Momentum is one of the strongest forces in sports and one team that felt the impact it can have last season was Gonzaga.
If the Zags can carry that momentum into this season, there is no telling how far in the NCAA Tournament they can go.
Gonzaga has been the class of the mid-majors for more than a decade, highlighted by multiple Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight runs, but the team the Zags return could be better than all those that came before.
Better than Blake Stepp’s team.
Better than Matt Bouldin’s team.
Even better than Adam Morrison’s team.
But first we have to take a trip back to January of last season.
The Bulldogs were trailing Saint Mary’s in the race for the West Coast Conference crown after dropping three in a row in late January.
The third was a loss to Saint Mary’s at the McCarthy Center, the Gaels’ first win at Gonzaga since moving into its new facility in 2003.
For the first time in a long while, Gonzaga was looking up at somebody in its conference. To make matters worse, it was the team that has been their main rival over the past seven years.
It was that game that sparked a new found focus, winning 11 of their next 12 games and allowing fewer than 59 points per game during the stretch.
The team had a new attitude.
The last game of that stretch being the WCC Championship game against Saint Mary’s.
All but one player returns from a team that possessed incredible depth, more than any Gonzaga team during its amazing run.
The best player on the team is junior Elias Harris, who looks to rebound after a subpar sophomore year, but the key to Gonzaga’s success is Marquise Carter, David Stockton and Sam Dower.
Carter became one of the Zags’ more reliable players down the stretch after not playing consistently prior to the Saint Mary’s game in late January.
Carter played more than 30 minutes eight times after the Saint Mary’s game following the first 17 games where he played more than 20 minutes just once.
Carter went for double-digit points seven times during that final stretch, including a weekend in which he dropped 20 and 18 points against Santa Clara and San Francisco respectively.
Stockton, the son of former Gonzaga and NBA great John Stockton, did not fill up the stat sheet but his ability to run the offense and wreak havoc on opposing defenses took Gonzaga to the next level.
Prior to the January 27 loss to Saint Mary’s, Stockton averaged 10 minutes per game. His average in the following 13 games jumped to more than 23 per game.
With the departure of Demetri Goodson, the diminutive Stockton will get more playing time at the point, giving the Zags one of the faster players in college basketball.
Dower, who also had inconsistent playing time prior to the Saint Mary’s game in January, became a saving grace on the post for Gonzaga.
With six double-digit point performances down the stretch, Dower came up the biggest against Saint Mary’s.
His 21-point game in Moraga propelled the Zags toward a share of the WCC regular season title and sent Saint Mary’s into a tailspin.
Gonzaga had seven players average 15 or more minutes per game, one of which was not Dower.
The returnees from that group are: Robert Sacre, Harris, Carter and Stockton.
When a team has that many players averaging that many minutes, they are deep.
With Dower, Stockton and Carter being a larger part of the equation, the Bulldogs could have one of its best runs in school history.