Keith Ybanez: On Monday, Gonzaga’s last team of the decade added an exclamation point to an incredible 10-year period that saw the program continue its ascension from Cinderella to tournament mainstay to one of college basketball’s truly elite programs by achieving the school’s 5th number 1 ranking in the AP polls. My expectations for this team were a little subdued after the losses from last season’s group, but this squad has proven that rebuilding seasons aren’t necessary in Spokane.This week’s AP Poll is the eighth edition of the season, and Gonzaga is the sixth different team to occupy the top spot. Its five predecessors—Michigan State, Kentucky, Duke, Louisville, and Kansas—almost all lost instantly after taking the #1 ranking. Gonzaga represents an opportunity for that spot in the poll to stabilize, but how long can it hold on the top spot?
Peter Woodburn: If Gonzaga loses to Detroit Mercy, then the curse of the No. 1 ranking is a real thing this season and I am a true believer. Realistically, Gonzaga opens with a pretty soft WCC schedule in 2020. The first real challenge won’t be until BYU rolls into Spokane in mid-January. The Cougars have been playing really well since Yoeli Childs got back, and they, more so than any other team, have found success in Spokane semi-recently. That said, unless BYU goes absolutely bonkers from long range, I don’t think they beat the Zags.
Steven Karr: There’s a good chance Gonzaga won’t lose until February. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’ll be ranked number one the entire time. Ohio State has a three game gauntlet against West Virginia, Wisconsin and Maryland coming up. If they sweep that, they should probably jump GU into that top spot. It’s that time of year where the Zags play lesser teams and the power five schools play each other. So it’s up to the voters to decide what means more to them. As long as the Zags stay on that 1/2 seed line for the tournament, that’s all I care about.
KY: While most teams who cede the #1 ranking do so because of a loss, I think if Gonzaga loses the top spot, it will be because Ohio State or another team closely behind them takes it rather than Gonzaga coughing it up. The Buckeyes have plenty of opportunities in their next few games to pick up key W’s that will impress voters as Steven mentioned. Louisville’s next two games are against Kentucky and Florida State, so it also has some immediate opportunities to leapfrog both Ohio State and Gonzaga and regain the top spot. However, I think the other teams in the top 5 will continue to have some stumbles along the way and the Zags will hold the top spot until they play at BYU on February 22.
The women’s team knocked off 20th ranked Missouri State on Friday, but stayed locked at No. 17 in the polls. Will they be able to climb higher and give Gonzaga a chance to have both its teams ranked inside the Top 10?
SK: I’m not sure they’ll get all the way inside the top 10, but they will certainly continue to rise. The women’s poll is far less volatile than the men’s poll. Nobody really moves unless they lose a game. The WCC on the women’s side isn’t quite as good as it was last year, especially BYU with the loss of Shaylee Gonzales, so Gonzaga may run through the WCC unscathed and flirt with Top 10 status.
PW: As long as Gonzaga continues to win, I don’t see why not—but it’ll require people losing on top. Even after defeating Missouri State, Gonzaga just gained a few points. They have a fantastic resume, just the one loss to Stanford, so I could see them entering the top 10 at the end of the year if they continue to play as well as they are right now.
KY: I think we’re all on the same page as I believe the ladies will have to rely on attrition in front of them to have a chance at a top-10 ranking this season. While there are solid resume building opportunities available in WCC play, I don’t see enough chances to impress voters without help from the teams in front of them. The men should stay in the top 10 for the rest of the season provided they don’t suffer more than one loss during WCC play.
PW: I know it isn’t the easiest thing to do, but after watching Gonzaga go through UW/Arizona/UNC for the better part of 60 minutes, I’m not sure which team in the WCC can put together a full 40 to beat this team.
SK: SMC has the top 3pt percentage in the nation right now. Gonzaga’s defense has been very suspect at times... if the Gaels get hot, a loss there would not surprise me. But on the other side of that, Gonzaga has never had Ryan Woolridge to guard Jordan Ford. And that is going to be really fun to watch.
KY: I really don’t know what to make of SMC. Some games they’ve looked wholly unimpressive and other times I’ve seen a team that could hand the Zags an L. I do think Gonzaga’s ability to throw Woolridge, Gilder, and Ayayi at Ford gives it the edge since SMC has been a little too reliant on Ford at times.
As I indicated at the top, the 2010s proved to be an incredible decade for Gonzaga basketball. Is there a single play and/or singular performance from an individual that stands out the most to you as we close the book on this decade?
SK: I think Jordan Mathews’ 3 is the default answer for singular play. So I’ll go elsewhere and say Eric McClellan’s performance in the 2016 WCC Tournament to keep the NCAA streak alive. Those two days in Vegas were the most dramatic two days we’ve seen there in many, many years and he was the main reason GU won that thing. Also, having the HBO crew around documenting the whole thing made it even more special.
PW: I thought my choice of E-Mac was going to be a solo winner! I have two, one of them is McClellan’s performance in that final game. I think a lot of people forget that in 2016, prior to the Zags running the WCC Tournament, they were not going to be in the NCAA Tournament as it stood. Gonzaga led Saint Mary’s by two, and E-Mac scored 13 of Gonzaga’s final 19 points to give Gonzaga a tidy 10 point win and a night of easy sleep on Selection Sunday.
In terms of pure domination, I have to give a shout-out to Brandon Clarke’s total destruction of the Baylor Bears in last year’s NCAA Tournament. He just absolutely exploded on the biggest stage there. 36 points off 15-of-18 shooting from the floor, eight rebounds, and five blocks. Good luck beating that.
SK: Nigel’s 33 point flu game at BYU deserves a nice mention too. I think that’s when a lot of people realized something really special was going on with that squad. Or maybe his flu game was the 36 point outburst at USF. Either way... shoutout to Nigel for being awesome.
KY: I love E-Mac, and that 2016 team is near and dear to my heart since it was the first one I covered for TSSF. The stretch run by that group was as fun and nerve-wracking as it gets. Jordan Mathews’ three-pointer against West Virginia in the 2017 Sweet 16 has to be the play of the decade considering the stakes and there’s nothing that can top it. Honorable mention goes to Brandon Clarke’s absurdly spectacular block last season against Tennessee’s Yves Pons which was an all-timer. For singular performance, I’m struggling between Domantas Sabonis’ 36-point 16-rebound performance in the last Battle 4 Seattle; Nigel Williams-Goss going nuts with a 36-point, 11 rebound, 6 assist game at USF; and Brandon Clarke dismantling Baylor in the second round of the tournament last year as Peter mentioned. I think I have to go with Domas since that game serves as a good representation for how much of a monster he was the entire 2015-16 season. Mark Few leaned heavily on him and Kyle Wiltjer until the group gelled right at the end to give us an incredible WCC tournament and a fun ride to the Sweet 16.
PW: Looking back at Domas stats I truly miss him more than most Zags.
KY: 2015-16 Domas was unfair.
PW: I am so glad he escaped from Billy Donovan’s clutches in the NBA.
SK: I feel like sometimes his dominance gets lost because that season was so up and down and Gonzaga almost missed the tournament. The storyline overshadowed how unbelievable he was.
KY: I’ve mentioned it here before, but can you imagine what the Final Four team would have been like if Domas had stayed one more year?
PW: Zach Collins would’ve had to stick around another year.
SK: Zach Collins probably stays another year and the 2018 team may have gone to the final four too.
KY: Gonzaga would have two national championships. Change my mind.
SK: I think two titles next decade is a pretty realistic thing right now...
KY: We like that!