March Madness is here, and Gonzaga fans may still feel the loss to Baylor in the National Championship last year. They did lose the trio of Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs, and Joel Ayayi to the NBA but gained what most scouts call the number one player in the upcoming NBA draft freshman Chet Holmgren. Although the team did lose two more games than last year, Gonzaga has become a top-three defensive team in the nation to go along with that potent top-three offense. So let’s see why the Bulldogs have a shot at winning it all this year.
Chet Holmgren, more Gobert than Durant
People flocked to Holmgren’s social media after he crossed over Steph Curry at his camp. The 7′ tall forward/center can do anything on the court. I don’t need to do a complete profile on Chet as every Gonzaga fan already knows what he’s capable of, but I’ll touch on it slightly. I will note that he gathers comparisons to Kevin Durant due to his scoring ability and frame, but I see more Rudy Gobert. Holmgren is the heart of this defense despite his slight frame, just as Rudy Gobert is to the Jazz. This year, Holmgren is 4th in blocks per game and leads the nation’s defensive rating at 78.0. As a reference to Holmgren’s impact defensively, he will have the second-best defensive rating in a single season all-time behind Taylor Smith, who set the record at 76.35 in the 2012-2013 season for Stephen F Austin (the stat is measured starting since the 2009-2010 season).
Holmgren’s offense is also tops in the nation. He ranks first in two-point field goal percentage (73.4%), first in effective field goal percentage (68.9%), and second in true shooting percentage (70.4%). Much like Gobert, Holmgren lurks around the rim with perfectly time rolls off screens or handoffs. His basketball IQ is already close to an NBA level, making cuts as he should, almost surprising teammates with how open he is. He still has that slight frame, so he won’t go and dunk over people just yet. I do see a lot of Dirk in his offensive game, in that he’s able to hit the tough fall-aways or pull up from three. Oh, and he’s a freshman.
Gonzaga’s Own Big Three
To go with possibly the most talented player in the country, the Zags have two great leaders in Andrew Nembhard and Drew Timme. Nembhard, a senior, is a great facilitator, leading the West Coast Conference in assists per game at 5.7. He welcomes Chet’s pick and roll game and provides a top-level defense. He’s fourth in the WCC in steals per game, as well as under the 100 DRtg metric, meaning he’s an above-average defender. Drew Timme, the forward/center alongside Holmgren, is in his junior year of college. Between him and Chet, they create the most formidable interior defense in the nation, allowing the country’s lowest two-point field goal percentage at 41.6%. Not only is Timme a great defender, but he’s also perhaps just as valuable as Holmgren overall. Timme is second in the WCC with a 26.7 player efficiency rating. Between Nembhard, Timme, and Chet, this trio is responsible for 75% of the team’s win share. Having three players all produce around the same level, with 11 other players on the team, sounds like a winning formula.
Fast Facts – Offensively
|Category (Per Game)||National Rank|
|2PT FG%||2nd (60.9%)|
|Field Goal %||1st (52.7%)|
|Field Goals Made||1st (32.9)|
|Offensive Rating||1st (119)|
Gonzaga’s interior offense is the best in the nation. Between Holmgren and Timme, it will be challenging for any team to stop them from dropping it in at the rim. Holmgren and Timme also possess the ability to pass out of the post, providing perimeter shooters such as Rasir Bolton and Julian Strawther with open looks, good enough for 20th in the nation in three-point percentage. Another note on the assists, if a team is tops in the league in passing the rock, it tells me that it is a brilliant and unselfish team, something that a championship-caliber squad possesses. They’re also the best offensive-rated and NET-rated team, meaning they have the best offense and best overall team by metrics standards.
Fast Facts – Defensively
|Category (Per Game)||National Rank|
|Defensive 2 Point FG %||1st (41.6%)|
|Defensive Rebounds||1st (32.1)|
|Defensive FG%||3rd (37.9%)|
|Defensive Rating||3rd (88.5)|
|Total Rebounds||4th (41.5)|
Combined with that methodical, unselfish offense is the all-hands-on-deck defense. As I mentioned before, the Zags have the most brutal interior defense, allowing a two-point field goal percentage of 41.6% and an overall field goal percentage of 37.9%. Holmgren, Timme, and Strawther account for over 50% of their team’s defensive rebounds. This team is committed to making the best defensive play possible, turning turnovers and defensive rebounds to fastbreak points at the basket.
Why Will Gonzaga Win It All?
It’s easy enough to have one of the most impactful players in the nation in Chet Holmgren, but the supporting cast is just as important. Senior guard Andrew Nembhard and Junior forward Drew Timme create that sweet “Big Three” that every team wants. To couple those two factors with Zags’ ability to play excellent team offense and team defense, the only opponent they may have a problem with would be themselves. So please give me the Zags +330 to win the NCAA Tournament.