Conference: West Coast
Record: 26-7 (15-3)
Conference Tournament Seed: 2
NCAA Tournament Seed: 11 (Midwest)
How they got to the Big Dance
Gonzaga’s 85-75 victory over St. Mary’s in the West Coast Conference championship clinched their 18th straight NCAA tournament birth. This is the 4th longest active streak behind Michigan State, Duke and Kansas. The thing is, had they not won, the streak most likely would have come to an end. With an unimpressive résumé, Gonzaga had a small chance of a receiving an at-large bid. But the Bulldogs ended the year hot, winning 12 of their last 14 games, including its conference championship win over St. Mary’s.
Why they will be a Cinderella team
It’s odd to think of Gonzaga as a “Cinderella team,” but here they are. Coach Mark Few has coached in 35 NCAA tournament games and also led his team to an Elite Eight appearance last year, the first of Few’s coaching career. Although Gonzaga hasn’t been as dominant as in recent years, one thing remains the same—they know how to score. The Bulldogs score 79.5 points per game, which ranks 32nd in the country. They have four starters that average double figure points per game; all five starters posted in double figures in their conference championship game, so they have multiple scoring options. The team is also ranked 10th in the nation in defensive rebounding, led by 6-foot-11 sophomore Domantas Sabonis and 6-foot-10 senior Kyle Wiltjer. Opponents of Gonzaga have only cashed in on 30.3 percent of their 3-pointers this season.
Why they won’t be a Cinderella team
Just looking at Gonzaga’s schedule, there is nothing very impressive. The only ranked team they beat all season was No. 18 UConn, who is now a debatable tournament team. They lost all three of their other contests against ranked opponents, including a 31-point loss to SMU. And like always, Gonzaga’s conference schedule is nothing to be excited about. History is also against the bulldogs. Like mentioned above, head coach Mark Few is one of the most underperforming coaches in NCAA history. Last year was only the first time Few led his team to an Elite Eight, a team that had a record of 30-2. Gonzaga has not been impressive in previous tournaments with much better teams.
Player to watch – F Kyle Wiltjer
This may just be the year of the senior. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine and Kansas’s Perry Ellis are all great examples of players leading their team into the tournament. For Gonzaga, it’s Kyle Wiltjer. The 6-foot-10 forward leads his team with 20.7 points per game, while grabbing 6.5 rebounds per game. He also shoots an impressive 49 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from behind the 3-point line. From the free throw line, he sinks 86.7 percent of his shots. There’s nothing this senior can’t do.
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