For its NCAA Tournament opener, Gonzaga was as advertised: The most dominant college basketball team in the land.
One down, five to go for the Bulldogs on their quest to push itself into the conversation as the greatest men’s college basketball team ever.
The Zags, the No. 1 ranked team in the nation and the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, improved to 27-0 after Saturday night’s 98-55 dusting of No. 16 seed Norfolk State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
It was Gonzaga’s largest margin of victory ever in an NCAA game, which is saying something considering this is its 22nd consecutive trip to the tournament.
“Very pleased for Step One here,’’ Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
It was the 12th consecutive year the Zags have won their first-round game in the NCAAs.
“Accruing NCAA wins is the hardest thing you can do in our profession in my opinion,’’ Few said.
Gonzaga’s next victim — er, opponent — is No. 8 seed Oklahoma (16-10), which defeated Missouri on Saturday, in Monday’s second round.
It had been 11 days since the Zags played a game and they started slowly before stepping on the accelerator.
“It took a few minutes for us to get our legs underneath us, but once we did we hit the ground running … and showed the world and the country what we’ve got,’’ Gonzaga’s leading scorer Corey Kispert said after scoring 23 points. “We play for each other. We share the ball, we’re excited for each other’s success. It’s something really special. And it helps us win, too,’’
There have been seven teams since 1939 that have won a national championship undefeated, Bobby Knight’s 1976 Indiana Hoosiers being the last to do it.
If Gonzaga were to run the March Madness table and win the national championship, it would have the identical 32-0 record Knight’s 1975-76 Indiana team finished with.
Since 1977, four teams entered the NCAAs undefeated — Kentucky was 34-0 in 2015, Wichita State was 34-0 in 2014, UNLV was 30-0 in 1991 and Indiana was 29-0 in 1979 — but none of the four completed the mission and won out.
The latest to flirt with that kind of immortality was Kentucky in 2015 when it got to 38–0 with a roster that included future NBA stars Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Devin Booker and Trey Lyles. But the Wildcats lost in the semifinal to Wisconsin.
Few insisted his players are not focused on finishing undefeated.
“We just want win this tournament, that’s all we want,’’ Few said. “As the season progressed, we were able to stay No. 1. But this is just about winning tournament. Obviously, if we win this tournament we’re undefeated. But gosh, we just want to win this thing.’’
After Kispert, Anton Watson scored 17 points, had seven rebounds and four assists and said, “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life. We’ve got to take this one game at a time. We’ve got Oklahoma in two days. The goal is to try to win it all. Being undefeated, that would be even better.’’
Originally published at https://nypost.com/2021/03/21/gonzaga-wallops-norfolk-state-to-start-ncaa-tourney-in-style/ on .