In the past 15 years, Gonzaga has evolved from Cinderella story to perennial National Championship contender.
They have had opportunities in the past. The Bulldogs have been to five Sweet 16s since 1999 and have had tremendous tournament success, but they have yet to make it to the Final Four.
The Bulldogs’ best chance came in 2006 when they were led by All-American Adam Morrison and were a No. 3 seed in the tournament. Gonzaga built up a 17-point first half lead against UCLA, but the Bruins caught up in the second half.
After a furious Bruin comeback, Gonzaga still had the lead with 40 seconds left. The Bulldogs became rattled by UCLA’s backcourt pressure, and what followed was a series of turnovers and mental mistakes that left Gonzaga on the wrong end of a 73-72 final score.
For the first time since that fateful game, the Bulldogs seem primed to make another Final Four run. They have the tools, but can they handle the tournament pressure?
Here are four reasons why Gonzaga will reach this year’s Final Four.
Will Gonzaga make the Final Four?
Throughout most of his career, Few has been offered jobs and many of the sport's top programs, but he has shunned them all to remain with Gonzaga.
Few has been a winner since he arrived with the Bulldogs. In his 14 seasons in Spokane, Few has a record of 367-92. Winning has become a way of life for Gonzaga basketball.
Few also has tournament experience. The Bulldogs have been to the tournament every year since he has been the coach, and they have amassed 14 tournament wins over that time span.
Few also knows how to win close games in the tournament. Of his 14 total wins, eight have been by 10 points or less.
While coaches like John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski receive all of the accolades, Few quietly goes about his business and is an elite coach with a power program.
The only thing missing from his résumé is a trip to the Final Four, and with the talent he has assembled and his coaching prowess, look for the Bulldogs to be in Atlanta on the first weekend of April.
The junior forward out of Canada has been the catalyst of the Bulldogs’ success this year. The seven-footer is averaging 19 points and seven rebounds per game and is a matchup nightmare for opponents.
What seed will Gonzaga be for the tournament?
Olynyk also knows when to pick his shots. His 65 percent shooting percentage is an indication that he takes quality shots and does not force production.
Although he only averages just under two blocks per game, he affects many more shots. His presence in the paint makes guards think twice before driving, and he has altered countless shots.
Olynyk has also saved his best performances for the biggest games. In the three games against ranked opponents, he is averaging 17 points per game.
The forward is also getting hot at the right time. In Saturday’s game against San Francisco, Olynyk recorded one his best game of the season. He scored 26 points, grabbed nine rebounds and three blocks to lead the Bulldogs to a win over the pesky Dons.
With Anthony Davis leading Kentucky last season, we witnessed what kind of an impact an effective big man can have. If Olynyk is able to come close to Davis’ production last year, the Bulldogs will have no trouble reaching the Final Four.
Elias Harris provides a great frontcourt complement to Olynyk. He is averaging 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
This means the Gonzaga starting frontcourt averages 33.5 points and 14.5 rebounds per game.
Harris is a senior and has tournament experience. He knows what it takes to win in the tournament and wants to avenge the three straight second-round exits by the Bulldogs.
No other team in the country can match up with these two dominant forwards, and they are responsible for Gonzaga’s stingy defense. The Bulldogs have only given up more than 75 points once this season and have not given up more than 63 points in their last 10 games.
Every team has an off game in the tournament, but the challenge is finding a way to win that game when a team is not on its “A” game. Even when their shots are not falling, Gonzaga’s defense has the capability to carry them through that “off” game and take them deep in the tournament.
So much of tournament success is predicated on luck that it makes it difficult to predict how the bracket will unfold. Parity has manifested itself this year more than any other.
We have seen No. 1 teams fall all season. Tournament success is also about which team gets hot at the right time.
Gonzaga is used to winning. They play a weak conference schedule in the West Coast Conference, but it gets them in a pattern of winning—every time they take the floor, they expect to win. In a year that is as wide open as this, that type of attitude can go a long way in determining postseason success.