As part of its preview of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. All stats are through Monday, March 16.
Record: 32-2 (17-1 WCC)
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 119.4 (6th)/93.4 (20th)
Seed: South No. 2
Impact player: Kyle Wiltjer, junior, forward. 16.7 ppg, 6 rpg, 128.4 offensive rating
The case for: This is the deepest, most talented Gonzaga team in recent memory, and has the pieces to get all the way to Indianapolis. The Zags don’t waste possessions, ranking fifth in adjusted offensive efficiency according to kenpom.com. They have a player who understands what it takes to win in March (and April) in Kentucky transfer Wiltjer, a member of the Wildcats’ 2012 national championship team.
Wiltjer can score inside with a variety of moves, and stretches defenses, connecting on 47% of his three-point attempts. WCC player of the year Kevin Pangos (11.5 points, five assists per game) is one of, if not the best point guards west of the Rockies, a terrific facilitator who can also drain threes. They’re physical inside with Polish-born, 7’1” Przemek Karnowski opposite Wiltjer. Six-foot-10 freshman Domantas Sabonis, who comes off the bench, can bang with anyone in the paint. Suffocating defender Gary Bell Jr. locks down the perimeter.
The case against: It’s the same argument every year: Gonzaga plays in a bad conference that doesn’t prepare the Bulldogs for March. The WCC was particularly weak this season, with BYU, its only other representative, barely sneaking in via the First Four. Their non-conference schedule wasn’t that impressive, either, because Memphis, SMU and UCLA underachieved early. Big, physical teams with depth will give the Zags problems in March. Their overtime loss at Arizona is forgivable; their loss to BYU in Spokane is puzzling.
Gonzaga hasn’t been rolling through competition the way teams poised for deep runs usually do, either. Besides the BYU loss on Feb. 28, the Bulldogs struggled against San Francisco in the WCC tournament quarterfinals, squeaking by 81-72. That’s a team they should have dominated start to finish. Gonzaga’s backup point guard is sitting on the bench with a busted jaw. What happens if Pangos gets hurt, or in foul trouble? And to add to all this, the program has a history of emotional letdowns in March.
SI prediction: Beat North Dakota State in the Round of 64,