For the past four/five years, there has always been some reason why this would be the year that the Gonzaga Bulldogs would not when the West Coast Conference. Whether it be graduations, suspensions, or high expectations for another team in the conference, everyone seems to believe that Gonzaga will finally falter. Of all the teams that I felt might struggle to win the WCC, this edition figured to have the most difficult time. With so many key contributors and leaders graduating at the end of last season, it just felt like this could be the year that one of the other seven teams grabbed the conference crown.
However, as we enter the final weekend of WCC regular season play, the Zags are one win away from clinching the WCC, and two wins away from claiming an outright conference championship. I don't know if it's just me, but I feel like this season has been a statement from Gonzaga to the rest of the conference. No team has been able to put together a season that matches the consistency and excellence that this Gonzaga program brings to the table year-after-year.
Like many Gonzaga fans, winning the WCC is not a big goal that I have for any team entering the season. Obviously, expectations are much higher and the real success of a program is decided in March. But with the regular season coming to an end in the next week, I think we all need to step back and applaud what this group has accomplished and just how impressive this program is. Once Gonzaga gets through this weekend and secures another conference championship, we will turn our thoughts towards March and analyze and discuss what the expectations should be. But until this group cuts down the nets on Saturday night at the MAC, lets enjoy and embrace what an incredible season this team has given us, as it has certainly exceeded my expectations in many ways.In order to lock up the WCC, the Zags need to take care of business against two teams that gave them significant problems earlier in the season. While I'm sure revenge will be on the mind when USF comes to the MAC on Saturday, Gonzaga must first take care of business on Thursday when Santa Clara arrives in Spokane. When these teams met in late January, Gonzaga looked disinterested and lethargic for the first 30 minutes. There was no effort to push the tempo and dictate the game so that it was played at a comfortable pace. The quick tempo and emphasis on the fast break was one of the key things that I loved about the performance against Pepperdine, and I would expect to see this team attempt to dominate the tempo again this weekend.
As I mentioned earlier, establishing the pace and tempo of the game is essential to the success of this team. When this group is pushing the tempo and getting good looks on the fast break, it is a top 10 team. However, when the tempo slows and the team is taken out of its offensive comfort zone, games like LMU and USF happen. So while the ceiling and potential is there for this team to be excellent and a true threat during March, we must also remember that the margin of error is much smaller for this team then in previous years.
I'm sure that I sound like a broken record with what I expect and want to see each time this team takes the court, but that doesn't mean I'm about to change my focus. Meech is doing a much better job of pushing the tempo and controlling his dribble in the half court offense. I want to see a continued focus on this, as well as more of an emphasis on looking for his own points throughout the game. Much like we saw against Pepperdine, Rob Sacre must receive lots of touches to get his confidence back for the NCAA Tournament. When Rob catches the ball and makes a quick move, he can be an effective option on the offensive end. Behind a strong performance from the bench, which hopefully means the starting lineup getting some rest, I expect the Zags to cruise to the 83-59 win.