With the returns of Rasir Bolton, Drew Timme, and Julian Strawther, as well as the addition of Malachi Smith, the Gonzaga Bulldogs very well could open the season as the preseason No. 1 ranked team for the third season in a row to start the 2022-23 season.
Even if they aren’t (UNC and Houston have been getting their fair share of love), the hype train is going for the Zags again. Any team that starts out the season ranked in the top 5 also starts out the season as a title contender.
And that is why the vitriol, the random hate, and the overwhelming negative narrative from your average, angry, college basketball fan is going to be against Gonzaga, and it is understandable.
Although it has been an amazing run over the past five years, the Zags don’t have the hardware to necessarily showcase for it. Should Gonzaga have won a championship at some point? Probably. There is a legitimate argument to make that despite it all, the Zags have fallen short. Using KenPom rankings, the Zags have finished the season at #1 (2017), #10 (2018), #2 (2019), #2 (2020 - COVID cancellation year), #1 (2021), and #1 (2022).
So it is understandable for the average fan that is getting the “Gonzaga is the best team in the nation” shoved down their throats at all time, and Gonzaga ends up not winning it all, that the skepticism starts to kick in.
Let’s ignore the fact that a single elimination tournament isn’t the best judge of the best team, but no excuses to be made here, because Gonzaga still hasn’t cut down the nets in April.
The past two years, especially, have contributed to this narrative. In 2021, Gonzaga was the clear cut #1 team, largely because a COVID pause for Baylor made everyone forget how good they were. And they demonstrated that in the National Championship game, absolutely boat racing a very good Gonzaga team in the first five minutes.
2022, obviously, was a different sort of repeat. The Zags couldn’t buy an open shot to save their lives and were defeated by a good Arkansas team that by every measure Gonzaga should not have lost to in the first place. That game sums up March Madness rather perfectly.
So the hate makes sense. Remember how tired we all were of the “Could the Duke Blue Devils beat the Cleveland Cavaliers” ESPN narrative every single game when Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, RJ Barrett, and Tre Jones hit the court together? Unless you were a Duke fan, it was tiring.
For those of us not having fun as Gonzaga fans, that is how it appears every time they grace the ESPN network. A smorgasbord of adoration and praise that isn’t just talking about how good Gonzaga is, but is mentioning how great they are, how very near the top they are.
The failure to win it all, however, has justifiably fed a reasonable narrative that Gonzaga cannot win it all, because, obviously, they haven’t. And until they do win it all, that is just a fact to cope with. Gonzaga, despite how good they’ve been over the past five years, hasn’t won a NCAA Championship.
And that is fuel for appetite of trolls. But that is also all they are: trolls. If Gonzaga had taken a slight dip this season, that chatter might quiet down. Instead, the Zags will be competing for a NCAA Championship. And the only way this time around to silence the naysayers is to finally prove them wrong.