How One Loss Highlighted A Major Concern About Gonzaga

The Bulldogs have only lost two games, but they've had some alarming performances on one end of the court

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  • Their loss at BYU on Saturday highlighted an ongoing concern that Gonzaga faces: an inability to play effective defense against talented teams.

  • In order to make a deep run in the Tournament, they’re going to have to clean up things on that end of the floor, even if they boast one of the nation’s top offenses.

Every year in late February and early March, it feels like we have the same conversation about Mark Few and the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Once again, the Bulldogs are one of the best teams in the country and cruised through the West Coast Conference. But are they serious national championship contenders? Despite all of Gonzaga’s Sweet 16 appearances under Few, they’ve made just one Final Four. This year, the Bulldogs were cruising along once again, but Saturday’s loss to BYU could be a reason to think twice before banking on Gonzaga to make a deep run in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Defensive Concerns

In Gonzaga’s defense, Saturday’s loss was just their second of the season. The Bulldogs lost to a tricky Michigan team in late November but rattled off 19 wins in a row before losing to BYU. It’s also worth noting that BYU is a ranked team that’s now 23-7 on the season. They aren’t your average WCC team, as the Cougars have wins over Houston, UCLA, and Virginia Tech on their resume, as well as a tight loss with San Diego State early in the season. The Bulldogs should feel no shame in losing a road game against BYU in a hostile road environment.

But it’s not necessarily Gonzaga losing to BYU that’s a concern, but rather how they lost. The Bulldogs conceded 91 points, albeit against a BYU team that averages 80.6 points per game. The Cougars were able to consistently get the shots they wanted, scoring 46 points in the first half and 45 points after halftime. It’s worth noting that the OVER is 23-6 in Gonzaga games this season, which points toward a team that can light up the scoreboard but may not be able to defend quality teams well enough to keep winning in March.

On the season, the Bulldogs give up a respectable 67.6 points per game, which ranks 131st in the country. However, some of that is no doubt related to playing nearly half of their games against teams from the WCC, not to mention a few subpar opponents during the non-conference season. The likes of Michigan, Arizona, and North Carolina all scored 80 or more points against Gonzaga. The Bulldogs won those games, but still surrendered a lot of points in the process. Even some mediocre WCC teams like Santa Clara, Pepperdine, and San Francisco scored over 70 points against the Bulldogs, which also points to weaknesses on the defensive end of the court.

Looking Ahead

To reach the Final Four, teams have to be able to win games in a variety of ways. Obviously, with seven players who average 9.9 points per game or better, the Bulldogs will create a lot of trouble for opposing teams. But what if they go cold as they did against BYU with only four players scoring in double figures? What if they shoot 20% from three-point range the way they did against BYU? Can they grind out a win in the NCAA Tournament when the offense isn’t clicking by getting stops on the defensive end?

We know the Bulldogs can survive an off night against most West Coast Conference teams. But BYU is a legitimate tournament team and Gonzaga couldn’t get enough stops on defense to overcome a poor shooting performance and erase a deficit. Outside of the first round, Gonzaga can expect to play teams in the NCAA Tournament on BYU’s level. Saturday’s loss has taught us that while the Bulldogs are impressive offensively, their issues on the defensive end could leave them vulnerable to an early exit in March.