Is Gonzaga a Legitimate Final Four Contender?
The Gonzaga Bulldogs, an 11 seed in this year's NCAA Tournament, have rolled through the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, beating 6-seeded Seton Hall by 16 points and never giving 3-seeded Utah a chance, winning by 23.
Gonzaga's success shouldn't come as too big of a surprise, though. They were ranked ninth in preseason polls, and after an underwhelming season by their standards, they now appear to be in peak form.
Even though they're an 11 seed in this year's tournament, making the Sweet 16 isn't that far-fetched at all. According to our nERD metric -- the number of points we'd expect a team to win by against an average squad on a neutral court -- the Bulldogs are the 19th best team in the nation among all eligible teams with a nERD score of 13.79.
Despite being an 11 seed, things are looking up for the Zags entering the Sweet 16. In fact, our numberFire Live platform has them starting their Sweet 16 contest with 66% win odds.
How far can Gonzaga go?
Two Star Players
The Bulldogs are led by two stars, preseason All-American Kyle Wiltjer and sophomore standout Domantas Sabonis. Wiltjer is averaging 20.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, while Sabonis averages 17.5 points and 11.7 rebounds.
So far in the tournament, Sabonis has been the go-to guy for Gonzaga, averaging 20 points and 13 rebounds. He's been excellent all season, and is actually seventh in the entire country in terms of Win Shares with 7.2. He also attacks the glass very well and has hauled in the fifth most rebounds out of all college players this season.
Sabonis, the son of former NBA player Arvydas Sabonis, is expected to enter the draft this year and is projected to be drafted towards the end of the lottery picks. He's a 6'11'' center that can stretch the floor with his jump shot.
The other main player for the Bulldogs is Kyle Wiltjer. After starting his college career at the University of Kentucky, Wiltjer transferred to Gonzaga and has lead the team the last two years. He's a 6'10'' forward that is deadly from beyond the arc. This year, he's shooting almost six three-pointers a game and is connecting on 43% of them.
Having this kind of firepower is important for teams to go on a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Been There, Done That
Gonzaga has made 18 straight NCAA Tournaments, which is the fifth longest streak ever. Being part of March Madness is nothing new for the Bulldogs.
Mark Few took over the head coaching position in 1999, and he's never missed the big dance. Few has a .809 win percentage, which is the second best win percentage going all the way back to 1950. The only coach ahead of him is Adolph Rupp, and the coach right behind Few is John Wooden.
That's pretty good company to be with.
Few has turned around the Gonzaga program and have made them one of the most successful programs in the game today. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs haven't been able to get passed the Elite Eight in his tenure.
Could this be the year?
Well, in order to get to the Final Four, they'll have to go through Syracuse (again, they're favorites) and then the winner between 1-seeded Virginia and 4-seeded Iowa State. According to our numbers, Virginia would predictably be a tougher matchup, as they have close to a 5-point advantage on Gonzaga in nERD. But if Iowa State is able to pull a Sweet 16 upset, Gonzaga could be in decent shape to make the Final Four -- Iowa State ranks just one spot ahead of the Zags in our nERD rankings.