The Gonzaga Bulldogs continue to work their way up the rankings, yet there is talk of their “struggle” through the West Coast Conference (WCC).
Are the Bulldogs worth the ranking of a top 10 team in the nation? To answer this question is to simply look at other top 10-ranked teams in the nation.
Take the Duke Blue Devils for example. They handed Gonzaga their lowest point total since 1984 in non-conference play. Moving into ACC conference play, Duke was 9-1. As of this date, the Blue Devils are 4-2 in conference play and 16-3 overall.
There are many other teams that have followed a similar pattern, such as UNC, Purdue, and New Mexico, just to name a few.
So, what is the common theme?
First: The Conference Play Factor
It is much different than non-conference play. Teams in the same conference have played many more games against each other than non-conference opponents. Opposing teams know and understand the core of each team and know the players' styles and abilities. This makes it much harder than playing non-conference teams.
Second: The Underdog Factor
Some top teams, such as the Zags, play in a conference with teams that do not match up with their athleticism or talent. When play begins, the underdog has nothing to lose and the other team has everything to lose. Therefore, risks are taken that the top team would not take and if the shots fall, then there becomes an obvious advantage.
Finally: The Tournament Factor
Conference play is much more important towards making it to the NCAA tournament. Teams bring out their A-game during conference play because the fate of their postseason hopes depend on it. Therefore, one can expect the best performance of any team during conference games, especially those that may not get an at-large bid.
So back to the original question: Are the Bulldogs worth the ranking of a top 10 team in the nation?
The answer is most certainly “yes.” While there may be some “struggle” since conference play began, this team has proven themselves with some inexperienced players and continues to post wins. They are 16-3 and 5-0 in WCC play.
While Gonzaga may not post double-digit wins in every game, they are undoubtedly in control of each game and the final outcome. The talent of players such as Elias Harris and Matt Bouldin lead the team to victory in a way few elite players in Gonzaga's past have done.
While The Zags may not post massive wins against conference opponents, look forward to them sweeping the WCC and continuing to move up in the rankings.