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Five Reasons The Gonzaga Bulldogs Can Make The Final Four

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Five Reasons The Gonzaga Bulldogs Can Make The Final Four

Gonzaga Bulldogs
James Snook - USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs have become a perennial participant in the NCAA tournament as the premier mid-major program in college basketball. Mark Few has taken the small Jesuit school from Spokane and turned them into a real player in the national landscape of college basketball. And this year they may just have their best team ever and one capable of finally breaking through to the Final Four this March.

Since 1999, the Bulldogs have made the tournament for 14 straight seasons. They have been to five Sweet Sixteens and an Elite Eight as they have established their dominance over the West Coast Conference. This year’s team, however, looks built to make a deeper run than any other Gonzaga team in the program’s run of success.

It takes a special group to make it that far into March Madness. Success in March demands a special combination of skill, depth and more than a little bit of luck to make it through all the very best teams that college basketball has to offer. This group for Gonzaga may be just the one they’ve been waiting for to bust through to that elite next level.

This Zags team has a unique combination of size, experience and explosiveness to make a serious run. Their balance and depth has pushed them to a 16-1 record through their usual rigorous early season schedule. Now they are poised to take another run through the WCC and make a push towards a possible No. 1 seed in the tourney.

So let’s break it down and discuss five reasons why Gonzaga could be heading to the Final Four in 2013.

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5. Size in the frontcourt

Elias Harris Kelly Olynyk
Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

The Zags play four players over 6-foot-8 including a pair of 7-footers giving them incredible size for a mid-major program. More impressive than their overwhelming size and strength is the athleticism of their big men. They are able to pound the ball down low into the post while also beating defenders off the dribble or pulling up for mid-range jumpers.

They’re led by senior Elias Harris who has been a leader on offense all season long, averaging 15.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. 7-footer Kelly Olynyk has emerged as a go-to option on the offensive side of the ball, scoring over 30-points in back-to-back games. They’re platooned with 6-foot-9 Sam Dower and 7-foot -1 freshman Przemek Karnowski to create one of the more formidable front courts in the country.

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4. Offensive Efficiency

Gary Bell
Kelley L. Cox - USA TODAY Sports

When the competition ramps up in the NCAA tournament, you have to be able to count on your offense to come through against tougher defenses. Gonzaga has shown they can score on just about anybody because they are patient and efficient with their offensive possessions.

This season, Gonzaga ranks No. 9 in the country in scoring, averaging 80.8 points per game. They score so much because they find good shots and then knock them down, with a field goal percentage of 51.7 percent. That’s good for No. 3 in the country, and it will take them a very long way come March.

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3. Experience and leadership in the backcourt

Kevin Pangos
Steven Bisig - USA TODAY Sports

The teams that go the furthest in March usually have strong play out of their guards. They’re the ones that touch the ball each and every time down the court and they are responsible for distributing the ball to the rest of the team and driving the offense. The Zags are well taken care of at this position.

The backcourt is led by a pair of sophomores in Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr., but neither of them play like sophomores. Pangos leads the team in minutes played and is a consistent threat from behind the three-point line. His time spent with the Canadian National Team has also helped boost his ability to act as a leader on the floor.

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2. Playmakers off the bench

David Stockton
Kelley L. Cox - USA TODAY Sports

You can’t win a championship with just five guys. There needs to be key contributors that can come in off the bench and log quality minutes in important situations. Mark Few has plenty of talent to plug in throughout the game, which has helped him keep his team fresh and healthy. One of the Bulldogs’ key big men, Karnowski, has only one start this season. But he still has a pair of 20-point efforts this season and provides a serious presence in the post when the Zags want to slow the game down.

In addition, junior guard David Stockton has started only two games this season, but he logs nearly 20 minutes per game and leads the team in steals per game (1.9) and is second in assists (3.3). He was vital for Gonzaga to win their conference opener against the Pepperdine Waves as most of the team came out flat. Stockton came in off the bench and provided a much needed spark that ignited the Zags to the 78-62 win.

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1. Multiple stars

Kelly Olynyk
James Snook - USA TODAY Sports

Just as a team can’t win with just five guys, they also can’t win if they’re carried by just one star player. There has be offensive balance on a team where multiple players can step up and take over a game at any given time. This keeps defenses honest and forces them to guard the whole floor rather than cheating off to one player. Gonzaga enjoys the luxury of three legitimate playmakers.

Coming into the season, Harris would have been considered the go-to option for Gonzaga’s offense. He hasn’t disappointed, putting up 14.9 points per game with a pair of 20-point efforts already this season. Pangos has lit things up from the backcourt, connecting on 42 percent of his three-point shots while averaging 12.4 points per game with four games of 20 points or more and one game where he topped out at 31 in a win over the Baylor Bears. He also leads the team in assists, averaging 3.6 a game.

But the emerging star of this team and the one that makes Gonzaga extremely dangerous in March is Olynyk. The 7-foot Canadian had to sit out the first three games of the season following a redshirt season in 2011-12, but has come on strong for Few since his return. He leads the team in scoring at 18.1 points per game with six 20-plus scoring performances this season. He’s gone over 30-points in the last two games for the Zags, leading them to a pair of conference wins.

This Gonzaga team is built like no other in the history of Gonzaga basketball. They have the size, the skill, the depth and the playmakers to match up with almost anyone in the country. They are by far the best team that Mark Few has had at Gonzaga and could be just the group to finally take the premier mid-major team in college basketball to the Final Four.