Wed. May 22nd, 2019

Could This Gonzaga Team Be Mark Few’s First National Champion?

Since becoming Gonzaga’s head coach in 1999, Mark Few has taken the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament every year.  In that time they’ve consistently gotten to the second weekend of the tournament and made it to the national championship game two years ago. Few has had some great teams but never a national champion. This could be that team.

Gonzaga is an incredible team that has gotten better as the season goes on.  Their dominance of the WCC has been discounted because the conference is viewed as far worse than it really is.  The West Coast Conference is one of the best non-power conferences in the country and have 5 of their 10 teams in the KenPom top 110.  The Bulldogs are 15-0 in the conference and are winning conference games by an average of 26 points. They weren’t half bad in their non-conference schedule either.  They played a tough non-conference schedule and their only two losses were at a neutral site against Tennessee by 3 points and at North Carolina.  They picked up some good wins though, most notably against Duke, but also at Creighton, at home against Washington, and Maui Invitational wins over Illinois, Arizona, and Texas A&M.

Gonzaga has the best offense in the country and it is not even close.  They can get hot quick and go on a huge run at any time.  It is the KenPom #1 offense by a wide margin and leads the nation in points per game at 90.5.  They’re also 1st in field goal percentage, 5th in assists, and tied for 11th in turnovers.

The Zags have four big threats on offense as well as several more role players that can really play.  Rui Hachimura is the best of these and could be a lottery pick when he goes pro.  The junior forward is athletic, makes a huge impact on the defensive end, can run the floor, and gets a lot of easy buckets thanks to Gonzaga’s ball movement.  He’s averaging almost 21 points on 61% shooting with 6.6 rebounds.  Transfer Brandon Clarke is not far behind Hachimura and is more than just a rim protector.  He does some things similar to Hachimura on offense but scores less off the dribble and from mid-range.  He gets more back to the back postup buckets and more easy dunks off of dump off passes.  Clarke is averaging 16.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks with a 68.8% shooting percentage and has a good chance to be the WCC Player of the Year. Zach Norvell Jr. is the best shooter on the team, connecting on 39% of his three-point attempts and can get to the rim and finish off the dribble.  He was huge for Gonzaga in the tournament last year and will be again this year.  Lastly, is point guard Josh Perkins.  Perkins is a great distributor and averages 6.7 assists per game, but can also shoot the three off the dribble and finish around the rim.  These four along with role players like Corey Kispert, Geno Crandall, and Filip Petrusev make up an offense that is the best in the nation and is very statistically similar to Villanova’s offense last year which propelled them to a national championship.  There is also a good chance that Killian Tillie can make another return in the postseason and give this team a jolt.

When comparing this Gonzaga team to the 2016-17 Gonzaga team and to recent national champions it is not hard to imagine the Bulldogs cutting down the nets in a little over a month.  Although not quite as balanced offensively and not as good defensively, this year’s Gonzaga team is very similar and probably better than the 2016-17 team that lost in the national championship.  This year’s team also had a much better non-conference schedule to prepare them for the tournament and there’s a chance that they will have played at least two of the other #1 seeds and a #2 seed.

In my opinion, this Gonzaga team can step on the floor with any team in the nation and beat them, which they showed when they beat the only team ranked ahead of them by KenPom, Duke.  When I pick my bracket in a couple weeks it will be very hard to pick anyone to beat Mark Few and the Zags.

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