We need to talk about the No. 1 team in college basketball. Because the distance between No. 1 and No. 2 isn’t a gap or a width or even a chasm. It might be a continental divide.
Gonzaga is so, so, so good, and the only thing keeping them from Mark Few’s first national championship in Spokane are injuries, their own motivation, and of course, the potential of a COVID-19 shutdown.
The Zags are 8-0. They’ve beat No. 6 Kansas by 12, No. 11 West Virginia by five (it wasn’t that close), No. 3 Iowa by 11 (granted, Luka Garza was a beast and they let him go off), and No. 16 Virginia by 23.
And yet they’re only 4-4 agains the spread. Because anyone that’s watched them play fully expects them to be doing this.
They’ll host Dixie State (it’s in Utah, yes they’re D1) as a 36.5 point favorite tonight, and then there’s 16 West Coast Conference games between the Bulldogs and an undefeated regular season. Let’s break down those WCC teams.
BYU is getting AP votes right now, but they’re not in the Top 25. They beat No. 18 San Diego State, but got smoked by USC 79-53. To be fair USC might be good, but sample size is five games and they lost to UConn at Mohegan Sun.
Traditional rival Saint Mary’s? Lost by 25 to that Malachi Flynn-less San Diego State, 18 to Memphis, and the rest of their schedule is so soft it shadowboxes participation trophies.
Santa Clara? They’ve played every safety school in California that offered A.C. Slater an athletic scholarship, and lost to Colorado State by 13 on a neutral floor.
San Francisco only fell to Virginia 61-60, but Virginia is the Zoloft of college basketball: They stabilize teams above them and below them because of how they play.
Loyola Marymount? Lost twice to Minnesota, but split two games with UC-Santa Barbara! At least split with UC-Santa Cruz, they’ve got a cooler mascot.
Damon Stoudamire’s Pacific? Needed OT to beat Montana State at home. Portland? Lost by 39 to Oregon. We’re not even mentioning San Diego (what the heck happened to that once-proud program?) or Pepperdine (how is the most beautiful college campus on earth losing to Cal-State Northridge at home??).
What we’re saying is unless someone gets hurt, Covid-19 gets in the way, or the season gets shut down, the Bulldogs have a perfect season in the bag. And if there’s a West Coast Conference Tournament, that’s over too.
Watching Gonzaga run half-court motion offense is poetry. Giving Mark Few a five-star freshman like Jalen Suggs is like giving Bobby Fischer an extra queen: It’s almost unfair how well one of the best coaches in college basketball can integrate him into the offense. Enjoy Suggs now, because his athleticism, court vision, six assists per game, and 48% from three-point range is in Spokane this season only because the NBA requires it, not because he’s getting a grad degree.
They’re also more athletic and explosive than any Zags team of this era in transition, and with 6’7 senior Corey Kispert shooting 50% from three-point range it’s almost cheating. Sophomore Drew Timme holds down the post and the glass for what is often a four-out team. Joel Ayayi can do everything you need from a backcourt player, including making juuuuust enough shots where you have to guard him on the perimeter.
This might be the best college basketball team in a long time. So go enjoy the Zags steamrolling everything in their path, and hope that we get to play “Mask Madness” in 2021. Yes college basketball is random, and anything can happen in one game. But what makes this team so good is they might be as close to being outside the margin of error when everyone is healthy as any team this century.
Gonzaga might have won it all last year too if we had a tournament, but this season? It’s there’s for the taking if a global pandemic or injuries don’t get in the way.