Kentucky and Virginia, the top two teams in the nation, have gotten it done this season by staying consistent on defense. No. 3 Gonzaga is no slouch on defense, but it is better known for its offensive prowess. While it’s all but certain that the Bulldogs will reach their 17th-consecutive NCAA Tournament, what makes this West Coast team seem especially strong this season?
Gonzaga has been great for a long time, despite the fact it has never won an NCAA championship. In fact, the Bulldogs have not made it past the Sweet 16 since 1999. But year in, year out, it seems we’re all looking at Gonzaga as one of the top teams in the country. This year, one of the largest reasons for that is superstar senior point guard, Kevin Pangos. Pangos is not only the third most offensively efficient player in college basketball (with a rating of 137.8) but his truly amazing stats are 45.93 percent shooting from beyond the three-point arc, and his 3.5 assists-to-turnover ratio. With his deadly shooting and great ability to get his offense moving, he is a major reason why Gonzaga is so freaking good.
Along with Pangos are seniors Byron Wesley (a USC transfer) and Gary Bell Jr, both averaging more than 10 points per game and 40 percent from behind the three-point arc. This great backcourt is complemented by a frontcourt who also gets it done on offense, led by stretch four junior Kyle Wiltjer, who dropped 45 points on Pacific last Thursday. Wiltjer has a phenomenal ability to take over a game from the power forward spot, simply dominating at inside penetration and rebounding. And while he is not ranked as high as his teammate Pangos, he is 8th nationally in offensive efficiency at 103.2. All of this excellence helps put Gonzaga at their number 1 place in field goal percentage in the country, and 10th in both points scored per game and assists per game.
So Gonzaga is amazing on offense, but you already knew that. What’s going on at the other end of the court?
With this prolific offense, the defense needs only to keep the other team from dominating the ball, and they do that … although the defense did show some flaws on Saturday night against St. Mary’s. Gonzaga ranks 35th in the country in points allowed, but with Wiltjer and 7-foot-1 Prezemek Karnowski leading the way, Gonzaga lands at eighth in rebounds averaging 27.3 per game. This ball control elevated their defense a little bit beyond their normal level of play, letting them get back down to other side of the court where they’re more in control.
With Wiltjer and Pangos leading this team, there is a fantastic shot that Gonzaga makes it into the Elite Eight, and possibly the Final Four too. For Gonzaga fans though, nothing will satisfy except that championship that they’ve missing out on for years.