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MARCH MADNESS: WILL GONZAGA CUT DOWN THE NETS IN 2021?

The last time we had an undefeated national champion was in 1975-76 season with the Indiana Hoosiers. And the last time we didn’t have Duke and Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament was 1975-76. For those that believe in coincidences, Gonzaga enters the tournament 26-0 and is favored to win it all. Let’s take a look. 

Team Strengths
Most teams have one particular strength that identifies their greatness. Gonzaga’s strength is that they have no weakness. Gonzaga’s offense is an unstoppable force. Not only did they average the most points out of any team, they make more shots than they miss and have the best shooting percentage from inside-the-arc as well at a 63.9% clip. Gonzaga’s roster has a mix of everything, led by leading scorer and sharpshooting senior Corey Kispert and anchored by top NBA prospect and freshman floor general Jalen Suggs. They have also received significant contributions from crafty sophomore big Drew Timme and lengthy junior guard Joel Ayayi.
The Zags are playing at one of the fastest paces in college basketball, with short, efficient possessions. The results have been outstanding as the Bulldogs are simply blowing teams out, outscoring opponents by more than 30.3 points per 100 possessions, the best mark among all D-I teams.

Challenges This Year?
Gonzaga coach Mark Few wanted a very difficult non-conference schedule to show how good this team is and they proved they can handle the best of the best of Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa, Virginia, and defeating BYU two times. However, Gonzaga did get challenged somewhat in the WCC championship game against BYU. While they were 25-0 at the time, it was a blessing in disguise as it showed how the Zags could handle some adversity and not fall apart and go on to win. One of their upcoming tournament games is bound to challenge them but they can outlast any team, and their starting five is the best group of starters in the nation. Their biggest challenge comes from within to prove they are as great as their conference 5 counterparts. Let’s expect them to be playing with a chip on their shoulder to prove just how elite they are.

Team Weaknesses
The Zags basically go six players deep because of a surprising lack of depth. Most of their starters play around 28-30 minutes and playing two games in three days could possibly be tiring the deeper they go. If they face a team that forces fouls, they could find themselves in trouble if they need to sit some starters who are in foul trouble. The Zags have shown they can overcome this very weak obstacles. If we’re grasping for straws, Gonzaga is a bit dependent on interior scoring as 58.3% of the team’s points come from inside-the-arc. That’s barely a problem. If they face a big physical team that challenges them down low, they could have some trouble scoring. Teams like Iowa, Texas Tech, Florida State, and Maryland all boast solid interior defense. 

Why They’ll Cut Down the Nets
This team hands down should be AND is the tournament favorite. Consider this: In 2015, the Kentucky team was one of the best college basketball teams of all time. They came in with an Adjusted Efficiency Margin of 37.43 pre-tourney, clearly three points ahead of the second-ranked team. Currently, 
Gonzaga holds an AEM of 38.05, almost six points ahead of the second-best team. The Zags are ranked better than the 2015 Kentucky team and even further ahead of the rest of the field. Don’t expect Gonzaga to be challenged until the Sweet 16 at the earliest. They are incredibly consistent and are not prone to upsets. 

Why They Won’t Win it All
Great teams have been toppled before during March Madness (Arizona brings in memories). The madness is rarely after the first two rounds. And no team will test them ahead of the sweet 16. Then Baylor, Michigan, and Illinois, all elite teams, can offer challenges to the Bulldogs in the Final Four or championship game. It will be tough, but it has been a while since Gonzaga has seen a top-10 team, so they could absolutely be surprised by one or experience an off night. 

March Madness Prediction
With a team as talented as Gonzaga, it almost seems like reaching the Elite Eight is the floor for them. It is chalky to pick them as a champion, but there is a reason for that. This is absolutely the best team in the tournament, and they are my championship pick. In a season defined by uncertainty, the one constant has been the dominance of this Gonzaga program. Under head coach Mark Few, the Bulldogs have recorded the best offense in the NCAA and have a top-ten defense as well and it’s no fluke they are undefeated.  
We’ll see how well they can hold up when they are facing tougher competition, as their strength of schedule is still relatively mid-level thus far. But all signs point to this team as the most likely to cut down the nets in a few weeks.

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