There’s only one undefeated team left in the country this year. It’s not Kansas, Kentucky, Duke or anyone from the preseason top 10. The only remaining undefeated team this season is the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Gonzaga is 29-0 and having, by far, the best season in program history. They are ranked #1 overall in the country and if they win out are a shoo-in for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
And yet, despite this success, many college basketball fans are skeptical. How can a team that has been so dominant this season have so many doubters? It’s because we’ve seen this movie before, or at least a similar version. Gonzaga has made the NCAA tournament every year since coach Mark Few took over in 1999. They have never made it to the Final Four, and only twice in program history made it past the Sweet Sixteen to the Elite Eight –once with Few at the helm. Examples of promising Gonzaga seasons ending in disappointment include 2012-2013, when they had the #1 overall seed in the tournament but lost to Wichita State in the Round of 32. In 2014-2015, the only Mark Few team to ever make it past the Sweet Sixteen came up short, losing to Duke in the Elite Eight.
Regardless of past tournament performance, there is plenty of evidence to believe this year could be different. This may finally be the year Gonzaga takes that extra step, breaking through to a Final Four and possibly even a championship game appearance. The biggest reason? Gonzaga has something they’ve lacked in all their previous tournament appearances. Never before has Gonzaga had such depth at the guard position.
Over the years, Gonzaga’s had many excellent guards, just not enough of them on the same roster. This year is notably different. Nigel Williams-Goss, Josh Perkins, Jordan Matthews, and Silas Melson have delivered outstanding guard play all-season. These are professional caliber guards with NBA-type bodies. Williams-Goss and Perkins are 6’3, 195 lb., Matthews and Melson go 6’4 and roughly 200 lb. In Thursday night’s 96-38 shellacking of San Diego, they combined for 52 points, 15 rebounds, and 14 assists (against just 5 turnovers). Add to that the dominating presence of one of the nation’s best big men (very big at 7’1” 300 lb.), Przemek Karnowski, athletic power forward Jonathan Williams, and talented 7’0’’ freshman Zach Collins and you have team that’s very difficult to beat.
The major knock on Gonzaga this year is their schedule, and the fact that they don’t play in a power conference. However, they’ve won at Arizona (1st place in the Pac-12), bested Florida (1st place in the SEC) and Tennessee teams that beat Kentucky, and an Iowa State team that beat Kansas. A team has no control over the other teams in their conference. What they can control is how they perform against them, and Gonzaga has been nothing short of dominant all season. Of all the Bulldog’s conference opponents this season, only BYU and St. Mary’s have come within ten points of them.
The stage is set for Gonzaga to finally make a breakthrough. The team is razor-sharp and playing with an edge not previously seen from the Zags. That’s what has been missing from some of the great Gonzaga teams of the past. This is their year. If they can’t make the Final Four with the most complete and talented team in school history, it may never happen. The time has come for a deep run to quiet the doubters and this looks like the year they finally get it done.