Gonzaga’s undefeated record has a lot of people swooning but over at Slate, this guy suggests that this could become “the greatest team of all time” and that’s just too foolish not to challenge.
The first thing to say is that we mean no disrespect to the Zags. Mark Few has done something that only a Few could accomplish (sorry): build a tremendous program in what is, in basketball terms, a backwater.
Gonzaga is a relatively small Catholic school in Spokane, a town just about a half-hour west of the Idaho border. Gonzaga made the national radar when Spokane native John Stockton decided to stay home to play college ball and has been good ever since. But Few has made it great which is incredible considering a) its location and b) that it’s in the WCC. We’re not sure anyone else could have achieved this. Okay, maybe Mike Krzyzewski but not many other guys.
So we don't meant to minimize what Gonzaga has done because it demands immense respect.
However, suggesting it could be the greatest team of all time is quite a stretch. Let’s consider what that would mean and who they would have to beat out.
Start with Duke 91-92. Could this team have taken that one? We don’t think so.
How about UNLV ‘90 at its peak. Seems difficult.
How about Bill Walton’s UCLA teams? What about the Alcindor era? Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, was the most dominant player in college history. Go to :17 seconds in and ask yourself: what do you do with that guy?
What about UNC in 1982 with Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins? That teams was a load - and just imagine what would have happened if someone suggested to Jordan that Gonzaga was the best team ever.
Much closer to our era, go back to 2015 when Kentucky was undefeated before Wisconsin knocked them out. That was a great, deep and talented team. Who would you take?
But for a much more interesting notion, consider the Patrick Ewing Georgetown teams.
Those teams were incredibly aggressive and got in your face from the first second to the last.
We don't remember the specifics, but we think that when they played Kentucky in the NCAAs in one year, the Wildcats scored something like four in the second half. Or maybe it just seemed like four. But the main thing is that Georgetown’s defense was ferocious, a bit reminiscent of the ‘85 Bears or peak Mike Tyson in that they often beat people with fear before the game even started.
And also look at the schedule. It’s not Gonzaga’s fault that the WCC is not a top flight conference but that means that most of their games since New Year’s Day have been laughers.
And while Few wisely schedules powerful teams in the non-conference part of the schedule, this year that didn’t work out that great. Kansas was #6 when the teams played but didn’t have a great year. Auburn finished just 13-14. #11 West Virginia gave them a five-point game, #2 Baylor was canceled and Iowa lost by 11. #16 Virginia got notably hammered but keep in mind that that game was a pandemic quickie. If they play again, we expect Virginia to be more prepared.
It’s entirely possible that the Zags get an undefeated national championship. But here’s the potential snag.
In the NCAA tournament, play invariably grows conservative and this is more true the further you go. And it’s also true that, in March and April, great defense usually takes out great offense. So we’ll reserve judgment until Gonzaga actually wins it all.
And finally, this whole tournament, indeed the whole season, has been played under the shadow of a pandemic. Just look down the Top 25:
- #2 Baylor: Affected
- #4 Michigan: Affected
- #11 Kansas: Affected
- #14 Villanova: Affected
- #15 Florida State: Affected
- #16 Virginia: Affected
- #22 Virginia Tech: Affected
Those are just the ranked teams we remember having Covid issues. There are more and any particular bracket could be blown open out at any time with a single positive test.
So yes, Gonzaga is a great team. Yes, they could do something historic. And yes, an undefeated national champion, even in a pandemic, is extraordinary.
But there’s no way that this Gonzaga team is better than all the teams we listed above and because of the nature of this particular tournament, they’ll never be able to truly prove it.