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2019 NCAA tournament preview: Gonzaga

Gonzaga Bulldogs: 30-3, 16-0 in the West Coast Conference

Head Coach: Mark Few (20th season) 

Players to Watch: Rui Hachimura (20.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG), Brandon Clarke (16.5 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 3.0 BPG), Josh Perkins (11.0 PPG, 6.4 APG)

Season Recap: Gonzaga muscled through nonconference matchups early, besting Idaho State, Texas Southern and Texas A&M before heading to the Maui Invitational. In the Lahaina Civic Center, the Bulldogs narrowly beat Illinois, dominated Arizona and opened up a 16-point lead on then-No. 1 Duke before hanging on just enough to eke out a 89-87 win for the invitational championship. 

The win earned Gonzaga the No. 1 ranking in the AP Poll, and it would keep that rank until running into a hot Tennessee team that handed the Bulldogs their first loss. Gonzaga then dropped a second straight game, following up the defeat to the Volunteers with a 13-point loss to North Carolina in Chapel Hill. 

The nonconference losses did not affect the Bulldogs for West Coast Conference play, however. Gonzaga ripped through conference play, with its closest margin of victory standing at 12 points and putting the squad in position to easily earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, in the WCC Tournament the Bulldogs inexplicably dropped the championship game, falling 60-47 to rival St. Mary’s. 

How they make a run: The Bulldogs feature arguably the most polished offense in America. Picking teams apart inside and out thanks to a combination of capable outside shooting, skilled big men and speed, Gonzaga is capable of beating anyone. Few’s squad is filled with veterans, has big game experience and executes consistently. It would come as no surprise if Gonzaga is cutting down the nets in Minneapolis. 

How they falter: While the Bulldogs have phenomenal offensive firepower, the defense is periodically suspect, ranking 16th in adjusted defensive rating. Likewise, Gonzaga has missed star big man Tillian Killie for nearly the entire season, removing a major rebounding presence for a team that is not particularly big. If a defensively disciplined team that can clean up the boards execute enough on offense to keep up with the Bulldogs, Gonzaga could be sent packing back to Spokane.

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