Is Gonzaga’s Championship Window Closed for the Foreseeable Future?
Gonzaga has been the best program in college hoops over the previous seven seasons, with its record being a remarkable 223–24 since the start of the 2016–17 season. Yet once again, the Bulldogs have lost out on the ultimate reward in the NCAA tournament, as they were stomped Saturday by 28 points against UConn to finish the career of standout big man Drew Timme and leave the program still without a national championship. The Huskies, victorious by double digits in their prior three NCAA tournament games, dominated Gonzaga Saturday, leading by as many as 33 and only trailing for less than a minute of the 40-minute encounter.
The Bulldogs were competitive early on, but they were unable to survive the early second-half blitz that has been UConn’s identity throughout this tournament. In the first five minutes of the second half of their last four games, the Huskies have outscored their opponents by 37 points. On Saturday, they increased a seven-point halftime lead to a 19-point halftime lead. Timme’s fourth foul, a controversial whistle on a rebound with 17:39 remaining and the Huskies trying to pull away, was the key moment of that run. With Timme sidelined, the game soon faded away, along with another opportunity for the Zags to finally capture their first NCAA Men’s Basketball Title in program history.
Timme’s illustrious career ended with little over two minutes on the clock, as Few substituted him out for the last time. The relationship between the coach and his star frequently resembled a complex, yet special one that led to A LOT of winning. Several teammates have jokingly called Timme the team’s “Union Rep” for the past two years, making fun of Timme’s attempts to reduce practice or loosen up on exercises, but this is an improvement over his rookie nickname, which was simply just, “Dumbass”. Timme embraced each player and staff member as he made his way down the bench. Once the buzzer sounded, Timme gathered his fellow teammates for some final goodbyes, before dispatching them down the tunnel. What did Timme say?
“[I] just told them we had a hell of a year. I was proud of them. I loved them. Wouldn’t want to do this journey with anyone else,”
Timme’s absence of a national championship should not diminish his status as one of March’s greatest players. His 10 NCAA tournament games with 20 or more points represent the most ever, including Thursday’s heroic 36-point explosion against UCLA. He accomplished this despite the absence of the NCAA tournament during his first year due to Covid. Timme shattered the record books in Spokane and nationally in the standard four years and is not utilizing his fifth. In an era where records are broken due to players using their additional year of eligibility, Timme rewrote the record books in Spokane and nationally in the traditional four years.
“I think he’s one of the greatest college players in this modern era,” Few said. “It was a hell of a good time walking out on the practice floor with him every time or hopping on a jet. And I’m sure going to have a lot of good times moving forward… It was a hell of a good time walking out on the practice floor with him every time or hopping on a jet. And I’m sure going to have a lot of good times moving forward.”
Timme also leaves behind a reputation as one of the greatest personalities college hoops has seen in a long time, as seen by his much-publicized mustache and consistently hilarious quips. College basketball needs players like Timme: identifiable figures that remain for four years, have a measurable influence on their program, and have a personality that fans may either love or despise. Even without a title, Gonzaga, famed for letting its players be stars, and Timme were a perfect match.
“The place took me for who I was. They didn’t ask me to be anybody but myself,” Timme told the media. “I’m forever in debt for Gonzaga, just the love I have for just everyone that helped me and made this journey so special and so fun. I just don’t think I could ever repay that.”
The conclusion of Timme’s career raises the question: Has Gonzaga’s chance at winning the national championship shut for the foreseeable future?The talent disparity was clear in this game, as it has been in other contests against top teams this season as well. While the Zags will probably make a transfer portal splash or two, its roster next year doesn’t appear exceptional on paper. With former top recruiter Tommy Lloyd now the head coach at Arizona and NIL’s influence on recruiting only growing, it is unlikely the Bulldogs will produce another Chet Holmgren or Jalen Suggs. It also may never have another Timme, the program’s all-time leading scorer and a clutch NCAA tournament player.
This is not to argue that Gonzaga will not produce consistently strong teams; as long as Few coaches in Spokane, the Bulldogs will continue to be a consistent force. He ranks among the sport’s top coaches as Gonzaga has been one of the nation’s best at player development, and the brand is strong enough at this time to continue luring in more talent. Even so, the highly prized national championship? If it didn’t happen after reaching the championship game in 2017 or ’21, in ’22 with Holmgren, Timme, and an excellent point guard in Andrew Nembhard, and with a senior Timme in a blown-out bracket, will it ever happen?
This era should not be viewed as a failure. Certainly, Gonzaga fell short of its ultimate objective of bringing a championship to Spokane’s small school. This is the cruelty of this one-and-done competition: According to KenPom’s criteria, Gonzaga had the best or second-best team in the country for five of the last seven years and ended in the top 10 in each of those seven seasons, yet the Zags did not win a national championship during that span. Occasionally, they were the victims of bad luck, like in the 2017 championship game versus North Carolina. Sometimes they were just outclassed, like as against Baylor in ’21 and UConn on Saturday.
Gonzaga has achieved all but winning the championship. sFollowing several years as serious contenders with no breakout, it is hard to imagine that the championship will ever won any time soon. On Saturday, the door may have shut not just on Timme’s career, but also on a phenomenal run of success that will long be tied with failure by many.