A week ago the No. 4 Gonzaga Bulldogs were the top team in the country, now it’s worth wondering if they’ll be able to enter March Madness on the top line.
That the Bulldogs lost 103-90 to No. 12 North Carolina — a team that’s as likely to win the ACC as anyone — isn’t discouraging. And that Gonzaga lost back-to-back games is more surprising than it is worrisome. But the bigger problem for the Zags is that they’ll now enter conference play with just one win against a ranked opponent.
That’s always going to hurt a team playing in a non-Power Five conference. It’s especially going to be a problem for a team playing in the West Coast Conference — which generally only sees one or two schools getting a bid to the NCAA tournament.
Defeating Duke in Maui felt like a coming out party for coach Mark Few’s latest title-contenders. And while the Bulldogs have been impressive, they haven’t been able to capitalize on their prime résumé-building opportunities since then. A loss to either Tennessee last week or UNC on Saturday wouldn’t have been as problematic, but dropping to both of them gives the selection committee an easy target when evaluating the Bulldogs come March.
North Carolina gets a complete effort
Of course, none of the Zags’ big picture issues can take away from how dominant UNC was against a legitimate Final Four threat.
Not only did Luke Maye reach 1,000 career points on Saturday, but he finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds while the Tar Heels kept the Bulldogs at arms-length for the second half.
Cameron Johnson added 25 points while freshman Coby White also notched 15. UNC’s other two starters both scored nine points.
Most importantly, North Carolina held Rui Hachimura to less than 20 points (17 points, seven rebounds) for just the second time in his last eight games. The Naismith Award contender was a season-worst five of 14 from the floor.
Part of what allowed the Tar Heels to maintain a nearly double-digit lead throughout the second half was their ability to shut down Gonzaga on the boards. Not only did UNC out-rebound the Bulldogs 44-23, but North Carolina also scored 27 second-chance points to Gonzaga’s none.
Those are deficiencies that will be easy to point to as the Bulldogs adjust and develop.
Whether or not those adjustments can keep them as one of the top teams in the country remains to be seen.
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