Friday, April 16

Can Gonzaga surpass Kentucky ’96, ’90 UNLV as the most dominant team in the NCAA tournament since 1985?



Gonzaga enters the Final Four with a 30-0 record and a chance to be the first undefeated Division I men’s basketball team since Indiana in 1975-76.

There is still more at stake. The Bulldogs have come into the conversation as the most dominant tournament team in the era of expanded support, which began in 1985, after beating their first four opponents in the 2021 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

That conversation will be more interesting if Gonzaga wins it all.

There are teams that have won the national championship since the Big Dance expanded to 64 teams in front of those debates. UNLV dominated the NCAA tournament in 1989-90 with Jerry Tarkanian. Kentucky broke up the Big Dance with Rick Pitino in 1995-96.

Those two teams are generally considered the standard as the tournament expanded to 64 teams.

Does this Gonzaga team hold up? The Bulldogs have swept the tournament with All-Americans Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs and Drew Timme. That streak continues Saturday against No. 11 UCLA in the Final Four.

Bulldogs have a statistical case that is being compared for the moment. Sporting News takes a closer look at those numbers:

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Kentucky had the best run in an NCAA tournament

Pitino used a Kentucky roster that had nine future NBA players to dominate the 1995-96 tournament. The Wildcats won all six of their tournament games by an average of 21.2 points per game, which is still the highest margin since 1985.

Here’s a closer look at the five national champions with the highest margin of victory in the Big Dance.

RANK TEAM AVG
one Kentucky (1996) 21.5
two North Carolina (2009) 20.2
3 Villanova (2016) 19.0
4 UNLV (1990) 18.7
5 Villanova (2018) 17.7

Gonzaga has beaten his first four opponents by an average of 24 points per game and has a legitimate chance to challenge that record. Just keep in mind that Kentucky beat its first four opponents by an average of 28.3 points per game. The Bulldogs need to win by an average of 16.5 points per game over the next two games to match that.

UNLV dominated the last two weekends

The Runnin ‘Rebels won the national championship in 1990 with Jerry Tarkanian and a roster that included three future NBA players: Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, and Greg Anthony.

The Rebels dominated from the Sweet 16 round to the national championship, a run that included a 131-101 victory against Loyola-Marymount in Elite Eight and a 103-73 victory against Duke in the national championship game.

UNLV won those four games by an average of 17.8 points per game. Here’s a look at the five national champions with the highest margin of victory from Sweet 16 to the national championship:

RANK TEAM AVG
one UNLV (1990) 17.8
two Kentucky (1996) 16.8
3 Villanova (2016) 16.3
4 North Carolina (2009) 16.0
5 Villanova (2018) 14.3

They are the same five teams. Gonzaga won his Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups against Creighton and USC, respectively, by an average of 18.5 points per game. They need to win the next two games with an average of 17 points per game. to match the rebels.

Who had the hardest road?

Fans of those Kentucky and UNLV teams would look at the margin of victory and scoff at the idea that Gonzaga belongs to the same sentence.

Kentucky can point to its trajectory in the tournament in 1995-96. Their six opponents’ combined seed total was 36, and they went through Utah with Andre Miller and Keith Van Horn, Wake Forest with Tim Duncan and UMass with Marcus Camby before beating Syracuse in the national championship game.

The Final Four and championship games were tighter, but there was no question that the Wildcats were the better team.

He would finish as a national runner-up in 1997 and won the national title again in 1998.

UNLV faced teams with a combined 54 seeds. The Rebels beat an Ohio State team led by Jim Jackson in the second round, and No. 11 Loyola Marymount wasn’t your typical double-digit seeded Bo Kimble. The Rebels defeated Georgia Tech and Duke in the Final Four.

Gonzaga’s combined seed total is 48 heading into the Final Four showdown with No. 11 UCLA, another team that isn’t your typical double-digit favorite. No. 1 Baylor or No. 2 Houston would be potential opponents for the national championship.

The only thing the three teams share is a top-notch offense. Gonzaga averages 91.6 points per game, the best in Division I. UNLV averaged 93.5 and Kentucky averaged 91.4. However, for those comparisons to hold, the Bulldogs have to win their next two games to keep those 90 points per game. number.

Gonzaga’s perfect trump card

Gonzaga belongs to another conversation with Kentucky and UNLV, but with different teams. Teams UNLV 1990-91 and Kentucky 2014-15 are the last two teams to reach the Final Four with an undefeated record.

UNLV lost 79-77 to Duke, who hit a 3-pointer from Bobby Hurley to help draw the upset. The Wildcats, led by coach John Calipari, lost 71-64 to Wisconsin.

That’s the trump card Gonzaga can draw if they finish the job in Indianapolis.

Kentucky finished 34-2 in 1995-96, and UNLV finished 35-5 in 1989-90. They dominated the NCAA tournament, but Gonzaga is on track to compete with at least the margin of victory. The rest is speculation.

Would the Wildcats and Rebels beat the Bulldogs? It might not be the hypothetical blowout you think it is, and you could lure that Villanova 2016 team in for the latest Final Four expanded draw.

Of course, the Bulldogs have to finish the job.

Otherwise, they will join the Gonzaga 2016-17 team in this conversation.




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