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Scouting the Contenders 2021: Gonzaga Bulldogs

Corey Kispert, Gonzaga

As March Madness slowly inches closer and closer, "Scouting the Contenders" takes a look at some of the nation's best teams in a chaotic race, scouts their strengths and weaknesses, and takes a best guess on just how far they could go in the NCAA Tournament. We begin with the nation's current No. 1 team, the undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs.

Track Record
  • 18-0 overall, 9-0 West Coast Conference
  • Notable Victories: 102-90 over Kansas, 87-82 over West Virginia, 99-88 over Iowa, 98-75 over Virginia
  • Averaging 94.3 PPG (2nd nationally)
  • Only one game that was not a double-digit win (West Virginia)

Scouting Report

Heading into an uncertain 2020-21 college basketball season, Gonzaga was a fixture near the top of most polls. With ample experience returning and several high-profile newcomers on the way, the Bulldogs were a popular preseason Final Four selection. Through the first three months of the season, they've managed to even surpass those lofty expectations. They currently sit 18-0 and have blown out a few big name teams. In fact, outside of a five-point win over a Top 25 West Virginia, every single win has been by double-digits. Can Mark Few's team keep it up and bring the program's first National Title back to Spokane?

Strengths: This is one of the best offenses we've seen in college basketball in recent memory, a group currently averaging over 93 points per game. The group's balance and versatility is actually fairly mind-boggling, and they check off every box you could want from a college basketball team. Corey Kispert is a 6'7" forward that can bully down low and yet step outside and shoot over 48% from three, while being the team's volume three-point shooter. Drew Timme is your prototypical, crafty Gonzaga big who is an excellent distributor for his position, while Joel Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard are your typical college guards. Then there's dynamic true freshman Jalen Suggs, who is playing as well as any freshman in the nation. He's one of the best passers I can ever reminder seeing play college basketball, and yet still shoots the ball at an effective clip. This is the type of offense that can run in transition and overwhelm opponents, and yet they still move the ball incredibly well in the half-court. They can lean on the three when needed, but are still big enough to play physical in the post. No defense has been able to stop this offense all season and the only one I could see matching up with them is Baylor... The things I like about teams like this is the blend of experience with polished youth. Although it isn't always a qualification to win in March, having veterans who have been there before is an advantage, particularly in this wacky season. Kispert, Timme and Ayayi have played in big games before and they will once again be ready for the big stage. And then there's the younger talent that could theoretically get better down the stretch. We've seen young players come into their own when March arrives and while Suggs is already playing amazing, there's still a chance he could kick it into an even higher gear when the games really start to matter. This mix is important, and it gives the Bulldogs an extremely capable and balanced roster... As I've mentioned, Gonzaga's ball movement and distribution is incredibly impressive, and it's something to expand on. When you watch Gonzaga play, they operate more like the old San Antonio Spurs or Golden State Warriors in how they move the ball and get teammates open. Just look at this clip of their game against Virginia earlier this season; they spread you out and attack. There is no wasted movement in this offense or anything unnecessarily flashy, but every pass and dribble has a purpose. That is certainly not the case with a lot of teams you see in college basketball, especially when the three-point shot isn't falling. You also have to consider that this clip is against a Virginia team that once again has one of the best defenses in college basketball, and plays a very disruptive, physical brand of defense. Gonzaga just so happened to drop 98 points against it, and made it look easy in doing so. 

Weaknesses: Frankly, when a team is 18-0 and has played dominant all season, it comes down to nit-picking their weaknesses. One of the primary concerns I have against this Gonzaga team is at the free throw line, where they shoot at a 73% clip. Now that isn't a completely terrible number, as it ranks 95th nationally amongst some 360+ Division I college basketball teams. But, it is a lower number than you might expect for a team that has been so dominant all season long. I don't envision it as a major problem in the first couple rounds of the NCAA Tournament but when the competition heats up and the Bulldogs finally get a really tough game, it could catch up with them. It's the type of Achilles Heel on a great basketball team that isn't obvious on its face, but is the underlying problem that can doom even dominant teams. Gonzaga is so good shooting from the field, they've been able to get by without being elite at the line, but I just don't know if that will extend through all of March... Secondly, this Gonzaga program as a whole has some March Madness demons to get by if they want to win a National Title. Despite being one of college basketball's most consistent programs the past two decades, the Bulldogs have made just one Final Four in their history, coming back in 2016-2017. Over that span, they've been a high seed numerous times, and have been eliminated before the second weekend on multiple occasions. Now, I think this is a really weak argument against this current Bulldog team. I don't believe past performances from players that are long-gone should change how we view this particular Gonzaga team. I said the same thing about Virginia back in 2019 when they were coming off the historical loss to UMBC the year prior; past teams and players in completely different situations shouldn't dictate what we think of current teams. But, it's going to be an argument made against Gonzaga, and one to at least bring up... Another common argument made against Gonzaga is that playing in the West Coast Conference, they play "nobody". Again, I think is a weaker argument especially against this 2020-21 team. Out of conference, Gonzaga went and played Kansas, Auburn, West Virginia, Iowa, and West Virginia and they were scheduled to play the current No. 2, Baylor, before it was postponed. Now, the WCC is down this year so it has been awhile since the Bulldogs have faced a Top 25 foe, but the resume still speaks for itself. This has not been a program that ever shied away from playing blue bloods or major-conference foes, and that goes again for the 2020-21 edition. Perhaps a game against BYU will tell us even more, as they're likely the only WCC team with a chance an at-large Tournament bid.

Bottom Line: The last time we saw a college basketball team enter March Madness undefeated was the 2014-2015 Kentucky Wildcats, who ended up losing in the Final Four. Of the 19 teams that have entered March with a perfect record, seven have gone on to win the National Championship. I think it's highly likely the Bulldogs become the 20th team to do it, and they're certainly the betting favorite to take home the National Title. I hate making proclamations that a team is a "Final Four lock" when we don't even know the full Tournament field, but I'd be pretty shocked if this team does not make their second ever Final Four. It has been just so dominant and even their "weaknesses" are poor arguments. Crazy things can happen in March, but I think you'd be pretty foolish to bet against this Gonzaga team playing in the National Championship. In fact, both Gonzaga and Baylor have been so good, I'd rather bet on them winning than any combination of the other 66 teams set to square off.

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