Gonzaga Basketball: Zags Have the Talent to Win National Title

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Gonzaga Basketball: Zags Have the Talent to Win National Title
David Becker/Getty Images

"Gonzaga plays in the WCC." "Gonzaga hasn't beaten anyone good." "Gonzaga would be the worst team in the history of teams if it played in the Big Ten." "I can't even pronounce Gonzaga."

"Yadda yadda yadda, Gonzaga is one of the most overrated and undeserving No. 1 seeds of all time."

Those are all things you have heard—and will probably hear a lot more over the next few days—since the Gonzaga Bulldogs, the mighty Jesuit powerhouse from Spokane, Wash., claimed the No. 1 spot at the beginning of March.

And they are all ridiculous, unsubstantiated, irrelevant claims that couldn't be more cockamamie and couldn't represent the Zags' gaudy overall talent any less. 

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This is a legitimate national championship contender, and one only needs to check out the product on the hardwood to be convinced of that. 

No one in America has a frontcourt that is as imposing or versatile as Gonzaga's. 

Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris are NBA-caliber big men. They have elite size, rare athletic ability, can run the court, can score from anywhere on the floor and, most importantly, are efficient.

The 7'0" Olynyk is third in America in points per 40 minutes, third in points per shot and sixth in effective field-goal percentage. Harris has seen his outside shot betray him this year, but he's still a force down low who pours in 57.5 percent of his two-point attempts. 

Throw in hard-nosed Sam Dower and skilled seven-footer Przemek Karnowski off the bench, and you have a dangerous, overpowering group of bigs. 

Of course, no team will make it to the Georgia Dome without consistent, productive guard play, either. 

Once again, Gonzaga's resume checks out.

Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell don't always light up the scoreboard, but Pangos, who has anywhere-on-the-court range, can heat up from the outside faster than a microwave, and Bell is an electric athlete who has shot the lights out over the past 12 games (49.1 percent from deep). 

Even more important to the team's success, both guards take extremely good care of the ball. They combine for 133 assists (4.2 per game), 73 steals (2.3 per game) and just 85 turnovers (2.7 per game).

Gonzaga's overall turnover rate ranks 38th in the nation. 

Finally, doer-of-everything-but-scoring Mike Hart and David Stockton, an elite floor general with vision like his daddy, complete one of the most uniquely talented eight-man rotations in all of college basketball.

The Zags could have beaten Southern Utah 31 times, and that would still hold true. 

David Becker/Getty Images
Hart, a 6'6" former walk-on, held All-conference point guard Matthew Dellavedova to 2 points on 1-of-8 shooting in the WCC title game

But results matter too, and that's where the critics will attempt to pick apart Gonzaga. 

Nevermind the fact Mark Few's squad beat Kansas State on a neutral court by 16, beat Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State on the road in a nail-biter, beat Oklahoma on a neutral court by 25(!), beat St. Mary's three times, beat Davidson on a neutral court by 14 and beat Pacific by 18.

That's six tournament teams, if you lost count.

But yeah, by all means, discredit the Zags for a one-point loss at Butler and an 11-point home loss to Illinois, a team that also beat one-seed Indiana and two-seed Ohio State this season. 

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If Gonzaga's conference is still scaring you off and you still believe the Zags are a mid-major despite the last 14 years of evidence suggesting otherwise, consider the last two top seeds that came from a non-power conference.

In 2009, Memphis zoomed to the national title game, and if not for Derrick Rose's free-throw shooting and Mario Chalmers' heroics, the Tigers would have won it all. 

In 2004, St. Joseph's worked its way to the Elite Eight and fell by two to No. 2 Oklahoma State.

Mid-majors, schmid-schmajors. 

Gonzaga will undoubtedly be one of the most popular upset picks this week, but if you are interested in winning your office pool, I implore you to think otherwise.

The last four months of basketball, the 33 games, the impressive wins, the Wooden Player of the Year finalist contributions by Olynyk, the elite production from everyone else and the history of teams in Gonzaga's position haven't all been some random mirage. 

 

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