Thursday, February 2, 2017

Green: 2017 could be the year Gonzaga breaks through to the Final Four

                                                            Photo Credit: AP Photo

The 2016 sports calendar showed anything was possible as the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Cavaliers broke long droughts to win world championships in Major League Basketball and the National Basketball Association, respectively.

2017 could be the year Gonzaga makes it to the Final Four for the first time in school history and possibly win it all.

Gonzaga’s story is unique given its mid-major status in the West Coast Conference, but has proven over time it is the king of all kings with NCAA Tournament appearances in each of its last 19 seasons.

With top teams across the major conferences falling left and right, Gonzaga remains the last team standing at 22-0 and boasts arguably its most versatile roster yet with threats on the interior with Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins and the exterior from Washington-transfer Nigel Willliams-Goss.

In the 22-game winning streak, Williams-Goss’ presence has been plastered across the stat sheet with team highs in points (14.8), assists (4.9) and steals (1.6).

For those unsure if Gonzaga’s record is legit or not, can point to its non-conference schedule with wins against Power Five schools like Arizona, Florida, Iowa State and Tennessee.

Sure, a lot is left to be desired with the lack of quality in the WCC schedule sans Saint Mary’s and BYU, but year in and year out, Gonzaga is one of the few mid-major teams willing to play anyone across the country. Some will say exposure on national television networks like ESPN and CBS have played a main factor, but with winning, brings challenges from anyone across Division I.

As Lil’ Kim once said, “Money, Power, Respect Is The Key To Life” and Gonzaga’s accomplished the money and power, but respect is the biggest thing missing and a trip to the Final Four and a potential national championship would make fans harken back to the days of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels teams of the early 1990’s led by Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few looks to keep a grounded perspective on things in his 18th season as the head coach with a road test at BYU on Thursday night.

“Our mantra has been to get better each week,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We got to be better and have a heck of a challenge at BYU, where there will be 20,000 people going nuts and have a really good team.”

In order to remain No. 1, the Bulldogs will likely have to run the table to stay in position with few showcase games left to impress pollsters and NCAA Tournament committee members.

Gonzaga’s remaining schedule:

Feb. 2 at BYU

Feb. 4 vs Santa Clara

Feb. 9 at Loyola Marymount

Feb. 11 at No. 18 Saint Mary’s

Feb. 16 vs San Francisco

Feb. 18 vs Pacific

Feb. 23 at San Diego

Feb. 25 vs BYU

March 3-7- WCC Tournament at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas

With the NCAA Tournament first round games set to begin six weeks from Thursday, Gonzaga can begin to quiet the critics by remaining undefeated all the way through the remainder of the regular season.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.