Gonzaga’s dominance has arrived in a sweeping fashion, but it didn’t happen overnight. This is the team’s 22nd consecutive NCAA Tournament. It has lost six regional semifinals and three regional finals, falling in the big one in 2017.
With the luxury of remaining in its own time zone the whole way, it beat South Dakota State and Northwestern in Salt Lake City, West Virginia, and Xavier in San Jose. Then, it defeated South Carolina in Phoenix in a national semifinal.
In the finale, however, the Zags had a 35-32 halftime lead on North Carolina but wilted in the second twenty minutes and lost, 71-65. It’s as if that single sting has propelled Gonzaga every inch of this season.
Gonzaga -13 vs. Creighton, Total 158, Sunday, 2:10 pm ET
Sports Betting Action: Gonzaga -13
Since beating West Virginia, 87-82, inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on December 2, Gonzaga (28-0) has won 25 consecutive games by at least 10 points. It seems to be on a mission to blast through a season without a defeat, securing the program’s first national championship with aplomb.
|William Hill Sportsbook||Point Spread||Moneyline||Totals|
|Gonzaga||-13 (-115)||-1100||O 158 (-110)|
|Creighton||+13 (-105)||+700||U 158 (-110)|
Setting the Scene Before The Game
The fact this NCAA Tournament’s games are all happening in Indiana, in the backyard of the game’s last undefeated season (the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers), would be a poetic cap to an astounding campaign. That the Bulldogs finished 32-0, too (just like those Hoosiers), added a dash of panache to the masterpiece.
Broadcaster Dan Dakich, an assistant to Coach Bob Knight that ’75-76 season at Indiana, spoke a few weeks ago about how some in Bloomington have been toying with Gonzaga voodoo dolls lately.
In all reality, though, Dakich said he, and fellow lieutenants and players from that squad, do not put much stock, or celebrate, in annually retaining the label of college basketball’s “last undefeated team.” Knight, however, takes it “very seriously,” according to Dakich.
If the Zags finish with a goose egg in that right column, Coach Mark Few should not await a congratulatory call from Knight.
What the Bulldogs do might just be considered unfair.
Senior forward Corey Kispert (66.5%), sophomore forward Drew Timme (66.4%), and junior swingman Joel Ayayi (64.3%) are all among the top 20 in the country in effective field-goal percentage, according to TeamRankings. Repeat that, aloud… three in the top twenty.
Only two other teams sport three such players in the top 100, and Belmont is one of them. The other just happens to be the Zags’ opponent Saturday inside Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Creighton (22-8) has junior forward Christian Bishop (68.4%, second), senior guard Mitch Ballock (59.6%, 67th), and junior guard Marcus Zegarowski (58.1%, 98th), as its top trio.
That is a very good three-headed monster for Creighton, Gonzaga’s just happens to be better.
Creighton shoots 2-pointers very well, too, at 55.9%, 10th-best in the game. Gonzaga is just better. In fact, at 63.6%, the Zags shoot better than everybody else in the country inside the arc.
The Jays shoot well from long range, at 36.5%. The Bulldogs, at 37.3%, are just better.
And at the line, Creighton is a poor 64.3%. Gonzaga shoots an average 73.8% at the stripe, but at nearly 10 percentage points better than the Jays, that’s yet one more area in which the Zags will capitalize.
That the Zags’ formidable trio does not include freshman guard Jalen Suggs is one more major cause of concern for Bluejays coach Greg McDermott. Suggs, a 6-4 freshman from Minneapolis, holds his own at the line and deep, but he’s a lethal 58.3% within the 2-point range. He averages 14.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and nearly two steals.
In club tournaments across the country in his youth, Jalen sometimes played four levels above his age group. He became the first Minnesota athlete to win both its prestigious Mr. Basketball and Mr. Football prep accolades. (Urban Meyer offered him a scholarship to quarterback Ohio State when he was a sophomore in high school.)
When Gonzaga got pressed against Brigham Young in the West Coast Conference title game in Las Vegas, where the Zags trailed by 14, they answered in stunning fashion, as did Suggs.
They outscored BYU 31-15 over the final 10 minutes. Jalen’s two late 3-pointers kept that double-digit victory-margin streak alive.
“When the lights are shining the brightest and more people are watching, I always want to go out and make plays,” Suggs told reporters. “I told coach [Few], ‘We’re not walking out of here without a championship. I’m gonna get it done.’”
He continued, “I kept screaming, ‘It’s March! It’s March!’ I’ve been waiting to play in these moments in March my entire life.”
Undefeated In Indiana?
Forgive Suggs, who turns 20 on June 3, his youthful exuberance. Probably everyone watching these NCAAs feels the same passion for the tournament that always produces such drama and excitement, that was so cruelly canceled just before starting a year ago.
Such a BYU test is a common hiccup experienced, at some point, by teams that go far in the NCAAs. Gonzaga, however, got that scare out of the way on the eve of the grand national tournament.
Since the NCAAs expanded in 1985, three teams began it with undefeated records. UNLV in 1991, Wichita State in 2014, and Kentucky in 2015, however, all got dinged during the tourney.
With Suggs leading an incredibly talented Gonzaga program, that figures to change soon. The Indiana Hoosiers, and a certain coach, might not like it. But it’s unfolding right under their noses, right in their own backyard.