The Gonzaga Bulldogs nearly completed an undefeated regular season, but even with one blemish on their record they were able to prove enough to get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in program history. Now the question is whether the Zags can make good on what that No. 1 seed suggests – that they’re one of the four best teams in the nation, something that will require them to reach the Final Four for the first time, which they’ve never done in their 19 previous tournament appearances.
In anybody has a good handle on how this version of the Bulldogs stacks up against the others, it would be former Gonzaga great and current college basketball analyst Dan Dickau. Talking to “Brock and Salk” ahead of Gonzaga’s tournament opener against 16th-seeded South Dakota State on Thursday, Dickau explained why he’s sold on the idea that the Zags will make their longest run ever in the tournament.
“The ability that they have to play and win in different styles is something that most Gonzaga teams haven’t had,” Dickau said. “My teams, Adam Morrison’s teams, for the most part we were gonna try to outscore you, and we were pretty good at it. This team, if they hit a lull offensively … defensively they can change up the game.”
Defense has been significant for Gonzaga throughout the season, something that bears out by the fact that it has held opponents to just 61.2 points per game, which ranks seventh in the nation. Couple that with the Bulldogs’ average of 84.6 points per game (13th in Division I), and it’s easy to see why the Zags swept up trophies in a preseason tournament, the regular season and the West Coast Conference tournament.
“That’s something that you can have in your back pocket when push comes to shove during the NCAA Tournament,” Dickau said of the Bulldogs’ defense, “because you know you’re always gonna hit some kind of adversity in the NCAA Tournament and it’s a matter of how you respond to that.”
Something else Gonzaga has in its back pocket are the three titles it picked up along the way to the tournament, which Dickau said is an important part of how head coach Mark Few looks to prepare his team for the gauntlet that is the big dance.
“The goal never was to have an undefeated season. The goal was to win championships, and for Gonzaga, the way they break it up is play in a preseason tournament and win a championship, where you’re gonna play either three games in three days or three games in four days to kinda simulate a conference tournament or the NCAA tournament,” he said. “And then it’s to win a conference regular season title – they did that. And then win a league tournament title, and they did that. So right now they’re 3 for 3.”
And while it’s easy to focus on the one loss the Zags suffered, which came on Feb. 25 to BYU, it’s the way they racked up their 32 wins that has Dickau believing Gonzaga will finally break through and get to the national semifinals.
“They continued to improve and jell and handle all obstacles that came in their way (during the regular season), and when that happens you stay undefeated,” he said. “(But) you can’t expect to play a perfect season, and the one game they happened to not play a perfect game, BYU played very well. … Gonzaga just was out of sorts offensively during certain stretches. But that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that this is an unbelievably balanced basketball team that I think is going to make their first Final Four.”