It seems that every year college basketball fans and so-called experts ask the same questions about the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Are they really as good as their record suggests? Can a mid-major from a top-heavy conference actually hang with college basketball’s best? Will the Bulldogs crumble on the sport’s biggest stage?
For 18 straight seasons, Gonzaga has answered those questions with a trip to the NCAA Tournament, and during that time, head coach Mark Few has built a program that’s currently 26-0, ranked no.1 in the nation and respected on every college court in the country. But that flawless record has these Bulldogs dreaming big.
Guided by five players currently averaging at least 10.0 points per game, including top scorer and Wooden Award candidate Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga is no one-sided wonder and ranks eighth in the nation in points allowed [61.7 ppg], while averaging a healthy 85.1 points per game—good for 13th in the NCAA. And along with a pair of productive seven-footers in freshman Zach Collins and senior Przemek Karnowski, the Bulldogs also boast a dangerously deep rotation.
Over the weekend, Gonzaga relied on that depth to defeat West Coast Conference rival St. Mary’s 74-64 with a total team effort that saw four players finish with at least 12 points. On paper, the 20th-ranked Gaels represented the last opponent with a real shot to spoil Gonzaga’s perfect WCC season. But while the Bulldogs shot just 37.5 percent from long-range, Few’s flawless record was never in any real danger.
Following Saturday’s victory, Karnowski told reporters that the Bulldogs aren’t worried about outside opinions and critics who question the quality of their schedule.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Karnowski. “I have my teammates. I have my coaches. And that’s all that matters. We work hard in little Spokane, Washington. We come to work everyday. We try to get better every week. And that’s all that matters. Doesn’t matter what other people say. We had challenges this year. We met every challenge that was put in front of us, and that’s how we need to respond.”
The Bulldogs’ latest response—last Saturday’s win, will probably be its most convincing until the madness of March begins. Once again, Gonzaga’s conference schedule has been the college basketball equivalent of batting practice, and as usual, that’s been more than enough to spark debate, and even widespread doubt, about the Bulldogs’ post-season potential.
In November, Gonzaga earned a pair of consecutive power conference wins over 15th-ranked Florida and the NCAA Tournament-bound Iowa State Cyclones at the Advocare Invitational. But the Bulldogs’ most impressive win of the current campaign came in early December when they beat the fifth-ranked Arizona Wildcats 69-62 on a neutral court at the inaugural Hoophall L.A. doubleheader.
As an 11-seed at last season’s big dance, Few led his 28-win Bulldogs to lopsided victories over sixth-seeded Seton Hall and third-seeded Utah before falling to tenth-seeded Syracuse 63-60 in Gonzaga’s second straight trip to the Sweet 16 and seventh since 1999. And during it’s 18-year reign as the monster of the mid-majors, Gonzaga has only failed to advance beyond the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on three occasions.
Including its two conference wins over St. Mary’s, Gonzaga is a perfect 5-0 against teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top-25. It won’t be the best resume that the committee sees on Selection Sunday–that honor will go to a power conference big shot. But according to the latest edition of Joe Lunardi’s “Bracketology”, Gonzaga is currently one of the tourney’s four top seeds along with Villanova, Baylor, and Kansas, and despite their critics, that’s exactly where these Bulldogs belong.