There is a decent amount of skepticism surrounding Gonzaga going into the NCAA tournament. Even in the Zags’ home state of Washington there is skepticism. If you’re not a “Gonzaga hater” (which there are a lot of) you’ve heard the gauntlet of stories. There’s the upset losses to Nevada in 2004, the 2002 loss to Wyoming (yes, over a decade later and people are still giving the Zags flack). There’s also the loss to Wichita State as a #1 seed in 2013 as well as a lack of recent Sweet 16 appearances.
Firstly, those first two losses were 11 and 13 years ago. Gonzaga skeptics will also point to that Wichita State loss when GU was the number one team in the country. Wichita State would go on to make the Final Four that year, and they made a whopping 14 three-pointers. I don’t care what name is on the front of your jersey or what seed you have, when another team makes 14 threes, it’s going to be tough to beat them.
The most ridiculous thing about this Gonzaga criticism is that this is a different year with a completely different team. None of those previous teams featured All-American candidate Kyle Wiltjer or Byron Wesley or future lottery-pick Domantas Sabonis.
Gonzaga has been given the #2 seed in the South Region. Here’s why you should trust them to make a deep run in your bracket.
- Close to Home
Gonzaga is playing across the state in Seattle, Washington for the first two rounds of the tourney (assuming they beat North Dakota State). Potential opponents in Seattle beyond NDSU include Davidson and Iowa, the winner of the game will likely take on the Bulldogs. Additionally, the Zags have a large fan base in Western Washington and play an annual game in Seattle every season as part of the non-conference schedule every year since 2003. Those games are played in Key Arena, the site of GU’s first two games of the tournament.
Of the other 16 teams in the South Region, GU has played and beaten three of them. The Zags shellacked #6 seed SMU 72-56 while they also earned wins over #8 seed Saint John’s and #11 seed UCLA. The Zags will certainly feel confident if they face any of those three in later rounds.
Gonzaga boasts the most efficient offense in the country. The team shoots an absurd 52.4% from the field. They rank sixth in assists per game. The Zags also are tenth in the country in points per game with an average of 79.1 points scored per contest—they hold opponents to 60.9 points per game.
The Bulldogs feature six players who average at least 8.2 points per contest. Kyle Wiltjer leads the team with 16.7 points per game and recently dropped 45 (yes, that’s right 45 against Pacific). Byron Wesley (10.8 points per game) and Gary Bell Jr. (8.2) are two the low-scoring starters, but each could easily average 15 points a contest on a team with less offensive firepower and weapons. Reserve guards Kyle Dranginis, Silas Melson and Eric McClellan are all capable of hitting double figures in a hurry.
Gonzaga is one of the few teams that can legitimately challenge Kentucky. Not only can the Zags’ guards play with anyone, their size and skillset would cause Kentucky problems in a potential matchup. Sabonis and Wiltjer both stand at 6’10” while Przemek Karnowski is a massive human being at 7’1”. All three offer varying skill sets that will cause any team fits.