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The Case for Gonzaga to Win the National Championship

Posted on March 30, 2017 by Bernie Stein
After years of coming close, Gonzaga is finally in the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four.

After years of coming close, Gonzaga is finally in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four.

Gonzaga played as close to perfect as perfect as you can imagine in its Elite 8 annihilation of Xavier on Saturday. With the Musketeers on a red-hot run through the first three rounds of the tournament, most pundits figure they’d run out of gas at some point, but a 24-point whipping wasn’t what most had in mind.

The Bulldogs are now two wins away from not just a national championship, but one of the single greatest seasons in NCAA college basketball history. Two wins would get them to 38-1, tying them for the most wins in a single season with Kentucky’s 2012 and 2015 teams and Memphis’s 2008 squad – interestingly enough all three coached by John Calipari.

The Bulldogs’ best number is their +22.3 points per game differential entering the Final Four. Only Duke’s 1998-1999 team had a higher average (25.9 ppg).

The Bulldogs are exciting because they have one of the best inside-outside combinations in the country in junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss and Premek Karnowski. Williams-Goss is the straw who stirs the drink, leading the team in minutes (32.4 per game), points per game (16.7), assists per game (4.6), steals per game (1.8), and free-throw percentage (.882).

How Karnowski responds to the pressure of this round will determine a lot. He’s 7-feet, 1-inch and weighs 300 pounds, but the Bulldogs have won in spite of him so far during the tournament. Against Xavier last weekend, he had just five points and three rebounds and sat a bunch with four fouls. During the tournament, he’s averaging 9.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. He’s not a banger but being that tall should be good for 15 and 8 every game.

The X factors for the Bulldogs are Jordan Mathews and Johnathan Williams, the team’s third- and fourth-leading scorers. Mathews is putting up 10.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, while Williams leads the team in rebounds at 6.6 per game and adds in 10.3 points per contest.

Mathews has been the rock of consistency in the NCAA tournament so far, scoring between 11 and 16 points per game, hitting 11 three-pointers over the course or four games, and adding five steals.

Williams has gotten even better as the tournament has gone on, putting up 13 points and six rebounds against West Virginia, then an incredible performance against Xavier – 19 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, and two steals.

As most people know, this is Gonzaga’s first trip to the Final Four, a long time coming since their Cinderella trip to the Elite 8 in 1999. Mark Few’s final year as an assistant before taking over as head coach that summer.

This marks the first time in 21 years that two Final Four newcomers – Gonzaga and South Carolina – have made the tournament, and it’s even more interesting that they’re playing one another.

And Few is keeping everything in perspective. Someone asked him about cementing his legacy by winning the national title and he brought up his dad, who as a Presbyterian minister for 54 years.

“He saved thousands of souls,” Few said. “He’s helped hundreds and thousands of people through all their tough times, and that’s the kind of legacy that I’m looking at. I’ve got a long ways to go to get to first base living up to that guy’s standard.”

Humble teams have a way of winning big games. That’s perhaps the best quality Gonzaga has going for it right now.

 


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