In a sense, I grew up on Gonzaga basketball. The NCAA tournament was always a month-long holiday in my family, and the Zags were my bread and better. Always coming in at a 7-12 seed, I found out quickly that Gonzaga could hardly be underestimated. In fact, they were a near lock to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. Thus, I grew attached to Gonzaga, rooting for them in every tournament game and even feeling legitimately heartbroken when Adam Morrison’s squad, which was supposed to make a run at the national championship, floundered. However, this Gonzaga squad has a chance to take this program to somewhere it has never been before: the national championship.
For Gonzaga, as is the case with most teams, it all starts with the point guard. This season, as it has been for the past four, that man for Gonzaga is Kevin Pangos. The senior out of Ontario, Canada is a reigning all-conference player in the WCC and has been a consummate floor general all season for the Zags. With Pangos at the helm, Gonzaga should be able to make a deep run in the tournament, potentially the deepest of Pangos’ star-studded career.
However, the talent for Gonzaga hardly stops at Pangos. It goes much deeper than that. Consider their center Przemek Karnowski. At 7’1” 288 pounds, Karnowski is an imposing force in basketball at any level, especially college. Any team that Gonzaga faces in the tournament without a seven footer will be utterly lost defending Karnowski as he ranks among the most dominant big men in college basketball. While his numbers may not jump out at you, his presence on the floor certainly will. I see Karnowski as a pivotal force as the Zags make a run in the NCAA tournament.
The size and skill in the post does not stop there for Gonzaga. In addition to Karnowski, the Zags also boast a pair of 6’10” forwards in Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer, two players who have burst onto the national stage as players to watch in the NCAA. Sabonis is the son of legendary European basketball star Arvydas Sabonis and has adopted the playing style of his father, mixing finesse and strength to score baskets and secure rebounds at an alarming rate. Had Sabonis attended high school in the United States, he likely would have been amongst the most hotly recruited players in the country. Wiltjer found himself amongst those highly-recruited players out of high school, and after a brief stint with the University of Kentucky, he transferred to Gonzaga in search of more playing time. Since transferring, Wiltjer has cemented his place amongst college basketball’s elite, earning a spot as a Wooden finalist and emerging as Gonzaga’s leading scorer. In Wiltjer, Sabonis, and Karnowski, Gonzaga has a rare combination of size and skill that is not often found on college teams playing at the mid major level. It is going to be very difficult for any team in the country to match up with the Zags this season.
With the exception of Kentucky, no team in the country is as talented as Gonzaga this season. With three bigs over 6’10” and a veteran point guard, it’s almost as if the formula for tournament success was explicitly followed by this years’ Zags. When thinking about the past five or so NCAA champions, the theme of talented bigs and veteran point guards seems consistent, which is why it’s no surprise that Gonzaga has done so well this season. I fully expect to see Gonzaga cutting down the nets in early April, and after examining their body of work, you should too.