Five Reasons Why Gonzaga Will Flounder in the NCAA Tournament
Five Reasons Why Gonzaga Will Flounder in the NCAA Tournament
On Monday, the Gonzaga Bulldogs earned the No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25 for the first time in school history.The Zags are currently 29-2 on the season and are undefeated in West Cost Conference play. While the overall talent level in the WCC is limited, the Bulldogs have absolutely dominated in conference play, winning each game by an average of 19.4 points.
With the No. 1 ranking, Gonzaga's status as the premier team in the nation has been highly criticized. Head coach Mark Few and his Bulldogs will be looking to prove themselves in the NCAA Tournament this March.
”We still have a lot more to accomplish starting this weekend in Las Vegas and moving forward to the NCAA tournament,” Few said in an Associated Press story. ”We’re looking forward to the rest of the season and making it last as long as we can.”
The Zags will enter the NCAA Tournament after securing their 13th consecutive WCC regular season title, but Few's teams have really struggled in the postseason throughout his tenure. While the Zags have made the tourney 13 years in a row, they have failed to get past the Sweet Sixteen and have lost in the first round on three different occasions.
Check out the breakdown of Gonzaga's weaknesses and what will cause them to flounder in this year's NCAA Tournament:
No. 1: The Tournament History of Mark Few
The NCAA Tournament record of head coach Mark Few provides valuable insight into Gonzaga's postseason fate. Since 2001, Few’s Bulldogs have made it to the NCAA Tournament every year, but have advanced past the second round only two times, losing in the first round on three different occasions.
Few’s Zags have dominated the WCC since he was hired as head coach and have won 12 consecutive regular season titles. This raises the question: does Gonzaga excel in the regular season simply because of the competition level in the WCC? Few has coached 31 games in the NCAA Tournament and the Zags have an average scoring margin of just 0.7 points. In his tenure, the Bulldogs have been a No. 4 seed or higher four times, yet they have never made it past the Sweet Sixteen.
With Few as the head coach, the Bulldogs have been absolute busts in the NCAA Tournament. This trend has been magnified over the past three years. The Zags have been blown out in the Round of 32 three years in a row, losing by an average margin of 17 points. Simply put, Gonzaga has a history of flopping in the tourney and this trend will continue with an early loss in March.
No. 2: The Bulldog's Porous Perimeter Defense
In their biggest games, the Bulldogs’ major weakness has been their inability to defend out to the perimeter. In Gonzaga’s eight games against teams rated in the Top 68 nationally in BPI, its opponents converted on 41.4 percent of their attempts from the long range. Furthermore, in the Zags' three matchups with teams ranked in the AP Top 25, their opposition shot 41.1 percent from behind the arc.
Gonzaga’s first loss of the season was to then-No. 13 Illinois on Dec. 8. The Fighting Illini’s star Brandon Paul went off for 35 points, including five of nine from three-point range.
As is true for the entire field of 68 teams, the Bulldogs' success in the NCAA Tournament will be dependent on the matchups they draw. If the Zags go up against a team that can spread the floor and light up the scoreboard, Few’s squad could be going home early.
No. 3: The Zags' Inconsistency From Three-Point Range
Offensively, the Zags' biggest weakness has been their inconsistency from behind the arc, especially in big games. In the Zag's three matchups with Top 25 teams, Mark Few's squad has gone 15 for 48 (31.2 percent) from three-point range. In Gonzaga’s five games against teams rated in the Top 50 nationally in BPI, the Bulldogs have connected on only 24 of their 82 attempts (29.2 percent) from long-range.
In Gonzaga's two losses this season, the major reason has been their inability to knock down shots from the perimeter. In the two games, the Zags shot just 9 for 22 (28.1 percent) from deep.
If the Bulldogs are matched up with a team that can defend out to the perimeter, the Zags will struggle to find consistent offense. While Gonzaga has the length and skill to score from anywhere on the court, its inability to knock down long-range shots in big games will be a major weakness as the tourney progresses.
No. 4: The Streaky Shooting of Kevin Pangos
Billed as the “next Steve Nash,” Kevin Pangos is a sweet-shooting Canadian who can fill up the stat sheet. However, Gonzaga’s lead guard has been frustratingly inconsistent throughout his sophomore year.
Pangos has scored double figures in 16 of Gonzaga’s 31 games this season, but his longest streak of double digit scoring totals is only three games. Shooting 42 percent from long-range on the season, he is the Zags’ best long-range shooter, but his inconsistency on the offensive end has been the major reason for Gonzaga’s (limited) struggles.
In Gonzaga’s six games decided by five points or less, Pangos has gone 24 for 66 (36.3 percent) from the floor while connecting on only 12 of his 38 (31.5 percent) attempts from beyond the arc and taking an average of 10.5 shots per game. To compare, in Gonzaga’s 25 games decided by six points or more, he is shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 45.9 percent from three-point range while averaging only 8.6 shot attempts per contest.
The shooting touch of Pangos will be one of the major factors in Gonzaga’s run in the Big Dance. If he struggles to get going, look for his usage rate to increase and the Bulldogs' offense to struggle as a result. If his jump shot isn’t dropping, look for the Zags to get knocked out by the first weekend.
No. 5: The Turnover Woes of Gonzaga's Big Men
While it is a limited sample size, Gonzaga has really struggled with its ball security against ranked opponents. In the Zags' three games against Top 25 teams, they have turned the ball over an average of 12.6 times per game. Surprisingly, the Zags’ big men have been the major culprits and starting forwards Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk are currently leading the team in turnovers.
Olynyk, a redshirt junior averaging 17.7 points per game, has become one of the nation’s most consistent scorers, but has struggled handling the ball on the perimeter. The 7-footer is currently averaging a team-high 2.4 turnovers per game and has turned the ball three times or more in 11 of his 28 games played.
The Zags' turnover woes will be a major weakness as they get deeper into the tourney, especially when Gonzaga is pitted against an athletic frontcourt who can match up with the size of Olynyk and the strength of Harris. The inability of Olynyk and Harris to handle the ball on the perimeter will be a significant issue and one of the main reasons the Zags will flounder in the NCAA Tournament.