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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

This season’s Gonzaga team compares favorably with any previous Mark Few team

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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David Stockton and Gonzaga salute their crowd after Wednesday's rout (USA Today Sports Images)

At the end of his team's 85-42 demolition of Santa Clara on Wednesday night, Gonzaga coach Mark Few paid his team the ultimate compliment.

"Got no complaints," he told reporters in Spokane.

Hearing that from a coach is exceedingly rare, but Gonzaga's performance merited it. The Zags led by 10 after five minutes, by 29 at halftime and by as many as 46 in the second half, dismantling a Santa Clara team that ranks in the RPI Top 100 and has beaten Saint Louis and pushed Duke for 30 minutes.

[Also: Kansas guard redeems himself for poor game with shot to beat Oklahoma State]

The performance kept Gonzaga on track to be in the conversation for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament if the Zags are able to complete WCC play without a loss for the fourth time in Few's tenure. Wednesday's win also again sparked debate over whether this year's team is the best Gonzaga has produced since Few took over for Dan Monson in 1998.

It's unfair to fully judge this team until we see what it does in college basketball's most important month, but the third-ranked Zags' performance so far this season rivals that of any previous Gonzaga team.

They boast three non-league wins over top 30 RPI foes. They've lost only two games, one to NCAA tournament-bound Illinois and the other at the buzzer at Butler. And they're dominating the WCC like they used to do even though it's a vastly stronger league now than it was even a few years ago.

Gonzaga has won its first 13 league games this season by an average of 18.9 points per game even though the WCC boasts three top 100 RPI teams this season: Saint Mary's (No. 51), BYU (No. 60) and Santa Clara (No. 90). The only one of its previous unbeaten WCC teams to exceed that average margin of victory was the 2003-04 Zags, which won its 14 league games by an average of 20.5 points but did not have to face a single team higher than No. 110 in the RPI.

By comparison, the 2005-06 Gonzaga team led by Adam Morrison and J.P. Batista won its 14 league games by an average of 11.1 points even though the second best RPI team in the WCC was just No. 123 that season. And the 2008-09 team led by Matt Bouldin and Josh Heytvelt rolled through the WCC season by an average of 18.1 points per game but only faced one top 100 RPI foe.

[Also: Kentucky prepared for Vanderbilt by playing a team-wide game of dodgeball]

What makes this year's Gonzaga team special is an offense that produces the second most points per possession in the nation.

The Zags can beat opponents on the inside with All-American candidate Kelly Olynyk, senior forward Elias Harris or talented reserves Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski. They can also bomb from long range or get to the foul line consistently via versatile sophomore guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell.

Perimeter defense probably remains Gonzaga's biggest concern, but the Zags are better than years past in that area. As a result, this Zags team is poised to make a run at an unbeaten WCC record, the school's first-ever No. 1 seed and the title of the best team in program history.

Comparing Mark Few's previous unbeaten WCC teams to this year's:

2003-04: Gonzaga (28-3)
WCC record: 14-0
WCC RPI: N/A but no WCC team except Gonzaga was higher than No. 110
Average margin of victory in WCC games: 20.5 points
Marquee non-league wins: Maryland, Missouri, Washington
NCAA seeding: No. 2 (Lost to Nevada in Round of 32)
Starting five: Blake Stepp, Kyle Bankhead, Errol Knight, Cory Violette, Rony Turiaf
Key reserves: Sean Mallon, Adam Morrison, Derek Raivio

2005-06: Gonzaga (29-4)
WCC record: 14-0
WCC RPI: N/A but no WCC team except Gonzaga was higher than No. 123
Average margin of victory in WCC games: 11.1 points
Marquee non-league wins: Maryland, Michigan State, Oklahoma State
NCAA seeding: No. 3 (Lost to UCLA in Sweet 16)
Starting five: Sean Mallon, Adam Morrison, Derek Raivio, Pierre Altidore-Cespedes, J.P. Batista
Key reserves: Jeremy Pargo, David Pendergraft, Errol Knight

2008-09: Gonzaga (27-5)
WCC record: 14-0
WCC RPI: 15 (Saint Mary's No. 45, Nobody else higher than No. 128)
Average margin of victory in WCC games: 18.3 points
Marquee non-league wins: Oklahoma State, Tennessee (twice), Maryland,
NCAA seeding: No. 4 (Lost to North Carolina in Sweet 16)
Starting five: Jeremy Pargo, Matt Bouldin, Micah Downs, Austin Daye, Josh Heytveldt
Key reserves: Steven Gray, Demetri Goodson

2012-13: Gonzaga (26-2)
WCC record: 13-0
WCC RPI: 10 (Saint Mary's No. 51, BYU No. 60, Santa Clara No. 90)
Average margin of victory in WCC games: 18.9 points
Marquee non-league wins: Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Baylor
NCAA seeding: Projected No. 1 or 2 seed
Starting five: Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, Mike Hart, Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk
Key reserves: Sam Dower, David Stockton, Przemek Karnowski

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