Gonzaga basketball has been a tournament team each year since the late 1990’s. The Gonzaga program has evolved over the years. It started with the Cinderella run of 1999 under head coach Don Munson. The 1999 Gonzaga team made it to the Elite 8, the first and only time in the programs history. Munson ended up leaving after that season to take a job at Minnesota and since then Mark Few has built a powerhouse. Gonzaga has not missed a tournament in Few’s time and it has been a remarkable run. The Zags have had some very good teams over the years, but which team has been the Zags best?
I started asking around gathering opinions about which team was the Zags best. My criteria on deciding is based upon the teams talent, potential, tournament seed and the best chance to go deep into the tournament. After looking at each team over the past 15 years, four teams stuck out to me to the most. The 1998-1999 team, the 2005-2006 team, the 2008-2009 team and the 2012-2013 team. Each of these teams are different in their own right but very solid squads, and, in my opinion, the best team’s in Gonzaga’s history.
The 1998-1999 Bulldog team made an improbable run in the NCAA
tournament after a remarkable season. The Zags went 28-7 overall that year lead by guards Richie Frahm and Matt Santangelo. This Bulldog team made it to the Elite 8 and knocked off #7 seed Minnesota, #2 seed Stanford, and #6 seed Florida before losing a close game to # 1 seed and eventual National Champion Connecticut. The 1998-1999 Gonzaga team had a run for the ages and put the Zags on the map with the tournament run. Since this team, Gonzaga has not been back to the Elite 8, but was this the best Gonzaga team of all time?
Led by Adam Morrison, the 2005-2006 Gonzaga Bulldogs had, up to this point, the
most talented team in school history. Adam Morrison was the co-player of the year, J.P Bautista was one of the best centers in the country, and they had experience. Sean Mallon was a scrappy vet, Erroll Knight was an athletic senior and Derek Ravio was a solid point guard and a knock down shooter. Not to mention that they had future stars such as Josh Heytvelt and Jeremy Pargo on the roster as well. In the regular season, Gonzaga beat #23 Maryland and #12 Michigan State in triple overtime, one of the greatest Gonzaga games possibly ever. This team went undefeated in the WCC and earned a 3 seed in the tournament. They made it to the Sweet 16 before blowing it to UCLA; one of the toughest losses in program history. While this season ended with heartbreak, they still made it to the Sweet 16 and should have been in the Elite 8. Morrison is still the biggest Gonzaga star to date and had the ability to take over the game at will. While this team was top heavy with Morrison and Bautista, they were not as deep as the 2008-2009 or 2012-2013 team.
Arguably the most talented Gonzaga team to date, this team had high levels of players
at each position. Jeremy Pargo, Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray and Micah Downs were the main guards; Josh Heytvelt, Austin Daye and Robert Sacre were the primary big men. Three of these players, Daye, Sacre and Pargo have since played in the NBA. The 2008-2009 Zags were deep as well. Ira Brown played some big minutes off the bench along with Micah Downs and Will Foster. They beat three ranked teams that year, Tennesse twice, Saint Mary’s once and lost to number 2 Conneticut at the Battle in Seattle in overtime by 2. Gonzaga ended up getting a 4 seed in the tournament and made it to the Sweet 16. The only problem is they ran into the eventual National Champions, North Carolina, and got whooped.
The 2012-2013 team could go down as the best Gonzaga team to date. The tournament loss still has a bitter taste but
it was still a terrific season to say the least. While this Gonzaga team only beat one ranked team in Oklahoma State, they were very talented and deep. Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Mike hart held down the backcourt while Kelly Olynyk, Elias Harris and Sam Dower made up of one of the best frontcourts in the country. Gonzaga did not go as far as the other teams but had probably the easy run they have ever had. They made it to the number one ranking in the country and earned themselves a one seed in the tournament. The tournament was set up for the Zags to go very far, playing the 16 seed and the 9 seed. If they would have beat Wichita State, they would have played the 13th seed in La Salle before finally, in the Elite 8, playing a high seed in number 2 Ohio State. It did not work out for the Zags but if there was ever a year to make a deep run, last year was it. This could make them the best team in school history.
Each of these teams was great in their own respects. The 1998-1999 team went the farthest on the least amount of talent and put the Zags on the map. The 2005-2006 team had the best player in school history with Adam Morrison and should have made it to at least the Elite 8. The 2008-2009 team was probably overall the most talented but ran into a juggernaut that was North Carolina. Finally the 2012-2013 team was very talented and had the easiest run in the tournament but blew it.
In my opinion I think the 2012-2013 team was the best Gonzaga has seen. It was a hard struggle to decide between 2005-2006 and last season. While the 2005-2006 made it to the Sweet 16 and had Adam Morrison, they were not as talented 1 thru 5 as last season. Maybe it is because it’s the most recent season and fresh in my mind, but last year should have been the year. Kelly Olynyk was the most dominant player Gonzaga has had since Morrison and the frontcourt in general was dominant and hard to stop. The backcourt had depth, could score and overall they had the easiest run. They blew it in the tournament, and I know they did not make it as far as the other teams, but they did get the first one seed in school history and number one ranking. They ran into a hot Wichita State team but should have cruised into the Elite 8. All of these team were very good and there are arguments for each team. But after only losing 3 games all season, and getting a number one seed, the 2012-2013 Gonzaga Bulldogs were the best in school history. Who do you think was the best Gonzaga team? Vote in the poll below.