Gonzaga Basketball: Where Bulldogs Must Improve to Remain Atop AP Rankings

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IMarch 5, 2013

March. 2, 2013; Spokane, WA, USA; Members of the Gonzaga Bulldogs mens basketball team celebrate after a game against the Portland Pilots at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Gonzaga won 81-52. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are atop the AP rankings, but have a lot of work to do if they want to remain there. Though 29-2, the team has a long way to go before establishing itself among the truly elite.

Don't get me wrong. That isn't to say that Gonzaga has not played excellent basketball this season. Their overall record is phenomenal and the fact that they have gone undefeated in conference play is highly respectable.

Moreover, junior big man Kelly Olynyk has established himself as a definite Player of the Year candidate, averaging 17.7 points and seven rebounds per game while shooting an eye-popping 69 percent from the field. Led by him, the Bulldogs can definitely consider themselves worthy of the top spot in the rankings as well as championship contenders.

Just the same, the team has a lot of work to do and improvements to make in order to maintain its current status.

First, Gonzaga needs to do a better job on the boards. The Bulldogs rank tied for 56th in the nation in total rebounds per game, but their production in that area is nonexistent outside of Olynyk and Elias Harris.

In addition, their on-ball defense is not particularly strong, and the team can do a better job of generating steals and creating turnovers.

This can all be fixed to a degree in practice, as head coach Mark Few is sure to have his men working hard in the coming weeks with March Madness fast approaching.

However, Gonzaga's problems are much deeper than mere on-court performance. As great as the team has looked this season, it can be argued that they are quite overrated.

Let's not forget that Gonzaga plays in the West Coast Conference, whose competition pales in comparison to that of the Big Ten, Big East and others. Thus, it's safe to say that the team hasn't exactly had a hard road to the top spot in the rankings.

More importantly, the Bulldogs have no signature wins.

This means that aside from on-court flaws like rebounding and on-ball defense, the biggest improvement that Gonzaga has to make to maintain its spot atop the AP rankings is in the mental department. All wins aside, the team appears to be coasting its way to the tournament.

If that's the case, then they will be in for a rude awakening in the near future.

Look at it this way. Of Gonzaga's 29 wins, all but eight have come by a double-digit margin. This is a team that's used to blowing out the opposition, but that's going to be tough when it comes time to face teams from deeper conferences.

Thus, Gonzaga needs to play with a greater sense of urgency up until the national tournament starts. This means upping the defensive effort throughout the WCC Tournament and not coasting to victory. Every game from here on out is a mental one, and just one lapse can expose the Bulldogs' weaknesses to the point where a seemingly lesser team can exploit it fully.

If the team can stay tough both in body and mind, however, then the Bulldogs can stay atop the rankings and definitely be a squad to watch in the coming weeks.