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BYU spoils No. 1 Gonzaga’s perfect season, but the Zags are still for real

Top-ranked Gonzaga’s dream of an undefeated regular season was ended by BYU on Saturday, but the loss shouldn’t have anyone second-guessing the Bulldogs’ potential.

Wow, how did that happen?

There are lots of answers to this question, but the most obvious one seems to be back-to-back turnovers down the stretch from Gonzaga—though a crucial offensive rebound from BYU to go up four, 75–71, with 17 seconds to play was huge, too. Gonzaga had a chance to make history, but will now enter the postseason—the WCC tournament starts next week—with one loss after falling at home to BYU, 79–71, on Saturday night. Three quick thoughts from the Cougars’ upset:

1. O.K., now do you believe this league isn’t a cakewalk?

29–1 is still a damn good record, to be clear, just like 17–1 (the Zags’ conference record) is. Gonzaga already locked up the WCC regular season title—and with it, the No. 1 seed in the conference tourney—and until Saturday night, did it by beating conference opponents by an average of 28 points. I don’t want to hear that they haven’t played anybody, just like I don’t want to hear that this is proof they’re not ready for a deep run. Gonzaga challenges itself every nonconference; Mark Few will play anyone, anywhere. GU beat Florida, Iowa State and Arizona, among others, in its non-conference schedule. As for WCC play, BYU knows Gonzaga very, very well, as evidenced by the fact that the Cougars have beat GU in Spokane each of the last three seasons. A loss does not diminish what they did for the other 29 games, and does not mean they’re not poised for a deep run.

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2. Gonzaga still deserves a No. 1 seed

The Pac-12 could throw a wrench into seeding if the Ducks win the conference tournament in Vegas in two weeks. Oregon must beat only lowly Oregon State to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament, and if the Ducks roll through their opponents in two weeks they could get some recency biased love from the selection committee. The Zags’ 29–1 mark is still good enough for a No. 1 seed, and likely the one seed in the West Region (surely Gonzaga would rather be a two seed in the west than a one seed elsewhere). But we've seen crazier things happen—like BYU knocking off college basketball's last unbeaten team Saturday night in Spokane.

3. You do not want your team to play Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament

So they lost to their rival, at home, in the last game of the regular season. That does not change the fact that the Bulldogs will be a nightmare matchup for almost everyone else in college basketball. The Zags consistently get stellar guard play from all three starters, led by Washington transfer Nigel Williams-Goss, who is incredibly efficient for a lead guard. He shoots 51% from the field, 36% from three and 91% from the line, while handing out 4.8 assists per game and grabbing 5.6 rebounds per game.

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But the real matchup problems come in the paint, where Gonzaga has two future NBA players in 7-footers Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins. Karnowski​ is the best passing big man in college basketball, and surprisingly light on his feet for 300 pounds. Good luck getting around him inside. Collins is lanky at just 230, but protects the rim well and has the offensive skills to score on anyone. How to stop Gonzaga, one of the most offensively efficient teams in the country, has been a question all season. And now that the Bulldogs lost and will undoubtedly draw a heavy round of “told you they aren’t that good,” they'll be even more determined to make the first Final Four run in program history.