Gonzaga is good.
Gonzaga is really good.
Gonzaga is better than they have ever been, and that is a great compliment; they have been nothing but great in Mark Few’s tenure as head coach.
But to many, the 2017 Gonzaga Bulldogs are frauds: overhyped and overrated due to their impressive record facilitated by their cupcake schedule. To others, they are underhyped and underrated, a truly great team and an undervalued sleeper Championship pick.
So what is this year’s Gonzaga team? A mid-major team with no shot of winning the title, and not battle-tested or good enough to even get to Phoenix? Or truly one of the best teams in the nation and deserving of serious consideration as a National Championship contender?
Let’s first contextualize the Gonzaga program. Mark Few’s Gonzaga Basketball team has been the best ‘Mid-Major’ program of the last 20 years. He is the Leader among ALL Active Coaches with an 81.6% Career Winning Percentage and has gone to the NCAA Tournament in each of his 18 years. But as we all know, he has never been to a Final Four. If the committee isn’t sniffing glue on Selection Sunday, this will be the 2nd Time that Gonzaga will have had the #1-seed. The only other time was in 2013, when they lost in the 2nd Round to the miracle Wichita St. team (underranked as an 8 seed) that made the Final Four that year.
Few reportedly could have left for bigger jobs at Arizona, Oregon, UCLA or USC, but didn’t. He stayed at Gonzaga, a school with a 5,041 Undergraduate student population and 2 NCAA Tournament Appearances under its belt before Few’s hire as Head Coach. Considering that Gonzaga University is in Spokane, Washington –a city otherwise most noteworthy as the Birthplace of Father’s Day – Few has done a helluva job scouting International talent and, more significantly , getting guys to play there. Local legend and noted Diabetic Pornstache McGee stayed in Spokane to play for Few. So did future NBA players Robert Sacre, Kelly Olynyk, Roany Turiaf, Domantas Sabonis and others. Mark Few absolutely deserves the multitude of National Coach of the Year Awards he has been getting this year.
We know the Gonzaga program is Dan Stevens beastly, but is this Gonzaga squad good compared to the others? An emphatic Yes. At 32-1, this year’s squad is the best that Mark Few has had to date, on paper and in practice. The Zags average 84.6 PPG, 8th in the Nation and allow 61.2 PPG, 7th in the Nation. Did you guess that they have the #1 point differential in the nation? Good job, buddy, you’re right. Gonzaga’s average scoring margin per game is best in the nation, a full 4.1 points ahead of #2, Wichita State. John Stockton and his short shorts would be proud. Moreover, The Zags have the necessary components to make a deep NCAA run. They’re super athletic, have depth (7 of their guys average more than 7.5 PPG, 5 are at 10.0 PPG or more) and length (7 of their guys are 6’8 or taller) and can obviously both score in bunches and defend floor-slappingly well.
The contrarians among you are probably saying, “Ok, that’s cool, guy, but does a team that has a 10 RPI, 100 SOS, and is in the West Coast Conference, the 9th Best Conference in terms of RPI really deserve of a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament? You said it yourself: Few has had 20-win teams and Tournament appearances the last 18 years, but no Final Fours. He’s a great regular season coach, but no proof that he knows what it takes in March to get his team to April.” So, can the Zags get Mark Few to his First Final Four and moreover Gonzaga’s 1st National Championship?
Ok, let’s get this out of the way: this special Zags team deserves to be a #1 Seed. Yes, their SOS is 100, but they have gone 6-0 against top-50 RPI teams. Included in which were wins against Arizona (Pac-12 Conference Tournament champ), Iowa State (Big 12 Conference Tourney champ), and Florida, teams all likely to have 4-seeds or better in the bracket. Their only blemish was the surprise loss to BYU, a likely NIT Team with a 65 RPI. That was a bad loss for sure, but other possible #1 Seeds North Carolina and Kansas lost to 76 RPI Indiana. It’s really a dumb, unfair, and biased opinion to think this Zags team doesn’t deserve to be on the topline. You would be asking of them something that only 19 teams have done in the last 79 seasons, go undefeated leading up to the NCAA tournament. Luckily for Gonzaga, this year’s Selection Committee is not as big-Conference-heavy like in years past. Only 5 of the 10 committee members are from top-6 RPI Conferences, so I suspect the Zags will get a #1 seed. If they’re in the bracket as a #2 seed, Howard Dean look-alike and NCAA Selection Committee Chair Mark Hollis must be crazier than this masturbatory piece from the NCAA calling him “The Wizard of Awes”. He wants to be the next President of the NCAA so bad, Bob Knight threatened to kill him because he thought “The Wizard” was Zombie Miles Brand or something. If the Zags aren’t on the top line maybe we should let the Sweater loose (JK LOL).
SOOOO, what chance do the Zags have at getting to the Final Four and winning the title? Let’s begin using their top scoring margin differential as a template. What if any correlation is there between being the top scoring differential team and making the Final Four/National Championship?
|Season||Diff. Leader||+/- Amount||How Far?|
|2015-16||Michigan St||+15.7||1st Round|
All Data Retrieved by Wrong Lines from Teamrankings.com and Wikipedia.org
First, what a +/- total for the ’17 Zags. Only 1 other team in last 20 years has had that big of a margin. I remember the Trajan Langden and Elton Brand 1998-99 Duke team well, they beat my alma mater in the 2nd round that year by 41, and Coach K still bitched about his team’s effort!
Second, there is a quite strong correlation between top +/- teams and winning the National Title. 6 of these 19 teams prior to the Zags won the title. That’s a 32% rate at which the top differential team has gone home as Champs. 8 of 19 or 42% have gotten to the Final Four at least. And apart from 2011 Belmont, each of these teams had high expectations going into the tournament due to their dominance.
This is as good of a measure of any to see not only how good a team is, but also how they play night in and night out. At times vastly superior teams play inferior competition who would not require MAX effort to get beaten, and the Zags didn’t fall into the trap of complacency this year. I really don’t feel like they will just be “happy to be there” until they get to the Final Four. They also have their winningest player of all-time on this roster, Przemik Karnowski, AKA The Mountain. Just as ain’ters gonna ain’t, winners gonna win and the Mountain is a winner through and through.
The Zags have been darling to those who have backed them this year. According to VegasInsider, they went 21-7-1 against the spread, even though they have been favored by double digits in 22 of those 29 games where there was an available line. Although the line will of course be dependent upon who they play, the Zags will be favored between 27 and 30 points in the opening round according to us @Wronglines. As far as Futures, according to BetOnline, the Zags are a 9/1 favorite to win the Title, or have a 10% chance to win according to implied probabilities.
Once the bracket is released, you’ll have a chance to take them to win the West Regional/make the Final Four. Most projected brackets have Arizona as the 2-seed in the West, and due to the lower than deserved opinion of the Zags, and Zona’s recent Pac-12 Conference win, the Wildcats will likely be the more popular pick to win the West Regional. This will probably put Gonzaga at something like 3/2 or 2/1 chances to get to Phoenix (40% & 33.3% per implied probabilities). Despite Few’s March struggles, if Gonzaga is less than a 1/1 Favorite to win the West Regional, take them. This is a nice value play considering the likelihood of it happening.
Gonzaga will certainly have to get through some tough squads to make it to Phoenix, and will be facing constant questions about Few’s regular season aptitude and March ineptness. But they have the tools to get there, are aware of the gravity of this postseason for Few’s legacy, and as their ATS performance and point differential show you, they are up for the challenge and won’t beat themselves. I don’t typically get into Title futures at this point, but take a ¼ U flier on the Zags to win the Title at +900 ($25 yields $225). On paper, they are one of the best 5 teams in the nation, but the implied probabilities state they only have an equal chance as the other top-10 teams in the field. This screams UNDERVALUE as a National Title contender.
The Zags kept the pedal to the medal all year, have heard all the discussions about their weaknesses as a smaller Conference school, and they will be motivated to prove the haters wrong. I am very likely going to take them to win the West Region when the bracket comes out. Few’s Bulldogs are ample enough to make the Final Four, and are about 15-18% likely to win the title, according to us @Wronglines. Those who state that Gonzaga has no business being a 1, have little to no chance of making the Final Four, and have absolutely no shot at the National Title need run a check on themselves. (AND FOLLOW @WRONGLINES & OUR CAPPEDIN PAGE TO GET SOME KNOWLEDGE!)