So, the Gonzaga Bulldogs won the WCC Tournament.
Big deal. They have won it five out of six times in a row.
So, they won the conference regular season title. Big deal, especially since they have done it nine times in a row.
What is not to like?
Well, it is tournament time. For the last dozen or so years, the Zags have ceased being judged for the regular season, and are judged by their tournament performance. This year is no different.
So, who will they face? Who can break them down? Who will they get medieval on?
Based on the global super-bracketometer, I am projecting the Bulldogs at between a three to a five seed, depending on how other teams do. So, that means they could get a first round game against someone 12th-14th or so.
Lets see how they break down?
We will assume the Zags get popped in a bracket with one of the biggies, such as Pitt, UNC, UConn, Louisville, and Memphis. Once that piece is out of the way, they have two quick games before it gets interesting.
They have a tough defense. When they are hitting on all cylinders, the Bulldogs can run with just about anybody.
Looking at the lower seed teams, it comes down to the number of "exceptional" players. If we use the number of 14-pt scorers over the season as a measure, any of the lower teams that are out there.
Penn State (2), WeberState (1), Michigan (2), or South Carolina (2) could provide a challenge for the Zags.
They all are athletic teams with some guys who can run. And as Davidson showed last year, Gonzaga is beatable by a team with some speed and a superstar shooter.
That second game could get dicey. Washington (3), Xavier (2), or Villanova (2) will give the Zags (2.5) all that they can handle.
A higher-ranked team with more even balance and more athletes to run with the Zags will be a problem. Using Washington as the example, they would put Brockman on Heytvelt, Dentmon on Bouldin, and Thomas on Pargo.
If those guys cancel each other out, it will depend on the bench.
For the Bulldogs, the bench is the key. Can Daye, Downs, Gray, and Goodson make the difference?
They have done it from time to time over the course of the year. But can they do it in the clutch? Even in the WCC tournament, the Zags did not face much of a challenge, but they have over the year.
Going back to the UConn game - which the Zags effectively threw away in the clutch - they had 4 players in double digit scoring, and one more with 9 from the bench. 31 boards spread across 7 guys. They've got to share the rock to move on in the bracket.
Bottom line, for the early games just put them away. Any first round game is dangerous, and the Zags need to show the killer instinct they showed in the WCC tournament. No prisoners.
Match one of the big guns on their star player, and let the boys clean up the rest.
Over the past couple years, the Zags have been unwilling to step on the throats of the little teams. Maybe it is a religious school thing, but they can be generous in the offseason, not the Big Dance.
For the later games, it is go time. The Zags will need to look back at the past season and remember two games in particular, the Memphis beat-down and the UConn loss. Both extremes will not let the Bulldogs fall prey to over confidence, or not finishing games.
The way I see it, the Zags just have to play within themselves, and draw on their hearts. Since their losing streak, they have played with guts and moxie, and played smart.
They have been around the block now, and can count on that experience to get them wins when it counts.
And if they do that, they can play with anybody, including UNC, UConn, and Pitt, or anyone.