Ever since I named the Gonzaga Bulldogs as one of my picks to make the Final Four in the preseason, the support I have received from the Zags faithful has been overwhelming. The tweet-in ballots for my candidacy to become mayor of Spokane have continued to roll in, and as a result, I have decided to lay out my platform for Bulldogs supremacy come April.
For those of you wondering whether my enthusiasm for the Zags has been reduced at all following their near-miss Wednesday night against the Washington State Cougars, the answer is no. With the Bulldogs poised to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2), it's time the public was educated on the completeness of this high-major team hiding in a mid-major conference.
There are no empty promises made or flip-flopping on the issues when I make this statement: This team isn't just the best in the West ... I think they might be the best in the country.
Here are the talking points for my candidacy:
Gonzaga is experienced, and both physically and mentally mature
Led by four-year starter Elias Harris, Mark Few's team has eight contributing players with significant playing experience. The residual effect of this is a team that not only has experience with each other on the court, but understands the grind of a college basketball season. This group knows the importance of putting in work in the weight room, knows how to practice and prepare for games, and isn't vulnerable to hitting the wall in February like teams that heavily rely on freshmen are.
Gonzaga's guard play is excellent
To be an elite team in college basketball, you must have good guard play. In Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and David Stockton, the Zags have a complete backcourt. They all have the ability to be a play-starter, a playmaker, and all of them can knock down the 3. As a group they shoot over 40 percent from deep.
Bell is a lockdown defender who runs the court hard, Pangos has a knack for making big shots and Stockton sees the floor well and is a steady ball-handler. They make up a very effective backcourt trio.
Gonzaga has very good frontcourt depth
How many other national title contenders have as many potential resources as the Zags? The aforementioned Harris will leave Spokane as one of the most productive players in Gonzaga history. He scores, rebounds, defends and wins. 7-foot redshirt junior Kelly Olynyk has developed into a complete post player. He can score on the block and knock down a 17-foot jumper, and he averages a rebound every three minutes. Freshman Przemek Karnowski (7-1, 305 pounds) is a mountain masquerading as a man. He has great hands, can score in the basket area and is a terrific passer. He reminds me of Arvydas Sabonis. Junior Sam Dower (6-9) averages nine points per game and a rebound every four minutes as the fourth post in the Zags' rotation.
What having a frontcourt this deep does for you as a coach is give you a unit that can overcome foul trouble to one or more of your top big men. The frontcourt is deep, talented, skilled and tough enough to wear down opposing front lines.
Gonzaga has solid role players
It's not just all about an efficient backcourt and deep frontcourt for the Zags. They also have a pair of excellent role players. Guy Landry Edi and Mike Hart play to their strengths and accept and champion their roles, bringing experience to the Kennel faithful.
Gonzaga has the flexibility to succeed against different types of opponents
In today's game, it is important to have the flexibility to deal with many different playing styles. This Gonzaga team can change defenses in order to alter the tempo of the game. The Bulldogs' zone, for example, takes away penetration, which eliminates potential mismatches and makes it easy for the Zags to run. This ability to play at more than one speed will serve Few's team well come March, as they are as comfortable executing their sets and motion in the halfcourt as they are pitching it ahead in transition. The more ways a team can win, the harder they are to beat.
Expectations are nothing new to Gonzaga. They went from being America's darlings several seasons ago to a program from which much is expected every season. But this season they appear very well-suited to handle the expectations.
Playing in the Old Spice Classic in November, the Bulldogs showed great poise against a well-disciplined, hard-screening Davidson team. This is the type of game that would have given the Bulldogs trouble previously, and not unlike the type of game they might encounter in the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. On the road against Washington State Wednesday night, the Zags bounced back from a game-tying field goal by the Cougars to make the go-ahead bucket with 2 seconds left (courtesy of Pangos). This team has the character and intangibles to navigate the potential pitfalls of a season at or near the top of the polls.
I understand that my campaign will be met with plenty of skepticism, but remember, my pro-Gonzaga platform is built on substance and facts. Check them out against the Illini on Saturday and you'll see what I mean.