On Monday, the Zags were elevated to the No. 1 ranking by both the AP voters and the coaches in two separate polls. The Zags are also ranked No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings. Overall, right now, life is good as a Bulldog.
It is the second time in school history that the Gonzaga Bulldogs have climbed to the top of the mountain. The last time, the Zags were led by Kelly Olynyk in 2013 to the No. 1 ranking.
It was four years ago, and there are two holdovers from that 2013 squad currently on the 2017 squad: Przemek Karnowski and Rem Bakamus. Now, solely based off the efficiency rankings, this year’s squad would appear to be better than the 2013 squad. But the 2013 squad had a better offense, just not the defense to go with it.
In a head to head matchup, however, which team would win out? That is the real question of the day.
Center: Kelly Olynyk vs. Przemek Karnowski
Ugh. Already, right off the bat, we have a conversation I don’t want to even have. Karnowski is having a fine year, and is one of the best defensive big men in the nation (and without a doubt the best defensive big man Gonzaga has ever seen). But...Kelly Olynyk.
2013 was the year of the now ubiquitous Olynyk Clinic. Olynyk averaged 17.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, all while shooting 62.9 percent from the floor. Olynyk could stretch defenses with his range and punish them in the post with his moves.
Karnowski is much less flashy and has less of a ceiling than Olynyk. But Karnowski is also one of those players who makes everyone around him better. He is one of the better passing big men in the nation and he locks down the post on the defensive end with authority, allowing the Zags to easily operate between zone and man-to-man defenses.
Like all of these matchups, I’m afraid, it’ll be an apples and oranges type scenario. But in this case, Kelly Olynyk has to win out. Although Olynyk’s defense isn’t as good, his offensive potential is just too hard to pass up.
Power Forward: Elias Harris vs. Johnathan Williams
2013 was the final year of Harris’ illustrious collegiate career, and he had much of a game that resembles Williams. Both players have similar physical statures: slightly undersized at their position, in which they make up for that with an aggressive mentality down low.
Both players have range, and both players have a knack for the rebound. But Harris was just a bit better and more athletic than Williams is. Harris is the second-best rebounder in school history, and he had the explosiveness on offense to back it up.
Small Forward: uhhhhhhhhh vs. Jordan Mathews
Alright, so by default, Jordan Mathews is going to win out, because one of the more interesting things about the 2012-13 Gonzaga Bulldogs is Mark Few tried out a whole hell of a lot of lineups as he tried to find out what worked. Sam Dower started out a bunch of games, so did Guy Landri-Edi. In the end, it was Mike Hart who had worked his way into the starting lineup, but he only did that towards the tail end of the season.
Mathews has hardly been a revelation, because he averages 10.5 points and shoots 39 percent from long range. Somehow, on this 2017 squad, that seems borderline pedestrian. But Mathews has been a rock as the fifth member of this starting lineup, and his ability to defend the wing and be a threat from long range helps elevate the inside game as well.
Shooting Guard: Gary Bell Jr. vs. Josh Perkins
This matchup is interesting: a sophomore version of GBJ with the sophomore Perkins, and both players provided a very different skill set to their respective teams. Remember, the 2012-13 Gonzaga Bulldogs were so skilled in the front court, they didn’t need to have a backcourt to carry most of the games. The overall game plan was keep the defenses honest by hitting your shots and shovel the ball down low.
Bell did that, and he was also called on as the team’s top defender, which has always placed a bit of a damper on his overall offensive stats. Perkins on the other hand is sharing the point guard duties with Nigel Williams-Goss, and his ability to operate off the ball this season has greatly improved his overall play.
The interesting thing here is this position seems like it could be a toss-up. But, as of now, it seems like Perkins is a better player because he is made better by Nigel Williams-Goss. Bell had a similar situation standing next to Kevin Pangos, but overall, I think he is also the better all-around player.
Point Guard: Kevin Pangos vs. Nigel Williams-Goss
Another tough one, because NWG is the face of one of the best teams in basketball, and he just happens to run up against one of the best point guards the Bulldogs have ever had. But here is the kicker: this is sophomore version of Pangos. Like Bell, Pangos wasn’t required to do too much of his scoring his sophomore year because Olynyk and Harris were just a two-man wrecking crew down low.
Pangos was definitely good, but he didn’t have to be that much better. Theoretically, the same can almost be said for NWG. The Zags have so many weapons this season that Williams-Goss isn’t necessarily required to be better, he just is playing that way. NWG has a bit more of a killer instinct than Pangos had, and if you have to take one of the two seasons, I’d stick with our starting point guard.
Bench: A bunch of people vs. a bunch of people
This one is kind of a no brainer. Let’s just compare the names of the Zags from each season.
- 2013: David Stockton, Drew Barham, Sam Dower, Mike Hart, Guy Landri-Edi
- 2017: Silas Melson, Zach Collins, Killian Tillie, Bryan Alberts, Rui Hachimura
This year’s version of the Zags first men off the bench are Silas Melson and Zach Collins (RIP Killian), who basically would be starters on probably 50-60 percent of all the other college teams out there. This one is a no brainer. Gonzaga is undefeated for a lot of reasons, but one of the big ones is the production and quality minutes they get out of players six through eight.
Coach: 2013 Mark Few vs. 2017 Mark Few
Mark Few has always been in a tough spot in Spokane, or so the Internet would have you believe. For as much success as he has had building up the Zags program, there are plenty of people out there who think he has reached his limit, and are more than willing to drive that point home over and over and over and over and over and over again.
The fact of the matter is armchair coaching staffs will always exist, but this year, you are hard pressed to point out fundamental flaws in Few’s design. The Zags are undefeated because of their preparation and because of their execution. It isn’t easy to keep your players heads out of the clouds, but Few has appeared to do that so far. Plus, considering the following players have never played a Gonzaga game before and are seeing meaningful minutes this season: Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews, Johnathan Williams, Killian Tillie, Zach Collins and Rui Hachimura. That is a lot of turnover. The 2017 version of Mark Few definitely deserves to be a Coach of the Year candidate, and the effort of the team reflects that.
Final score: 2017 4, 2013 3.
That was surprisingly closer than I thought, but also a reminder of how far this program has come. Got a better idea than me? Throw your scores in the comments below. Let’s argue until Thursday, rejoice, and then argue some more.