Gonzaga entered Monday night time’s nationwide championship sport towards Baylor seeking to change into the first team in additional than 45 years to go unbeaten. Instead, the Bears’ 86-70 victory prevents the Bulldogs from securing a place in college basketball history.
“I never felt like we played with that weight all year,” stated Gonzaga coach Mark Few. “I always felt like we were the aggressor. We just ran into a team tonight where they were the aggressor, clearly. That put us back on our heels on both ends.”
This coronavirus-influenced season didn’t embody the long-awaited breakthrough at the finish of the Bulldogs’ surge to nationwide prominence below Few, who has overseen the program’s metamorphosis from obscure Cinderella to powerhouse.
While lacking the final touch on the nationwide championship, Gonzaga ought to still be celebrated as one of the best groups in men’s NCAA Tournament historical past to not win all of it, even when that is a praise the Bulldogs would care to keep away from.
For a number of reasons, Gonzaga simply ranks amongst the best non-champions. Here’s how the Bulldogs’ résumé stacks up:
Gonzaga nearly went unbeaten
A few teams came close — 1991 UNLV and 2015 Kentucky misplaced in the Final Four — however not since Larry Bird-led Indiana State in 1979 had a team entered the championship sport unbeaten since Indiana accomplished the final excellent season in 1976. For one other yr, the record of applications to go undefeated throughout the event period stays the Hoosiers, UCLA (4 occasions), North Carolina and San Francisco. Perfection is so uncommon in sports activities, particularly in men’s basketball, that an unblemished document assures a team will perpetually be talked about in the identical breath as the biggest in the historical past of the sport.
And almost did so throughout the fashionable event period
Here’s why a long time have handed with no team matching Indiana’s achievement: Because it is onerous! And it is even more durable throughout the fashionable period of the men’s event, which expanded to 64 groups in 1985 and grew to 68 groups in 2011. The Hoosiers’ title got here towards a 32-team bracket. UCLA’s back-to-back unbeaten campaigns in 1971-72 and 1972-73 got here as half of a 25-team subject. Perfect seasons from the Bruins in 1964 and 1966-67, the Tar Heels in 1956-57 and San Francisco in 1955-56 got here with wherever from 22 to 25 groups in the bracket.
Not to say whereas taking part in by COVID-19
Instead of getting used to query Gonzaga’s place in the championship sport, that this team almost ran the desk amid the COVID-19 pandemic solely strengthens the Bulldogs’ credentials. Some of the greatest, most foolproof applications in the sport had been derailed by the coronavirus, most notably Duke and Kentucky. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs weaved by a midseason pause to team actions and did not skip a beat.
The roster is loaded with NBA expertise
The Bulldogs have by no means been brief on expertise. This yr’s team is just the most proficient of Few’s tenure, led by the doable high general choose in the upcoming NBA draft in freshman star Jalen Suggs and one other potential lottery choose in sharpshooting senior Corey Kispert. In truth, the complete beginning 5 is destined for the NBA, with ahead Drew Timme and guards Joel Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard firmly on draft radars. Based on this assortment of established expertise and the underclassmen on the Bulldogs’ roster succesful of blossoming in bigger roles, this Gonzaga roster could look even stronger in the years to return; ultimately, the quantity of gamers on NBA rosters will lend additional help to the Bulldogs’ case for a spot in historical past.
Gonzaga’s been persistently good for 20-plus years
This yr hasn’t been a one-off, in different phrases. Gonzaga has reached the NCAA Tournament in each eligible season since 1999, predating Few’s tenure by one yr, and superior not less than to the Sweet 16 in every of the previous six journeys. The 2016-17 team went 37-2 and reached the championship sport earlier than shedding 71-65 to North Carolina. Last yr’s team was anticipated to be one of the high general seeds and contend for the title earlier than the event was canceled on account of the coronavirus. There’s nothing shocking about this yr’s run at perfection — Gonzaga’s been knocking on the door of this second for many years.
Nothing low cost about 31-1
It’s extraordinarily uncommon for the championship sport to characteristic the high two groups in the preseason Ferris Mowers Coaches Poll. It’s additionally uncommon for the sport to characteristic two groups so clearly forward of the subject: Gonzaga and Baylor entered Monday with a mixed two losses, tied for the fewest of any championship-game matchup. The Bulldogs may’ve been picked clear by the Bears, however one sport would not inform the story of a season’s value of dominance. All however one of Gonzaga’s wins got here by a double-digit margin.
Follow schools reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg