Duke may have the best cadre of NBA talent. Virginia may be more disciplined. North Carolina may have more tradition.
The three No. 1 seeds that are not Gonzaga all have something the Bulldogs don’t. That’s not all they have in common, though.
None are as good, consistently high-level as the ‘Zags.
All of Gonzaga’s powers were on display Thursday as they got up big and then held No. 4 Florida State at bay in a Sweet 16 matchup in Anaheim to claim a 72-58 victory at the Honda Center to move a game away from the program’s second Final Four in three years.
Gonzaga has a brilliant chance to do what that 2017 group couldn’t.
Win a national championship.
With two likely-lottery picks in Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke wreaking havoc on both ends of the floor, dynamic guards like Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell, Jr. and high-level role players like Geno Crandall, Corey Kispert and Killian Tillie (an NBA prospect in his own right demoted due to injury), Gonzaga has the talent, experience and versatility to be the class of the country.
It’s certainly not breaking news, but it’s worth a reminder after a loss to St. Mary’s in the WCC title game brought back the old questions about how built the Zags were for the Big Dance.
It’s hard to picture something constructed in a better position to thrive in March.
Clarke is a two-way force of nature who has become one of the country’s premier players. He scores (15 points), rebounds (12 boards), protects the rim (5 blocks) and can defend in space. He’s basically Zion Williamson West with less-cool-but-pretty-cool dunks (and highest-end NBA potential).
Hachimura, who had 17 points and four rebounds, has been the better NBA prospect of the two, but that’s maybe debatable now. Not because of anything Hachimura has done, though. He’s still a lotto pick. He and Clarke are an incredible duo.
They aren’t alone, though, and it was clear in Gonzaga’s control of the Seminoles, who trailed for all but 11 seconds of the game.
The Bulldogs led by as many as 14 in the first half, but Florida State trimmed it to four in the final minutes of the game before ultimately stopping short of completing the comeback . That’s when Gonzaga ripped off seven-straight points to finish the game. The talent, the experience and let’s not forget Mark Few is pretty good at this coaching thing, too.
Everyone knows Gonzaga is good, but just look at not only what they did to Florida State, but how they got contributions from up and down the lineup. Norvell had 15 points. Perkins had 14 points and five assists. Kispert added seven points while Tillie and Crandall gave boosts off the bench.
Trent Forrest was the only Seminole player to notch double figures, finishing with 20 points on 8 of 11 shooting.
Gonzaga basketball may as well go dormant for two months in the winter during WCC play, but don’t forget this is the team that topped Duke – without Tillie – to win the Maui Invitational. This is the program that hung with the Tar Heels until the end in the 2017 title game.
They’re not Duke, Virginia, North Carolina or any other team left in the field.