Sep. 26, 2016
Are Gonzaga and Villanova Overrated?
College sports are great, but there are some things that set college sports apart from most professional sports. One of the differences is determining which teams make the playoffs and what seed based on opinion rather than straight record.
In the NFL and MLB, the teams that reach the playoffs are determined strictly on record. In college basketball there are polls to form a standings and a committee who determine which teams advance to the NCAA Tournament and the seed the team has.
The way college basketball and college football do it, in theory, is better in that playoff seeds are based on which teams are actually better and more deserving. In most professional sports, it’s possible for a lesser team to make the playoffs over a better team. It’s possible in college basketball that a team that wins its conference tournament automatically gets into the NCAA Tournament, but it’s less of an issue.
One other difference is that there are many more teams and conferences involved in college basketball than other professional sports. So many teams that every year there are distinct skill level differences between them. The eighth best team in the Atlantic Coast Conference might be better than every team in the Horizon Conference. Every year there are those teams that are hard to rank due to this. This year, two of those teams are the Villanova Wildcats and the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Those two teams are both highly ranked, but don’t play in the greatest of conferences. Are either of them overrated?
Currently, Gonzaga is No. 1 and Villanova is No. 2 in the latest AP Top 25 Poll. Gonzaga is the last undefeated team and has a record of 26-0 while Villanova is 24-2. Of the two of them, Gonzaga is the toughest to gauge. The Bulldogs play in the West Coast Conference, which only has one other ranked team, Saint Mary’s. After those two teams the quality really drops off.
The Wildcats play in the Big East, which isn’t great but is better. Apart from Villanova, the Big East includes two other ranked teams. Creighton and Butler, and possibly four tournament teams.
The answer to whether or not Villanova is overrated is pretty easy; they are not overrated. For one, their strength of schedule this season, despite playing in the Big East, is not that bad. According to KenPom.com the Wildcats had the 23 toughest strength of schedule.
Their non-conference schedule could have been tougher, but they defeated No. 16 Purdue, No. 25 Notre Dame, and No. 14 Virginia. In conference play, Villanova has defeated No. 20 Creighton and Xavier. The only two losses came against No. 24 Butler and Marquette, both on the road and both against likely tournament teams.
Maybe the biggest reason they are not overrated is because Villanova proved it last season. There are differences from this seasons Wildcats team, but they have many of the same players from the team that won the NCAA Tournament last year, Kris Jenkins, Mikal Bridges, Josh Hart, and Jalen Brunson. Losing Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu is big, but this team is just as good as the one that won it all last year. Forward Eric Paschall has stepped up this year to fill the void.
It’s harder to determine if Gonzaga is the best team. It’s understandable that the Bulldogs are ranked No. 1. Any team that is the last team undefeated at this point in the season should be No. 1. As time goes on, it seems like Gonzaga is for real.
At the beginning of the season, the Bulldogs’ non-conference schedule looked weak. While it still isn’t great, it has looked better thanks to Florida and Arizona. Gonzaga’s non-conference strength of schedule ranks 135th and overall strength of schedule ranks 118th. Those are not good numbers. However, Gonzaga defeated then unranked Florida 77-72. Florida is now 21-5 and is the No. 15 team in the nation. The Bulldogs also beat then ranked No. 16 Arizona, 69-62. Arizona is now 23-3 and ranked No 5.
That being said, apart from those two teams, Gonzaga hasn’t beaten anyone that great. The Bulldogs recently just defeated No. 22 Saint Mary’s for the second time this season, but that is the only other ranked team that Gonzaga has faced. It’s hard to say a team that is 26-0 isn’t great, but to prove it, playing another game or two against a top 10 team would be helpful.
All things considered, Gonzaga may be slightly overrated, but still a top five team. It may be possible if not likely that Villanova or Kansas is better, but they can go toe to toe with any of them. This is the best and most athletic Gonzaga team in years. They showed that by defeated Arizona and Florida. The advanced statistics also say that they are a very good team. ESPN’s RPI, which tends to look down on teams like Gonzaga has them ranked sixth. KenPom.com’s Pomery rankings which adjusts for strength of schedule says Gonzaga is by far the best team in the nation.
While some teams there are teams from poor conferences that are ranked highly and receive a high seed in the NCAA Tournament due to inflated numbers, this is not one of those years. Gonzaga and Villanova both deserve its current rankings and are not overrated.