I don’t know whether Gonzaga’s going to get a one-seed. Should they get a one, there will be a lot of reasons given as to why they won’t be able to win six games in a row in the tournament. Of course, 67 of 68 teams will eventually lose in the tournament, so anyone taking a contrary opinion on Gonzaga will ultimately look pretty smart. In fact, unless you’re a strong one-seed in a given year, the chances of even getting to the Final Four are against you. So go ahead and pick against the Zags. It’s the safe bet, even though this may be the best team Mark Few has coached. They’ll almost surely lose at some point.
Taking a more analytical approach, there were a few impressions I left with from last night’s game at BYU. First, Gonzaga not only possesses the rare trait of having front court depth, but they have guys that can expose the opposing team’s lack of it. BYU’s Brandon Davies got in early foul trouble and Bronson Kaufusi fouled out in ten minutes. OK, Kaufusi was trying to foul people, but presumably Davies, a reasonably skilled offensive player, was not.
Not only is Gonzaga deep up front, but between Kelly Olynyk (draws 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes), Przemek Karnowski (5.7), and Elias Harris (6.5) they have players that draw fouls in abundance. So the Bulldogs can sustain foul trouble better than most and they’ll often hurt you if you don’t have depth up front. Dave Rose got creative with offense/defense substituions to squeeze 29 minutes out of Brandon Davies despite two early fouls. Rose’s tricks are something future opponents might want to research because they’re likely to face the issue themselves.
The critics that will safely forecast Gonzaga’s season ending in a loss will point to how BYU’s zone encouraged the Zags to take 30 of their 56 field goal attempts from beyond the arc. Gonzaga doesn’t normally shoot a ton of threes, and it was the first time this season they’ve shot more threes than twos. Which might lead one to believe that Gonzaga will be see a lot of zone from now on. Here’s the thing, though: Kevin Pangos is a 40% career three-point shooter and he went one-for-12.
And it’s not like most of those shots were contested as BYU played what I think was a new version of the box-and-one – with a box around Kelly Olynyk at all times. Pangos is as likely to go 7-for-12 and 1-for-12, and if he’d done the former the game would have gotten ugly. Gonzaga is one of the better outside shooting teams in the land and they went 6-for-30 on threes. Zone was the best option BYU had, but they still needed an off night from Gonzaga to have a chance to win. Even under that scenario, BYU never led.
On a less analytical note, congrats are in order to Mike Hart. He played just enough minutes against BYU to put him over the 40% minutes played threshold, which has allowed him to take over the national lead in offensive rating at 160.3. The trick is that he takes a lower share of his team’s shots (4.8%) while he’s on the floor than all but one qualifying player in the land. He took one in 28 minutes last night. An opposing coach or two apparently loves him. One coach makes the point that Hart never commits turnovers. (No duh, he rarely touches the ball in the offense.) Another quote – “his weaknesses are obvious, but his strengths are invisible”. Is that really a compliment? But Hart is a pesky offensive rebounder and an above average defender. And there’s probably something to be said for just doing those things on a team that has three or four other capable scorers.
Gonzaga didn’t look all that sharp against BYU, but also consider playing BYU on the road is like playing the winner of the 8/9 game on a neutral floor. If Gonzaga’s below-average effort is good enough to get by a round of 32 game without trailing at any point, that doesn’t disqualify them from one-seed worthiness. On the other hand, if you are under the impression that a one-seed’s failure to advance to the Final Four is proof of that team being undeserving of such a seed, you are likely to be vindicated in the case of Gonzaga, or whichever team gets a one-seed in two weeks.