Will Gonzaga Finally Break Through in the NCAA Tournament?

Doug Brodess@DougbrodessCorrespondent IFebruary 20, 2013

SPOKANE, WA - JANUARY 24:  Kelly Olynyk #13 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs grabs a rebound during the game against the BYU Cougars at McCarthey Athletic Center on January 24, 2013 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
William Mancebo/Getty Images

How good are the Gonzaga Bulldogs (25-2; 12-0 WCC)?

As we move into the second half of February, and the end of the regular-season schedule is near, it’s a reasonable thought to wonder: Is this the year that Gonzaga breaks through in the NCAA Tournament?

Will this be the year that Mark Few’s crew finally gets to the Final Four?

With all of the zaniness of the 2012-13 college basketball season, why shouldn’t we consider the Zags as a potential participant in Atlanta national tournament semis…or even the Finals?

Zags’ Success Over the Years

Currently ranked No. 3 in both major polls, Gonzaga is positioned for what could be the best season in school history.

The Bulldogs’ hoops success has come primarily since 1995. The Bulldogs have made it to the NCAA Tournament 15 times over those 18 years, including a current streak of 14 consecutive March Madness appearances.

From a GU assistant coach in 1999, the Bulldogs have won the West Coast Conference regular-season title 11 of 13 times, and won the conference tournament nine times.

Few’s overall record and winning percentage (367-92; 80 percent) puts him among the top of all D-I coaches since 2000.

Breaking through for Gonzaga would have to mean getting further than it has before.

Up until now, the Zags have made it to the Elite Eight once (1999) and to the Sweet Sixteen four (2000, 2001, 2006 and 2009) additional times.

They have never been a 1-Seed in the Tournament. They have only been a 2-Seed once (2004) and a 3-Seed twice (2005, 2006).

Their 1999 Elite Eight run under Dan Monson was as a 10-Seed.

So, if they close out the regular season with no setbacks and no upsets, this year's Bulldogs could be the first Gonzaga team to enter the NCAA Tournament as a 1-Seed.

Zags’ Talent and Balance

If this year’s team is going to break through in the NCAA Tournament, it’s going to require a talented and balanced team.

Fortunately for Gonzaga, they have plenty of both. They can match up with just about anyone in the country.

The Bulldogs’ strength starts down low. 

The frontcourt tandem of Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris is far more than a handful.

Olynyk (7’0” 238 lbs) leads the team in scoring (18.0 PPG), blocks (1.2 BPG) and shooting percentage (64.9 FG percent).

Elias (6’8” 239 lbs) is the Zags' leading rebounder (7.5 RPG) and the No. 2 scorer (14.5 PPG).

USA Today’s Nicole Auerbach described the transformation that Olynyk has gone through in his time at Gonzaga.

Because he had a seven-inch growth spurt in the middle of high school, his skills had to catch up with his body.

After two less than stellar years coming off the bench, Olynyk decided to redshirt last year to build strength and improve his skills.

Harris is a tough, seasoned veteran, who is ready to go to the boards against anyone.

But Gonzaga is not just a one-dimensional, pound-it-inside team.

The Zags sophomore backcourt, Kevin Pangos (12.0 PPG; 2.7 RPG; 3.4 APG) and Gary Bell, Jr., (9.2 PPG; 2.4 RPG; 2.3 APG) can do a little of everything.

They score from the perimeter or in the lane. They distribute and defend.

Without Pangos and Bell, Jr., the Zags wouldn’t be half as good.

Looking Ahead

It is very possible that Gonzaga could win its last four WCC games, and finish the regular season with a perfect 16-0 conference record.

The Bulldogs will hit the conference tournament at full speed, and will most likely take care of business in Vegas (March 6-11).

And, then, when the Zags lace ‘em up during March Madness, they will dispatch of one team after another, and with a little luck, get to the Final Four in Atlanta.


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