If Gonzaga’s two-digit tournament final score on Saturday doesn’t stand out, his opponent should.
The Virginia Cavaliers, a widely recognized force in college basketball and still defending national champions whose brand crushed opponents during the 12 seasons of Tony Bennett in Charlottesville, lost 98-75.
It was an incredibly unbalanced result for a Virginia team. And it wasn’t that close. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Gonzaga became the first team to make 60 percent of their shots and score 149 points on 100 possessions against Virginia during Bennett’s time. That makes the Bulldogs the first team in the history of varsity basketball to eliminate four of the top 20 players in the first seven games.
Any idea that the Zags would become the first undefeated national champions since Indiana in the 1975-76 season may seem premature after eight games. But are we talking about this 2020-21 group as Gonzaga’s best team in more than two decades of varsity basketball program relevance? This is the place.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Gonzaga approaches you in waves and has become the undisputed favourite to cut the nets in 2021. Andy Lyon/Getty Images
This seems to be the best team, said Dan Dickau, former Gonzaga star, Associated Press first-team All-American and West Coast Conference player of the year, both in 2001-02. They need to stay healthy and not become complacent, which will undoubtedly not be welcomed by management.
Sam Dower, who averaged 14.4 PPGs during the 2013-14 season and has played alongside some of the best players in the program including Kelly Olynyk and Robert Sacra, said that the current Gonzaga team has already been considered the best in Mark Few’s 22-year tenure.
This year’s team is very special and could certainly be the best team we’ve ever had in Gonzaga, he said. They have the dedication you need when playing with so many talented players at the same time. They’ve got the height, they’ve got the arrows, they’ve got the work ethic, they’ve got the passion. … If there was a checklist of what it takes to be a better team, you’d check everything.
Corey Kispert (22.4 PPG, 52% of the 3-point line), Drew Timme (21.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG) and Jalen Suggs (15.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, APG, 2.6 SPG, 48% of the 3-point line) form the strongest trio in varsity basketball. Earlier this week, Bulldogs made 53.2 percent of their shots against the man-to-man defense and 59 percent against the zone defense, according to Synergy Sports, and made 72 percent of their shots on the edge, according to hoop-math.com.
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Despite the figures, Przemek Karnowski – the star of Gonzaga’s only team to achieve the national title game – said that his 2016-17 team would create difficulties for the current group.
I think that the biggest difference with our 2017 team is its size, he said of the Paint group, which also includes Jonathan Williams and the future NBA great Zach Collins. On the other hand, this team plays faster and higher and lower.
Dauer said that his 2012-13 team has the depth and the shooters – the team made 55 percent of the shots in the arch – to compete with this year’s team.
The team in which I played in 2013 was also very special, according to Dower. We were number one in the history of Gonzaga. I think there’s gonna be a fight to the finish against this year’s team. We had a group of guys fighting, and we had guys who could score effectively and [shooters]. We were also in the middle of a reflection process. I get goose bumps thinking about that coincidence.
Fault! The file name is not specified. How do these Jags play against a team led by Przemek Karnowski? This can become an insurmountable problem. Sean M. Huffy/Getty Images
Dickau said he wondered if Gonzaga’s 20-year-old stars had a chance against this team. He stated that the consistency of his team during the 2001-02 season was an underestimated element of its success.
We had two players, Blake Stapp and myself, who could shoot, he said, two wingers, Anthony Rison, who could defend himself like crazy, and Alex Hernandez, who was a good, cunning striker. Kyle bank head was a bank shooter and a skilled ball handler. Our setup was fine. … Ronnie Turiaf was a freshman who influenced the game with energy.
Yet Dickau gave in: My pride is that I say we’re going to win, but it’s hard to believe, because this group has zero holes and is much better defensive.
Geno Crandall, the slippery man in the 2018-19 team who lost to Texas Tech in the Elite Eight, said the 2020-21 team is a candidate for the best team under an experienced coach. But he doesn’t want to affect the quality of his own band, of which Kispert is a member.
I think the only advantage the team would have at this is depth, Crandall said. When we were healthy, we were ahead with Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clark, Killian Tilly and Philip Petrusoff throwing to Jeremy Jones and Corey Kispert, who both could push a 3 or 4 point. It was a lot for the other teams.
Crandall said he believes his team would have completed 5-5 in 10 games with the current team in 2018-19. This argument is, of course, a myth. And if Gonzaga wins his first national title in April, that will be an even harder argument for the former students at the bar.
We’ll have to have one of those battles in the summer, Karnofsky jokes.
Below we have made a largely unscientific ranking of the teams that follow the current group. The ranking is based on a combination of team success, overall talent and communication with former players, as well as one man’s opinion of the best teams Gonzaga has built so far under Mark Small’s leadership:
Fault! The file name is not specified. Nigel Williams-Goss led Mark Fews to the edge of his first national title. James Snook-USA Sports Today
Finish: 1 seed, lost to North Carolina, 71-65, in the National Championship.
Key personnel: Przemek Karnowski (12.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG), Jonathan Williams (10.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG), Nigel Williams-Goss (16.8 PPG), Zach Collins (10.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG).
At that time, all those who still called Gonzaga a mid-major paid no attention. But this group’s trip to the national title game has silenced any doubts. With the appointment of Collins, Karnowski and Williams-Goss to the AP All-American second team it was a very powerful group with NBA talent on the ground and ridiculous depth. He also had the most effective defense in America, according to KenPom.
Finishing: 1 seed, lost to Texas Tech, 75-69, in the Elite Eight.
Key personnel: Rui Hachimura (19.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG), Brandon Clark (16.9 PPG, 8.6 RPG), Josh Perkins (11.0 PPG, 6.3 APG), Zach Norwell Jr.
The Gonzaga team declared its place in the university basketball hierarchy with an 89-87 victory over Zion Williamson and Duke in the Maui Invitational Championship game. Few people have ever coached a duet with such a high level of athletics, just as Hachimura and Clark were both selected in the first round – the ninth and twenty-first respectively – of the NBA design that summer.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Kelly Olynyk gave the Zags the No. 1 seed, but his team broke his heart in the 32nd final. Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Finishing: 1st, lost in second round to Wichita State, 76-70.
Key personnel: Kelly Olynyk (17.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG), Elias Harris (14.6 PPG, 7.4 RPG), Kevin Pangos (11.9 PPG, 42% of the 3-point line).
Led by Oleynik, who was selected for the first AP All-American team, Gonzaga finished first in the history of the school. This team played an important role in raising Gonzaga’s national profile, winning 32 games and securing first place in the NCAA tournament. She also won 12 of the 16 matches of the West Coast Conference by double digits in her undefeated runs in the league.
Finishing: 2 seed, lost to Duke, 66-52, in the Elite Eight.
Key personnel: Kyle Wiltjer (16.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG), Pangos (11.6 PPG, 4.8 APG), Domantas Sabonis (9.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG).
For the second time in the history of the school, Gonzaga reached the elite eight level, securing double digits wins over North Dakota, Iowa and UCLA before taking on Duke for the final national champion. It was also a start for Sabonis, who earned a spot in the NBA All-Star team last season, and for Wiltjer, who is a member of the AP’s third All-American team and lost two of the six points on his way to the NCAA tournament.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Adam Morrison is perhaps the most striking individual player of the Mark Small era at Gonzaga. Mark J. Rebilas/U.S. Sports Today
Arrival: 3 seeds, lost to UCLA, 73-71, in Sweet 16.
Key personnel: Adam Morrison (28.1 GAR, 5.5 GAR), J.P. Batista (19.3 GAR, 9.4 GAR).
After a defeat on the 4th. In December 2005, against Washington, Gonzaga’s team lost only one game before being eliminated in the Sweet 16 against UCLA. In the loss to the Bruins, who qualified for the first of three consecutive finals, UCLA had to lose 11-0 at the end of the race to take the lead. It was Fewey’s first real chance to win the national title.
Finish: 6 seed, lost to Wyoming, 73-66, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Key personnel: Dan Dickau (21.0 PPG, 4.7 PPG), Ronnie Turiaf (7.3 PPG).
Although they did not make it to the first round, the Bulldogs hit 39.1% of their shots over the arch and kept their opponents 41.8% within the 3-point line. Both Dickau and Turiaf, a rookie of that team, spent several seasons in the NBA.
Finishing: 4 seeds, lost to North Carolina (National Champion) 98-77 in Sweet 16.
Key personnel: Josh Heitvelt (14.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG), Matt Bouldin (13.6 PPG, 3.4 APG).
Three future NBA players – Jeremy Pargo, Austin Day and Robert Sacre – have helped anchor the country’s best defense in the arch. These Bulldogs shot 39% of the outside of the bow and won four KenPom in the top 50.