A clear frontrunner has emerged in the first week of what promises to be a particularly unique college basketball season.
It is early, but the Gonzaga Bulldogs have looked incredibly dominant through their first two games this season, winning both in convincing fashion.
They opened the season against the Kansas Jayhawks, the sixth ranked team in the country led by top tier upperclassmen Marcus Garrett and Ochai Agbaji, as well 5-star freshman Bryce Thompson. The Jayhawks kept it close for much of the game, with both teams scoring at an incredibly efficient clip. Down the stretch though Gonzaga’s talent advantage showed itself. Jalen Suggs, one of the most heavily recruited freshmen in his class, made several key plays down the stretch in his college debut. He finished with 24 points and 8 assists, as the Bulldogs won in a shootout 102-90.
In their next game they matched up against another power-five school in Auburn. The Tigers did lose four starters from last season, but Bruce Pearl always has his team ready from day one. There was little that the team could draw up to stop Gonzaga that game though. The Bulldogs took the lead less than two minutes in and never gave it back, winning 90-67. Drew Timme and Corey Kispert, two returning players with high expectations coming into the season, led the way with 28 and 25 points, respectively.
It wasn’t that Gonzaga won these games, or even that they were both double-digit victories, that is the most telling. Several top-25 ranked teams won their first two games in blowouts. The difference here is that no other team beat two competitive power-five schools to open up the season, let alone in such a convincing fashion.
Given that conference play has yet to start, most top teams have matched up against mid-major schools with betting lines favoring them by more than 30 points at times. And several top teams have fallen to major upsets in these games early on. Kentucky, Virginia, and UCLA all lost in games where they were heavily favored. Other ranked teams such as Arizona State, Villanova, Illinois, and West Virginia eked out wins against mid-major opponents that were not expected to compete, showing clear vulnerabilities.
Gonzaga started the season off against one of the most talented teams in college basketball, and after beating them turned around the next day and dominated a perennially competitive, well coached team. They faced a tough test in November, and already look like a championship caliber team.
The Bulldogs depth was front and center in these first two wins. Kispert and Joel Ayayi have picked up where they left off last year, providing elite scoring and playmaking. Timme, so far, has shown the improvement that many were hoping for him to make to become the Bulldogs next great big man. Their two high-profile newcomers, Suggs and transfer Andrew Nembhard from Florida have been the icing on the cake. Both players weren’t guaranteed to even play this year. Nembhard wasn’t granted eligibility until a day before the first game, and Suggs considered foregoing college for an alternative route to the NBA. They have both started off the season hot, and gives Gonzaga the kind of backcourt depth that separates this team from talented teams the program has had in the past.
Mark Few, a great offensive mind, now has one of the most offensively gifted rosters in the country. He has been able to make dynamic, final four caliber teams with serviceable guards and veteran big men. This is the best group of players he has ever coached, and don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs approach the 100-point mark several times this season.
Gonzaga’s next two games will show what the team is truly made of. They match up against 15th ranked West Virginia on Tuesday, followed by what could be their toughest matchup of the regular season against number two ranked Baylor on Saturday.
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