Gonzaga Is Among the Best College Basketball Teams This Century

The nation's last remaining unbeaten team is not just the best this season, but one of the best we've seen in recent memory.

History is being made in Spokane.

Yes, the Gonzaga Bulldogs look like they will be the 29th team ever to go undefeated during the regular season since 1938, but there is so much more going on here.

They are not just winning -- the 28-0 Bulldogs are destroying everything in their path. Gonzaga’s 23.71-point average margin of victory leads the country, and this has increased to 26.3 points per game against West Coast Conference opponents. This would be the largest average margin of victory in conference play since 1999, surpassing the Duke Blue Devils.

But the common refrain here is, “Well, sure, but who have they played?”

Set aside the fact that Gonzaga has played six games against the KenPom Top 50 (including four in non-conference play), because yes, the West Coast Conference has been poor this season; it has more teams ranked 250th or worse at KenPom (four) than the Top 100 (three). The Bulldogs rank in the 53rd percentile nationally in our strength of schedule ratings.

Even if we adjust for schedule, though, the Bulldogs still look like one of the top teams of this young century. Gonzaga tops our opponent-adjusted power ratings with a score that implies they would beat an average team on a neutral court by 20.84 points. This is the 14th-best nERD rating we’ve measured dating back to the 2000-01 season.

And our formula isn’t the only one that likes the Bulldogs. Gonzaga is also the highest rated team at KenPom, with an adjusted efficiency margin of 34.16 (this measures opponent-adjusted net points per 100 possessions). Only three teams have posted a better rating since the 2001-02 season: the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats (+36.9) and the 2008 Kansas Jayhawks (+34.39).

The Teams of the Century

Gonzaga may never be a college hoops blue-blood like North Carolina or Kansas, but this Bulldogs team certainly shares space with these elites among the best teams since the turn of the century.

Year Team nERD Tournament Seed Tournament Result
2001 Duke Blue Devils 25.1 1 Won National Championship
2015 Kentucky Wildcats 22.91 1 Lost in Final Four
2005 North Carolina Tar Heels 22.88 1 Won National Championship
2002 Duke Blue Devils 22.63 1 Lost in Sweet 16
2008 Kansas Jayhawks 21.97 1 Won National Championship
2001 Stanford Cardinal 21.8 1 Lost in Elite Eight
2009 North Carolina Tar Heels 21.34 1 Won National Championship
2007 North Carolina Tar Heels 21.2 1 Lost in the Elite 8
2000 Cincinnati Bearcats 21.14 2 Lost in second round
2004 Duke Blue Devils 21.12 1 Lost in Final Four
2001 Arizona Wildcats 21.1 2 Lost in National Championship
2000 Michigan State Spartans 20.93 1 Won National Championship
2010 Duke Blue Devils 20.92 1 Won National Championship
2017 Gonzaga Bulldogs 20.84 ? ?
2011 Ohio State Buckeyes 20.65 1 Lost in Sweet 16

While this obviously doesn’t guarantee anything, it’s still pretty good company to be in. Nine of the 13 teams with a better rating than Gonzaga reached the Final Four, and six of them won the national title.

A Balanced Attack

Gonzaga also stands out this year for its balance. The Bulldogs are second in the country in our opponent-adjusted offensive efficiency ratings and the best on defense.

At KenPom, their offense has been fifth-best and their defense is second. Only five other teams since the 2001-02 season have been a top-5 squad in both categories.

Year Team KP Offensive Rank KP Defensive Rank Adjusted Net Rating
2008 Kansas 2 1 34.39
2017 Gonzaga 5 2 34.18
2002 Duke 1 1 34.14
2010 Duke 1 5 32.53
2016 Villanova 3 5 32.01
2004 Duke 3 3 31.15

With these numbers in mind, Gonzaga surely looks to be the class of college basketball this year, even if their slate of opponents has been modest. And don’t just take it from me. Take it from Vegas, which made Gonzaga the favorite to win the national championship last week.

Their odds were 6-to-1, so while they are unlikely to win it all relative to the field, they are as good a bet as any one team. We might just see some more history come March.