By Tommy Kuhn
Gonzaga comes into this season with a lot of confidence.
The team has won two of the last three NCAA championships, two WCC titles in a row and four straight conference games.
But back in November, it was not a given that Gonzaga would be number one in the country by the end of the season.
Back in November, the Bulldogs stumbled.
They lost four of six games and first place in the WCC. They also got a national ranking in the AP Poll, but barely got the ‘1’ in it.
But the whole injury epidemic that plagued the college basketball world in the fall of 2016-17 never really hit Gonzaga.
Zags’ head coach Mark Few, year after year, seems to find some way to replace key players in one way or another.
Two years ago, he brought back Gary Bell Jr. and Kyle Wiltjer to play on his team, and they were both a huge part of the team’s success.
2016-17 saw both Brandon Clarke and Domantas Sabonis go down with major injuries. Neither player returned to form until last season, when they were both healthy and playing at a high level.
No. 10 Keigo Taumoepeau also saw a lot of his season cut short by injury. Without those players, the Bulldogs dropped three games.
But when Derryck Thornton returned from injury, the Bulldogs came together.
Thornton filled the hole at point guard, along with Xojian Harry and Sam Dower at the power forward spot.
Dower has proven that even though he played basketball for three years at Duke and was one of the top players at the class of 2016, he can be a game-changer on the basketball court.
Harry has been a complete opposite. He has been inconsistent and plays mostly when required at center.
Once Dower returned, the Bulldogs had the team most wanted. It was not only the best player on the floor, but it was the most complete player on the floor.
It is hard to argue with how they have played.
Few won’t be standing on the sideline as if this is just another game. He is looking for his team to be perfect.
Few has said that Gonzaga’s schedule at this point in the season does not really test them. He will be yelling a different and a different order at them on the floor, because he knows they can be better.
No. 9 Missouri is the next opponent for the Bulldogs and they will have to bring their A-game to defeat the Tigers.
Missouri has struggled through a series of off-court incidents, in which the head coach Frank Haith has been the main figure.
He was accused of using prostitutes while recruiting his players to his school. No evidence was ever given of that. He was also named in an NCAA investigation that led to allegations of player recruiting violations.
Frank is no longer with Missouri and now Kim Anderson is the head coach. But if the other problems are not handled, Missouri could fall even further down the standings.
No. 18 Butler is a team on the rise. The Bulldogs have struggled in the conference, but lost two of their last three games, including a loss to Notre Dame earlier this season.
But Izzo has not lost faith in his team. His team has lacked some talent on the roster, but Izzo knows that his team can return to their winning ways.
Butler lost two starters early in the season when they fell to Duke in the Champions Classic, but in only four losses they have already improved in the NCAA Tournament in 2017 and 2018.
Izzo is looking for his team to show another gear. He wants to play solid defense, improve ball-handling and improve their consistency. He is looking for his team to fight and not back down.
If the Bulldogs do that, they have a chance to win the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden.
But, even with the injuries of the past, there is a chance.
Gonzaga will be ranked again in the AP poll next week. But then if they do not accomplish the goals at hand, they will drop back down.
Might come Saturday night against Missouri at home.