Let’s face it, a number one ranking in college basketball means squat, especially this season. Indiana, Michigan, Duke, and Louisville have all held the number one ranking only to lose it. Gonzaga might as well be ranked number one when the latest polls are released Monday.
And no one should be angry because of it; they’re 28-2.
Their two losses are against Illinois and at Butler, both bona fide tournament teams. The Bulldogs spanked the Big-12’s West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kansas State. They also beat Baylor, Oklahoma State and Clemson.
Gonzaga has won 20 of their last 21 games, propelled by the play of center Kelly Olynyk. Olynyk has become a household name in college basketball, primarily because of his hair. But hair or not, he can flat out play basketball.
At 7’0”, Olynyk has the size to bang inside, but also has a nice touch from the outside. Because of Gonzaga’s dominance in the West Coast Conference (15-0), Olynyk only averages 25 minutes a game and in those minutes he averages 17.7 points and 7 rebounds.
Each former number one team has an All-American candidate on their team. Indiana has Victor Oladipo, Michigan has Trey Burke, Duke has Mason Plumlee, Louisville has Russ Smith, and Gonzaga has Olynyk. But Gonzaga is much more than their Canadian big man. They have depth, size, experience, coaching, and three-point shooting.
Canadian sophomore guard Kevin Pangos averages 12 points, 3.3 assists, and 2.6 rebounds a game. He also takes great care of the ball, only yielding 1.4 turnovers a contest. Pangos sinks 44.8 percent of his three-pointers, hitting them at the right moment and creating his own scoring opportunities as well.
Elias Harris, a 6’8” forward from Germany, may possess the team’s most important role. Harris averages 14.5 points, 7.4 rebound, and 1.6 assists per game. The 239-pound senior is second all-time in rebounds at Gonzaga (Jerry Vermillion leads with 1,670 rebounds.) Together, Harris and Olynyk provide the Bulldogs with size, energy, and toughness.
No doubt Gonzaga has the size of the nation’s top team, aside from Harris and Olynyk, Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski at 6’9” and 7’1” respectively, give the Bulldogs great size off the bench. Karnowski, a 7’1” freshman from Poland, only plays limited minutes, but is another big body that Mark Few can use.
Guard Gary Bell Jr. averages 8.9 points in 28 minutes a game. Bell plays excellent defense, and is the glue guy who does whatever the team needs to win. Mike Hart starts as a 6’6” guard and he would make anyone’s “no-stats all-star team.” Hart does the little things like take charges, makes the pass that leads to an open shot and his senior leadership is evident.
And then David Stockton, the son of Hall of Famer John, backs up Pangos at point guard. Stockton doesn’t score much, but he controls the offense, makes the right pass, and will knock down the occasional three.
The Bulldogs have the togetherness and toughness that should earn them the right to be the number one team in the country. Not to mention that they also have a slue of quality wins and the best record in the nation.
Gonzaga has been one of the most consistent teams in college basketball since Few took over the program in 1999. Each year since, Gonzaga has made the NCAA Tournament, and even though they have never made the Final Four, this may just be the year they do it.