One of our expert college basketball handicappers has close ties to Gonzaga. Read on as he makes his observations on what makes this team different than the hyped Gonzaga teams of past years.
Being a resident of Spokane, Washington in the late 1990's during the rise of Gonzaga from a mid-major Cinderella story to a perennial tournament entrant, I know a bit about the hype that can surround this team. I'm about as close to the school as you can get – hell, my mom attended the university herself. But every year since this team entered the national conversation they have failed to live up to the hype – or to make the Final Four. Is this team really any different than those other teams, even the one that was ranked #1 a few years ago? In short, yes, it is.
Depth in the Front Court
Past Gonzaga teams had a prominent big man, maybe two, who if he had a bad game the team would struggle to win in tough situations. Can you remember the second player next to names like Casey Calvary, Robert Sacre, Adam Morrison, or Kelly Olynyk? Ok, Olynyk also had Domantas Sabonis which is when things started to turn for Gonzaga with big men.
The Bulldogs have their first McDonald's All-American this year in 7' 0” freshman forward, Zach Collins. Instead of having to feature the big freshman, Gonzaga has the opportunity to play him for only 17.2 minutes per game. In those 17 minutes, Collins is putting up 10.6 points and 5.8 rebounds. On top of that, you have 7' 11” senior, Przemek Karnowski, who is playing 22 minutes per game putting up 12.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Let's go ahead and add 6' 10” freshman France-man, Killian Tillie, to the mix as well. We haven't even got to 6' 9” transfer Johnathan Williams and his 10 points and 5.4 rebounds per game over 22.7 minutes. You get the idea.
A Competition for Minutes
Not only is their depth in the front court, and all of the advantages that provide, there is depth in the backcourt. But another aspect of this depth is how it came together for this season at Gonzaga. We have three great transfer talents in Nigel Williams-Goss, Williams, and Jordan Mathews who weren't on the team last year. Each of these players is making their mark with a fresh start, and that comes out in the effort during games.
Gonzaga was a very typical top-dog in a mid-major conference in past years, which was susceptible to poor ATS performances on the road against conference foes. Not so in this campaign as their 11-2 ATS record indicates. I believe that this is a direct result of the competition that the Gonzaga players have for gaining minutes on the floor. Now that they are the #1 team in the country that motivation is only going to increase going forward. There just aren't 3 or 4-star players that have the tendency to let up during a game as there is somebody just as good on the bench.