Gonzaga Bulldogs: Are They a Threat for the College Basketball Title?

Ryan BothmannSenior Analyst IIFebruary 27, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 19: Head coach Mark Few of the Gonzaga Bulldogs seen on the sidelines during the game against the Butler Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse on January 19, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Butler defeated Gonzaga 64-63. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Gonzaga Bulldogs have been one of the most interesting teams to watch throughout this college basketball season. The Bulldogs won the Old Spice Classic in late November, which was a major highlight in their 9-0 start to the season.

Illinois then came in and handed a double-digit loss to the Zags on December 8. After that the team won eight more games in a row before suffering a heartbreaking loss to Butler at the buzzer in January.

Gonzaga fell back in the rankings a little bit after that loss to Butler, but now it has risen again. The Bulldogs have won 10 games in a row and need only a win or a St. Mary's loss in the final two games to clinch the outright West Coast regular-season title.

Right now the team is currently ranked No. 2 in the country, behind only Indiana, which was upset Tuesday night by Minnesota. The Zags are also projected to be a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament and could be voted the No. 1 team in the country in the polls next week.

The Bulldogs are 27-2, but they have not been challenged by any elite teams this season because none of them exist on the Gonzaga schedule.

With that being said, what should we expect from Gonzaga once March arrives? Is the team a legitimate national title threat?

You have to give Gonzaga credit. In a season where nearly every team in the country has struggled to win consistently, especially on the road, the Bulldogs have found a way to do so. They are one of only five teams that are undefeated in conference play, and they only have one road loss on the season.

Winning is what it is all about, but there have not been a lot of style points for Gonzaga. Normally, style points are looked at more in college football than they are in college hoops. With Gonzaga's lack of really tough opponents, however, we have to look at style points.

Three of the games that really stand out as unimpressive wins were the games at San Diego, Washington State and San Francisco. All three of those teams have losing records on the season, and it took a long time for Gonzaga to defeat them.

In fact, San Diego had a three-point shot to win the game against Gonzaga in the final seconds, but the shot failed to go down. It also took a shot at the buzzer for Gonzaga to survive Washington State, a team that is currently 2-13 in a very weak Pac-12 Conference.

It is hard to fault a team for winning a close game. We all know that sometimes a team just does not bring its A-game, turning the game into a battle. Still, should a team that just barely wins on the road at San Diego and needs a buzzer-beater to beat Washington State be considered a national title threat?

We have to look at the losses the Zags have suffered as well, though. Gonzaga lost that heartbreaking game at the buzzer to a good Butler team, but it was a tough environment to play in, and Butler has also beaten Indiana on the season. But what about that loss to Illinois?

The Illini came in and scored 85 points against Gonzaga. Granted, Illinois looked like it could beat any team in the country with the way it started the season, but as the season has progressed, fans have learned that Illinois isn't exactly an elite team. It has that ability to be elite, but fails to bring it to the court on an everyday basis.

In the end, it is really difficult to tell what we should expect from Gonzaga in March, but we should not expect the Bulldogs to be a national title contender.

The fact that they can show up and win games on a consistent basis is great for them, but most of the teams they have beaten this season are not NCAA tournament worthy. I do not think that this Gonzaga team is really one of the best teams in the country. It struggles at times against extremely inferior competition, and although it generally comes away with a victory, it is still against inferior competition.

If the Zags do earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, you can expect that they will be the first No. 1 seed gone from the tournament. This team is very good, but that does not cut it. You need to be great to be a serious threat to contend for a national championship.