Gonzaga Bulldogs (25-6, 15-3)
Position in West Coast Convo Power Rankings: 1st
Winning 20-plus games in a single season is a daunting task, but it’s something head coach Mark Few has done over and over and over again throughout his tenure as the head coach of Gonzaga. However, after losing high profile players Kelly Olynyk (NBA draft), Elias Harris (Graduation) and Mike Hart (Graduation), this might be Few’s best coaching job to date.
Despite a few snags along the way, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are the one seed in the WCC tournament and the favorites to claim the championship trophy.
The Zags got off to a hot start in conference play, winning 13 out of their first 14 WCC tilts. A two-game losing skid to BYU and San Diego late in the regular season along with a road loss to Portland in January were the Bulldogs only blemishes in conference play. Gonzaga ended up winning the WCC title outright and were two full games ahead of second place BYU and San Francisco.
However, Gonzaga’s lack of quality non-conference wins combined with their poor bad losses to San Diego and Portland makes their resume less illustrious than it has been in years past. Could an early exit in the WCC tournament push the Gonzaga Bulldogs down to the bubble? At this point it is certainly a possibility.
Players to Watch
Przemek Karnowski is an extremely important player on Gonzaga that often gets overlooked. His presence in the paint on the defensive end of the floor allows the guards to be more aggressive on the perimeter, as well as hiding some of the Zags’ perimeter defense shortcomings. At 7’1”, Karnowski is virtually impossible to double-team, and when his offensive game is working the Zags offense operates much smoother.
Moving forward, the Bulldogs need Karnowski to be on the top of his game for the Bulldogs to succeed in postseason play.
Similarly to the Polish Hammer (Karnowski’s not-so-popular nickname, yet) Gerard Coleman and Angel Nunez are two players that the Bulldogs will need down the stretch due to their length and athleticism.
It might be too late for them to crack 20-plus minutes a game, but their role during the WCC tournament will indicate the two role come NCAA tournament time – assuming that the Zags make it to the big dance.
Of course, the rest of the Bulldogs starting lineup are noteworthy players to watch, but the three aforementioned player’s performances should carry more weight.
What to Expect from Gonzaga
Based on recent history, Gonzaga is almost a lock to reach the title game. However, with the brand new format, this task will be a little bit harder for the Bulldogs – considering the Bulldogs do not receive an automatic berth into the semifinals anymore. Fortunately, the Zags were graced with a fairly easy path this year based on results in the season.
Gonzaga will either play Pacific or Santa Clara on Saturday, depending on which team wins against one another. Gonzaga handily beat Pacific both times they played them this season. Santa Clara played Gonzaga tough this season, losing two close games by a combined 14 points. It was a Sam Dower jumper that propelled the Zags over the Broncos at the buzzer in Santa Clara on Jan. 29th. The Broncos guard play is strong, and can go toe-to-toe with the Gonzaga backcourt, posing a tough matchup for the Zags if they meet. This could potentially be Gonzaga toughest opponent in the tournament matchup wise.
Gonzaga will play either Pepperdine or Saint Mary’s in the semifinals, two teams the Zags dominated in the regular season.
It would be a serious surprise if the Bulldogs did not at least make it to the championship game based on their draw, and I expect them to do exactly that. Whether they can take home the trophy remains to be seen.