999, Few has gone 630-125. No other coach has a higher winning percentage than him (.834).

Before he became the Gonzaga head coach, the program had only reached the NCAA Tournament twice.

Not only did he extend his WCC Coach of the Year record to 14 this season, Few also got national recognition. He was named the 2020-21 Naismith Men’s Coach of the Year, an award he also won during the 2016-17 season. This year, he beat Baylor’s Scott Drew, Michigan’s Juwan Howard and Alabama’s Nate Oats. Few also won the National Association of Basketball Coaches Coach of the Year honor and was a runner-up for the Associated Press Coach of the Year award.

Few has led the Zags to 22 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, which is the third longest active streak behind Kansas (31) and Michigan State (23).

He is all about consistency and developing players that fit the Gonzaga style. He gives players freedom because he trusts their basketball IQ. He credited the Bulldogs’ competitive spirits for their dominant performances. Few encouraged that competitiveness by making them play against each other during their weekly scrimmages on Mondays.

Before this season, he landed Gonzaga’s highest ranked recruit in Jalen Suggs, the ESPN No. 6 prospect in the class of 2020. Suggs said he wanted to play for Few because of the trust he has on his players.

“He’s helped me grow on and off the court. He’s like family to me,” Suggs said in early March.

Speaking of Suggs...

Freshman of the Year: Jalen Suggs

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Baylor vs Gonzaga Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Not only was Suggs one of the best freshmen in the nation, he was clearly one of the most talented players overall.

The 6’4 point guard came to Gonzaga with high expectations and he demolished all of them throughout the season. The buzzer-beater three-pointer he hit during the Final Four against UCLA was a dream come true for him and an instant classic for NCAA Tournament history.

The Minnesota native earned the WCC Freshman of the Week honor 10 times during the conference season. Unsurprisingly, he also went on to earn the WCC Newcomer of the Year award.

Suggs made the Associate Press All-American Second Team. The guard started in 30 games for Gonzaga while shooting at 50.3% from the field and averaging 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game this season.

Suggs was one of the five finalist for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award along with Baylor’s Jared Butler, Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu, Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham and Villanova’s Collin Gillespie.

Suggs isn’t expected to be back next year. The soon-to-be pro is a good ball handler and can create scoring opportunities from defense. Suggs is also athletic and was a quarterback in high school.

Player of the Year: Corey Kispert

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-UCLA at Gonzaga Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The senior was one of the most consistent scorers for Gonzaga. Even during his “off” nights Kispert was able to reach double digits. He finished the season averaging 18.6 points per game while shooting at 52.9% from the field and 44.0% from beyond the arc. He started in all 32 games for the Zags this season.

Few said Kispert worked hard on his craft and became one of the best shooters he’s ever coached. While his teammates saw how talented he was, they also admired how he kept the team calm and together thanks to his “steady mind.”

During the season, Suggs said that as an older teammate, Kispert taught him a lot of tricks in the offense while also keeping him motivated. The team as a whole refers to Kispert as the “heart and soul” of the program.

Of course it wasn’t just his team who took notice of his great qualities. The Associated Press named Kispert First Team All-American. He was also selected First Team All-American by the United States Basketball Writers Association.

Kispert won the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year award and was a finalist during the 2020 season when Villanova’s Saddiq Bey won it. Kispert became the second Gonzaga player to ever win the award, as Rui Hachimura won it during the 2018-19 season.

Kispert was also a Senior CLASS First Team All-American which looks at achievement in the classroom, community, character and competition. He is a potential NBA lottery pick.