The Gonzaga Bulldogs are the newly minted No. 1 team in the nation. They are in line to get a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. All eyes and expectations are going to be on the squad from Spokane, both from the fan base and nationally.
We all know that teams don’t accidentally trip and fall their way into the Final Four or the national championship. A whole host of a factors are at play, from seeding, to most importantly, the caliber of opponents. The NCAA Tournament is a funny beast. Each and every year there are teams that end up either seeded too high or seeded too low.
So with that in mind, all of the glory of early April on the line, here are the teams we would prefer the Gonzaga Bulldogs do not face in the NCAA Tournament.
Duke, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina are the obvious teams you don’t want to play in March. But what about the more “under-the-radar” or lower-seeded teams that Gonzaga could potentially see in the NCAA Tournament? Texas Tech is the most frightening from what I’ve seen. Chris Beard has got the Red Raiders playing at a high-level on the defensive end and would cause trouble for Gonzaga’s talented offense.
Another team that would be a challenge for the Bulldogs is Florida State. Gonzaga already has experience against this team as they lost to the Seminoles in the Sweet 16 last season. This FSU squad still has a lot of depth and have 7 returning players that played serious minutes in that win over Gonzaga last March. Finally, Murray State and there’s only one reason why I picked the Racers. Ja Morant. f you don’t know about this guy yet, just know that he is being considered by some writers/websites to be the #1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft over Zion Williamson. He is the real deal.
I wouldn’t say there is a formula to beat Gonzaga, but there is certainly a way to slow down their offense and give yourself a chance. A team with two physical bigs along with an experienced back court will give Gonzaga some trouble. If one of those bigs can step out and hit hit threes, even better. Auburn would be a rough 8 seed to play. They are way more talented than their record and just can’t finish games. Bryce Brown and Jared Harper can light it up from deep and Chuma Okeke is a nice stretch-4. In the sweet 16, Texas Tech would be tough because their defense is insanely good. They force teams to stay on one side of the floor and Gonzaga thrives on continuity offense from side to side. LSU would be a fun match-up, too. Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams can match Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura. They don’t shoot threes very well, but get to the rim as good as anyone in the country. Tremont Waters and Skyler Mays are really good. Also, if Syracuse ends up as the 8/9 seed in Gonzaga’s region, we will all cry together.
For some reason, Texas Tech is showing up on average as the No. 4 seed, but they are the No. 8 team by KenPom rankings. If you didn’t watch the Red Raiders absolutely dismantle Kansas the other day, I recommend checking it out. Texas Tech’s defense is the best in the nation, and their offense, led by All-American candidate Jarret Culver, has more than enough power to beat the best of the best. Texas Tech is almost the exact same boat as West Virginia back in 2017—remember, West Virginia was the team that most national pundits said was underseeded. That’ll be the Red Raiders this season.
My second team is a bit cheap, because they are going to most likely be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, but the Virginia Cavaliers are probably Gonzaga’s kryptonite. The best chance a team has against beating Gonzaga is slowing down the pace of play, only North Carolina/Duke have done well while running up and down the court. Virginia, of course, plays basketball like its feet is stuck in quicksand, and unlike many of the WCC teams that attempt the same, Virginia’s offense can score rather efficiently. In short, I am still scarred from a Tony Bennett coached Washington State win over Gonzaga in 2005, 54-52.
I’ll offer up two teams from the Big 10 in Maryland and Michigan that represent potentially tricky matchups for Gonzaga. The Terrapins are youthful with three freshmen and two sophomores playing significant roles in Mark Turgeon’s rotation. That inexperience could ultimately prove to be detrimental come tournament time, but they have experience where it matters most in the form of junior point guard Anthony Cowan who leads the team in scoring. Maryland has good size in the frontcourt with a pair of talented 6’10” bigs in Bruno Fernando (averaging a double-double) and Jalen Smith, and they’re adept at controlling the glass and defending inside the arc. However, the Terrapins tend to get off to slow starts, and they don’t help their cause in the turnover department where they give the ball away too much on offense while taking it away too little on defense.
Michigan looked like a world-beater early in the season when it torched Villanova and North Carolina. Since then, the Wolverines had a few wobbles on the road during conference play and most recently lost at home to in-state rival Michigan State dropping them to 3rd in the Big 10 standings. Don’t let that fool you, however, as I think Michigan is still the best team in the conference thanks to having one of the country’s best defenses. Last season, Michigan had the #3 defense per KenPom and it carried them to the national championship game, and it currently sits at #3 again in KenPom’s defensive rankings this season. The Wolverines have great size and versatility in their rotation, as Ignas Brazdeikis, Jordan Poole (best remembered for this moment in last season’s tournament), Charles Matthews, and Isaiah Livers are all rangy defenders who are capable of guarding multiple positions and don’t give away any cheap points. Like Gonzaga, they’re comfortable switching up and down the lineup on defense, and also have a 7-footer inside to protect the rim. There’s a pretty decent chance that the Wolverines end up in the same region as Gonzaga, so we might actually get the opportunity to see this matchup play out.
Those are our picks, who are some of the teams you don’t want to see the Zags play?