The Gonzaga Bulldogs finally crossed the threshold. After years of consistently making the NCAA Tournament without interruption, and after several seasons of coming close but still falling short, particularly in a 2015 Elite Eight loss to Duke and a 2016 blown lead in the Sweet 16 to Syracuse, Gonzaga finally made the Final Four for the first time. The Bulldogs had to endure a very close game against West Virginia in the Sweet 16, knocking down clutch free throws in the final minute to survive. When Arizona got upset by Xavier in the Sweet 16, Gonzaga had a great matchup in the Elite Eight and took full advantage of it, going to Phoenix for its first taste of college basketball’s ultimate weekend. The Zags held off South Carolina late in regulation to grab a Final Four win and make their first national championship game under head coach Mark Few. The program shoved away years of pain and disappointment to achieve nearly everything. Only the national championship remained unclaimed, as the Zags fell to North Carolina in a national championship game in which the margin was one point (for North Carolina) with 30 seconds left in regulation.
Now Gonzaga will try to do it all over again, but as one can always expect from a team which made a national championship game, not all of the elite players on the roster are back for another year.
Zach Collins, Przemek Karnowski, Nigel Williams-Goss, and Jordan Mathews are gone. All four players performed a lot of work for the Bulldogs. Collins was an essential part of the Final Four win over South Carolina. He got a lot of positive attention from scouts and made a late and very high run up NBA Draft boards. His size, agility, and his ability to hit perimeter shots made him a lottery pick, something a lot of draft experts were not talking about when the 2017 NCAA Tournament began. Collins became a one-and-done player. More than any other player on last season’s roster, Mark Few expected him to come back. He would have been a monster this year, but now that he is gone, Gonzaga has some very tough choices to make on a thin frontline.
Karnowski was a huge and beefy center who was impossible to dislodge from his spot on the blocks once he attained it. He was able to play over the top of smaller defenders and fend them off with his massive body. There is no one on the 2018 roster who can replace his girth or power to the same extent.
Williams-Goss was the engine of the offense, the player who had the ball and could take big shots whenever the team needed him to. That’s a huge loss. Mathews hit a lot of big jump shots and played tireless perimeter defense. The Zags have a lot of material to replace.
Will Succeed If…
A point guard can emerge on this season’s roster. Quality Gonzaga teams have a stable and steady point guard who can make the rest of the team settle into its established roles. Williams-Goss was that player last season. Now it has to be Josh Perkins, who must find a way to make this offense come together. If he is able to be his best self on the court this season, Gonzaga can still make the NCAA Tournament despite its huge bundle of losses in terms of personnel.
Won’t Succeed If…
Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie don’t evolve. These are the less proven players on the roster, and they had to play table-scrap-level minutes behind all the other, bigger, better players on the 2017 team. Tillie hit one huge free throw at the end of the South Carolina Final Four game, but he barely played otherwise in the NCAA Tournament. These are the added-value pieces which have to fall into place for the Zags to round into form.
Schedule & Outlook
The Zags won’t make a deep NCAA run this year – the Collins departure really hurt them and was the event Few was not expecting as the head coach of the program. However, they can still find enough assorted pieces to get into the NCAA Tournament. The fight will be close.
The 2018 March Madness futures are out. There has been plenty of news to keep up with in the offseason but keep an eye on the betting lines as they move around at Diamond Sportsbook! Get the latest college basketball betting lines right here.
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