This past Saturday an undefeated Gonzaga team won at #20 Saint Mary’s with a 74 – 64 victory. The Bulldogs currently sit at 26 – 0 and are the number one team in the nation halfway through February. With four games remaining against unranked teams Gonzaga has a good chance to enter March with a perfect record and a number one overall seed into the NCAA tournament. But there’s a reason it’s called March madness.
History would not be on the Bulldog’s side as the last two teams to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated lost in the final four (Kentucky in 2015) and in the round of 32 (Wichita State in 2014). In addition Gonzaga has their own tournament demons to conquer. The program has never made it to a final four despite their regular season success and high tournament seeds. In 2015 the Bulldogs entered the tournament as a #2 seed losing to Duke in the elite eight. In 2013 they were a #1 seed but lost in the round of 32 and in 2009 they were #4 but lost in the sweet sixteen. But is this year going to be different?
The Case for Gonzaga:
Guard play wins tournament games. If you don’t believe me take a look back at Kemba Walker’s tourney run with UCONN in 2011 or Shabazz Napier’s, also with UCONN in 2014. Gonzaga has a guard with the potential for a big tourney run in their junior star Nigel Williams-Goss. The Washington transfer hasn’t missed a beat in his first season with Gonzaga scoring a team high 15.7 points per game on over 50% shooting from the field. Come March you need a player who can create his own shoot down the stretch and if Nigel keeps his hot hand going the Bulldogs may finally reach that illusive Final Four destination.
The Case Against:
Similar question marks plague this team to year’s past. A team that hasn’t been challenged due a weak schedule. Early marquee wins over Florida, #21 Iowa State, and #16 Arizona all took place two months ago and all were on neutral sites. Those three games are also the only three close games Gonzaga has had all year. With an average margin of victory of 23 points what will happen when the Bulldogs find themselves up against a wall late in a real meaningful game? We’re not sure is the answer.
Barring a catastrophic meltdown or key injury in the next few weeks Gonzaga will be a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Our prediction? An untested and young Gonzaga team will disappointingly exit early once again. Better luck next year Bulldogs.