As expected, the Gonzaga Bulldogs received a No. 1 seed in the West.
Gonzaga comes into the tournament on a 14-game winning streak. The Zags have not lost since the Butler buzzer-beater on January 19 and have manhandled most opponents in that time.
After a perfect 18-0 record in the WCC, Gonzaga is eager to prove it can play with the best the nation has to offer.
If Gonzaga is going to reach Atlanta and cut down the nets, the Bulldogs will have to play to their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.
Analyzing the West Bracket
Gonzaga drew arguably the easiest No. 2 seed in Ohio State. While the Buckeyes are a dangerous team out of the best conference in college basketball, they do not match up with Gonzaga as well as Duke, Miami or Georgetown would.
New Mexico as the No. 3 team is an intriguing matchup. Both teams have excellent frontcourts, and a potential meeting in the Elite Eight would be a “best in the West” type contest.
Gonzaga could meet either Pittsburgh or Wichita State in its second game. Pitt would appear to be a more dangerous matchup with the likes of Steven Adams patrolling the paint. Gonzaga’s frontcourt has not been tested with as physical a center as Adams.
The Zags have already defeated one team in their bracket. Gonzaga took down the Kansas State Wildcats on December 15 in the Battle for Seattle. The Wildcats fell 68-52, and Gonzaga was able to hold Rodney McGruder to just four points.
The Bulldogs’ biggest threat on their side of the bracket is No. 5 Wisconsin. The Badgers have knocked off some of the top talents the Big Ten has to offer, and their ability to slow a game down could cause Gonzaga grief.
Gonzaga’s Greatest Strengths
Gonzaga boasts one of the best frontcourts in the nation.
Behind the NBA-caliber size and talent of Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris, Gonzaga has truly dominated the paint all season.
The upperclassmen tandem combines for 31.4 PPG and 14.6 RPG.
Olynyk has garnered a lot of national attention this season. His efforts were rewarded recently as he was named a finalist for the Wooden Award along with the likes of Doug McDermott and Victor Oladipo.
Where Harris is a powerful post scorer, Olynyk does his work from the perimeter in. His face-up game as well as his ability to shoot the ball out to the three-point line opens up many facets of Gonzaga’s potent offense.
The Bulldog big men operate well in a high low offense, and as such, they can pick apart both man-to-man and zone defenses. This skill set would come in handy against a team like Ohio State that excels defensively, but likes to play small in the frontcourt.
The Bulldogs are balanced in the backcourt as well.
Guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. combine for 20.7 PPG and each shoot above 39 percent from beyond the arc.
If teams such as Pitt or Wichita State try to pack the lane in, they will risk leaving a pair of guards that have made a combined 123 three pointers open on the perimeter.
Gonzaga’s Greatest Weaknesses
With an undersized backcourt, Gonzaga struggles with guarding bigger, physical guards.
Neither Kevin Pangos nor Gary Bell Jr. stand over 6’1”, and while both are above average on-ball defenders, they can get bullied by more physical guards.
What do Brandon Paul, Pierre Jackson, Marcus Smart and Kevin Foster all have in common? They are all athletic, physical guards who scored over 20 points against the Bulldogs.
This weakness has not gone unnoticed by the likes of Seth Greenberg.
Luckily for Gonzaga, none of the teams on the side of its bracket boast elite guards. Not to take anything away from the likes of Ben Brust or Tray Woodall, but neither are elite scorers or ultra physical.
Gonzaga also has a propensity to fall in love with the jump shot.
While the Bulldogs shoot 50.4 percent from the field, making them the nation’s third-best shooting team, they can settle for jump shots when the post is hard to feed.
The most recent example of this occurred in the win at BYU. The Cougars, known for switching defenses, played an aggressive 2-3 zone that swarmed Kelly Olynyk in the middle.
In that game, Gonzaga shot 30 three-pointers and made just six. Kevin Pangos, who went just 1-12 from beyond the arc, had his worst shooting night of his career.
A team like Wisconsin that likes to slow pace and control the tempo of a game could exploit this weakness. When Gonzaga’s shots are not falling, the Bulldogs tend to try to get out in transition. Against the Badgers, though, Gonzaga will have to be more patient and find better shots.
Most importantly, if Gonzaga is going to survive and advance, it must understand that its greatest strength and best scoring ability lies in its frontcourt.