March Madness has come and gone yet again, and it is hard not to feel disappointed after another tournament where Gonzaga has come up short. Sure, it feels good that the Bulldogs won in the Final Four, went to the National Championship, and proved to be one of the top teams in college basketball. But after their second trip to the championship game and their second loss, this time in a truly embarrassing fashion, it is hard to feel still confident that this program will ever win the big game.
We can only hope that they will, but that hope is starting to fade. Coming in undefeated, I now think this was a huge disadvantage for the Dogs. Outside of a tough game against BYU where they trailed and the small deficit they faced against UCLA at one point last Saturday, Mark Few’s squad did not have to experience many moments where they found themselves in a hole. Had they faced more holes, more comeback situations, then maybe they would have had a better shot at pulling off something amazing, but instead, they came up way short. 16 points short.
Many critics immediately came out against Gonzaga and said that maybe they had been frauds all along. I’m afraid I have to disagree with that in even the slightest. I think Gonzaga came up against a Baylor team that was incredibly dominant and played two sides of the court extremely well. But to call a team that had not lost a game at any point in the season overrated is absolutely insane.
David Malitz of the Washington Post said this about Gonzaga, “Gonzaga is a great team who had a great season, no disrespect to them. But I’m pretty sure this spectacular Baylor team would’ve also been undefeated if Pepperdine and BYU were the big games on their conference schedule.”
Sure I get where he is coming from but is the reason they play in that conference why they lost by 16 in the championship game? Absolutely not. And it isn’t like Gonzaga dodges big names during the season. On December 5, they were actually scheduled to play Baylor, but the Bears had to pull out after a COVID-19 outbreak. So this isn’t an issue over the WCC conversation that says Gonzaga will never be great because they play in that conference. At the end of the day, they can’t do much about it. They are a school without a football program, and without that, how can they ever make a case to be in the Pac-12 or any Power 5 conference?
I tend to lean more with this opinion from Dan Wolken of USA Today Sports, “Baylor was the best team all season. The COVID pause could have derailed them, but they had just enough time to find themselves again.”
I think that is entirely true. The Baylor Bears were unstoppable from three, they played excellent defense, and maybe most importantly, they knocked the air out of the Bulldogs just minutes into the game. It didn’t take long for the Bears to absolutely take over the momentum and the charge of that game. For a team to truly compete in a game like that, they have to stay in it from the star, and Gonzaga could not do that.
But that is all in the past now. The game is over, the season is over, and the hope of an undefeated season is dead. Maybe that is harsh, but that is the truth, and you’ve just got to swallow that and move on. But what may concern me the most is the future. After another trip to the championship game with maybe Mark Few’s most talented team ever, doubts start to creep in. Will Gonzaga ever win a National Championship?
I think it may be crazy to think that the Bulldogs aren’t going to be a contender for a very long time in the NCAA Tournament. Mark Few’s success and the way he has built that program, and how he can recruit overseas show that this program is not folding or going away anytime soon. As long as Mark Few is the coach at Gonzaga, they will have sustained success. I think the best two options for him at this point were to leave for Oregon, which he didn’t, or to leave for UNC; he wasn’t even offered the job. Maybe Duke will come calling one day for Few, but I don’t see him leaving to fill another person’s legacy.
Next year, Few has recruited the 32nd best class in the NCAA. Don’t fret though, that number will go up, and the rankings don’t really matter in Gonzaga’s eyes. First, they have the second-best combo guard in the country coming to them that can replace Jalen Suggs but also, it is the coaching that Few does so well at Gonzaga. It is the fact that he doesn’t have a roster filled with one-and-done guys, maybe just one at the most on most of his rosters.
Gonzaga has a great chance to be back in the Final Four in a year or two, just given how stacked they already are, how stacked they will be, and the fact that Mark Few isn’t going anywhere. Sure it sucks that they came so close and couldn’t finish it off this time around, but Few will get another crack at it. Few is 58-years-old which means he probably has at least another 12 years at the helm, and I imagine that he will be at least a few title games before that.
For Gonzaga to get more prepared for a National Championship game, I’m not sure what more they can do. It isn’t like the soft WCC schedule is the toughest they play. This past year, they either played or had scheduled Iowa, Auburn, West Virginia, Baylor, and Virginia. Maybe they need the WCC to get better, so that level of competition stays at a higher level throughout the year, but I don’t think it is a cushy level that hurts them.
The time will eventually come for Gonzaga, and I am not concerned about them not winning it all.