The “Best of the Rest” series has proven to be the kiss of death for highly ranked teams who want to be considered among the elite in college basketball this season. One day after 4 Maryland fell to Penn State, 5 Michigan dropped a road conference game to an Illinois team that is on the verge of becoming a serious contender in the highly competitive Big Ten.
Any time a top five team loses to an unranked opponent, there is cause for excitement. However, the problems with Michigan’s game that were brought to light in the previous “Best of the Rest” should have prepared us to see the Wolverines struggle against the Fighting Illini and their big freshman center Kofi Cockburn.
So much for Michigan. Now, on to the third installment of “Best of the Rest.”
The Bulldogs have put together a nice resume this season. Other than their loss to Michigan in The Battle for Atlantis, they have been perfect, scoring ten wins in eleven games. Among these were impressive showings against then-11 Oregon and then-22 Washington.
While the Michigan loss can help or hurt Gonzaga, depending on the Wolverines future performance, their veteran roster and the fourth-best scoring offense in college basketball will allow the Bulldogs to determine their own fate this season.
Gonzaga can absolutely score. With five players averaging more than ten points per game and two more at 9.7 and 9.9, the Bulldogs have one of the most potent offenses in the country.
An important part of their attack is their remarkable ability to shoot the three. Guards Ryan Woolridge and Joel Ayayi are hitting 58.8 and 39.1 from beyond the arc. Forwards Corey Krispart (41.9%) and Killian Tilley (40.7) are able to stretch opposing defenses with their long-distance game.
The Bulldogs’ three-point accuracy has a brilliant secondary effect. When defenses move to the perimeter to defend the deep shots, they leave forward Filip Petrusev open in the low post. As a result, Petrusev has scored 15.8 points per game.
The Gonzaga defense is a two-edged sword. They can cut defenses from the inside and the outside. What makes this particularly lethal is that they have the experience to know how to adjust and pile up points. There are no one-and-done players on this squad.
This season, Gonzaga has majored in blowing out inferior opponents, but their three games against ranked teams have told a different story.
In the blowout loss to Michigan as well as their wins over Oregon and Washington, the Bulldogs struggled to keep effective big men from scoring. Oregon’s C.J. Walker scored 12 off the bench, Michigan’s John Teske scored 19, and Washington’s Isaiah Stewart scored 21.
Additionally, while Gonzaga has the ability to match scores with any team and pull ahead with the three, they are forced to do this against capable offenses and have a hard time getting stops. If the Bulldogs don’t address their defensive issues, these problems will grow more pronounced as they face every time they face tough competition.
The weakness of Gonzaga’s conference schedule will allow them to dominate; however, each time they encounter a team that is capable of scoring with them, the game will likely go down to the wire. Therefore, it is hard to imagine them rising to the number one ranking this season.