Balance, potency, and efficiency make this year’s Zags the best Gonzaga team we have ever seen.
Ever since Mark Few took over the program in 1999, Gonzaga has become a perennial NCAA tournament team. Few has strengthened the program so much that it’s now one of the few mid-majors to consistently receive at-large bids to the tournament in those rare instances when it doesn’t win its conference tournament.
The Bulldogs have been to the tournament 18 straight seasons, the longest streak ever for a mid-major program by far and tied for the sixth-longest streak ever. During that stretch, Gonzaga has had first-team All-Americans and NBA draft picks adorn its roster. It has been ranked No. 1 in the AP poll, and received a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Even still, it seems that the same narrative hovers over Gonzaga every year. Because the Bulldogs play in a weaker conference than the other top teams in the country, should we take them seriously? This is the reason that many pundits are bearish on Gonzaga each season. Why put stock in a team that isn’t “battle-tested”?
Those same detractors reference the fact that under Mark Few, Gonzaga has reached the Sweet Sixteen just six times and the Elite Eight only once. Even with all the talent the program has had run through it including Adam Morrison, Elias Harris, Kyle Wiltjer, and Domantas Sabonis, the Bulldogs have never reached the Final Four.
But this year is different. This Gonzaga team is better than any Gonzaga team that we have seen before.
Few’s Bulldogs are as balanced a team as there is in the country this season. They lead the nation in scoring margin, are 13th in points per game, tied for eighth in points allowed per game, third in field goal percentage, and tied for 16th in rebounds per game. They are an even stronger team by advanced metrics.
According to KenPom.com, Gonzaga ranks first in overall efficiency, third in points per 100 possessions (offensive efficiency), and fourth in points allowed per 100 possessions (defensive efficiency). The Bulldogs are the only team in the nation ranked in the top-five in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
Even in all the other years Gonzaga was ranked among the nation’s best in the AP poll, it never fared so well in advanced metrics. The season that Gonzaga earned its first-ever No. 1 seed (2012-13), it finished fifth in overall efficiency (+27.79), third in offensive efficiency (118.6), and 30th in defensive efficiency (90.9). The season that it reached the Elite Eight (2014-15), it finished seventh in overall efficiency (+27.76), fifth in offensive efficiency (119.7), and 18th in defensive efficiency (92.0).
The Bulldogs are better in all three categories this year. They are posting an overall efficiency of +34.42, an offensive efficiency of 122.2, and a defensive efficiency of 87.8.
What’s even crazier is how much better Gonzaga is so far this season than every other team in terms of overall efficiency. Gonzaga is currently 3.90 points better than the next-best team, Virginia. In the last 10 seasons, the most efficient team in the country has finished better than 3.90 points better than the second-most efficient team only once (the 2010-11 Ohio State squad). Even the lauded 2014-15 Kentucky team, which went undefeated into the national semifinal, finished only 3.20 points better than second-place Wisconsin.
The raw numbers of this year’s Bulldogs are also just as good or better than in years past. Compared to the six other seasons under Few during which Gonzaga received a top-four seed, the 2016-17 Bulldogs rank first in points per game, rebounds per game, scoring margin, second in assists per game, assist to turnover ratio, points allowed per game, and third in field goal percentage.
Gonzaga has simply never had as potent an offense as it has this season — it averages 85.1 points per game — and only once had a stingier defense in terms of points allowed per game. This is also the first time Gonzaga has had five different players average double-digits in points per game. This is a deep team that employs an eight-man rotation, and any of those eight players can put the ball in the basket.
Outside of the fact that this is the most talented, deepest, and well-balanced Gonzaga team ever, the competition it has faced thus far has been better than what it normally faces, too.
In the last 10 years, the Zags have not had a foil as talented as Saint Mary’s is this season. The Gaels rank 19th in overall efficiency according to KenPom. Even in 2012-13, when the Gaels ranked 21st, they were a full three points worse in efficiency. Saint Mary’s is comfortably in the NCAA tournament and a very talented team, and the Bulldogs still beat the Gaels twice, first by 23 points at home, then by 10 points on the road.
Gonzaga also boasts wins over Florida, Iowa State, and Arizona, all of which are major conference, tournament-bound teams, as well as Tennessee, which currently sits on the bubble. Florida and Arizona are both currently projected as No. 3 seeds by Joe Lunardi, making them — in his eyes — two of the top teams in the country, and Gonzaga has beaten them both.
The Bulldogs have four wins against the RPI top 25, six against the top 50, and nine against the top 100. Those four wins against the top 25 are more than top major conference teams like North Carolina, Kansas, Baylor, and Oregon.
Not only is Gonzaga winning games against some of the best teams in the country, it’s also beating the crap out of just about every team it faces. Gonzaga’s scoring margin of +23.4 is the best in the country by a wide margin, and it has won every single conference game by double digits, for an average margin of victory of 26.1 points.
There is something to be said of a team that doesn’t just flub through wins against lesser competition, but instead runs them over like an 18-wheeler decimating a tricycle.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
Year after year we hear the same narrative about Gonzaga, and to be fair, the Zags still have to prove themselves come tournament time. Although the tournament may be something of a crapshoot, if the Bulldogs were to fall during the tournament’s first weekend, it would lend credence to all of the naysayers.
But this Gonzaga team is unlike any we have seen before. It has just as much talent as ever, if not more, has more depth, is simultaneously more efficient and more potent, and is more well-balanced than ever. This Gonzaga team plays defense at a level Spokane has never seen before, and that ability to constrict opposing offenses will help enormously in the tournament if Gonzaga has an off day shooting.
By no means is Gonzaga guaranteed a title, but if there ever were a Gonzaga team that could make a run to the Final Four and compete with the best teams the major conferences have to offer, it’s this one.
CORRECT!Your overall SQ:
Your NCAA BB SQ:
WRONG!The answer was: Answer more NCAA BB questions »
- Gonzaga has never been to a Final Four