Gonzaga Is Among the Best College Basketball Teams This Century
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|
|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|
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.