The Gonzaga men’s basketball team hasn’t fallen short of preseason expectations. In fact, the team might be surpassing the expectations of some people.
With a 15-0 record (hopefully 16-0 by Friday morning, barring any serious slip-ups at Loyla Marymount — fingers crossed), the Zags appear to have earned their Top 5 AP Poll ranking. After defeating the likes of Florida, Washington, Arizona and Tennessee — all teams known to grace the Top 25 — there is no doubt the Zags have proven a deep-benched, veteran team.
However, if the Gonzaga Bulldogs have any kryptonite, it is their own conference: the West Coast Conference (WCC).
That’s not to say the West Coast Conference (WCC) doesn’t boast a few dark horse teams known to give the Zags some trouble. Namely, Saint Mary’s University is currently ranked No. 21 in the current AP poll. Gonzaga travels to the home of the Gaels Saturday, and the match-up shouldn’t be taken lightly. Brigham Young University is also known to put up a fight, and other WCC teams have the capability of knocking the Zags off their undefeated throne.
Still, none of these teams are Duke. They don’t boast the McDonald’s All-Americans of Kentucky, or the size of players in conferences like the Big East or Big 12. None of the WCC teams will likely challenge the Gonzaga men’s basketball team beyond its typical comfort zone. No matter how versatile or experienced the Zags may be, teams in their conference won’t reflect what the team will face come March Madness.
This is not to say Mark Few and his team should brush conference play to the side. They should definitely approach every game with the same intensity it would take to defeat a team of larger caliber — a team they’ll definitely face in the coveted postseason tourney.
Fans have seen this in the past. During the 2012-2013 season, the Zags held the No. 1 spot in the AP poll coming out of conference play, and subsequently couldn’t make it past the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, even as a No. 1-seeded team.
The ranking didn’t reflect the team’s actual skill — it reflected its near-spotless record and handful of skilled players, including immortalized names like Kelly Olynyk and Kevin Pangos.
Compared to the 2012-2013 roster, the current Gonzaga team seems to be exponentially deeper as a result of ramped-up recruiting. This will serve the team well as the season approaches its end. When a starter can take a seat in the middle of the second half and trust their replacement to keep up with the game’s pace, that is a good sign.
The 2016-2017 Gonzaga Bulldogs are that team — provided the long conference-only season doesn’t bog down the Zags’ seemingly unstoppable success.
Ideally, Gonzaga will roll through the WCC and the team will show its true, undefeated colors all the way to the Final Four.
Lyndsie Kiebert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lyndsie_kiebert