College Hoops Mailbag: Gonzaga’s title chances, top games to watch, and more

Now that we’ve officially hit the four-week point of the season, this College Hoops Mailbag looks back at the team that has emerged as the clear favorite to win the national title through the first month while also looking ahead to the most exciting matchups ahead.

It’s a little bit of a smaller mailbag because of the holidays – everyone doesn’t have as much time! – but we still have some good topics to dive into. Let’s get into it!

We will post these mailbags every Wednesday throughout the course of the season, so make sure you join the conversation on Twitter at @brauf33. Thanks as always to those who contributed this week.

1000000000 percent yes. I picked them in the preseason and obviously feel even more confident in that pick now.

Offensively, Gonzaga looks like one of the most lethal units in the sport’s history. That will be their identity throughout the season, but their defense is much better than it gets credit. The Zags boast a top 15 unit on that end of the floor per KenPom. They’re long, quick, and have the ability to switch just about everything because of their versatility.

Toughness-wise, I think they’ve proven themselves, too. You can’t get three top 10 wins at this point in the season without being mentally tough. If you want to question how they’ll respond in a close game, they did so against West Virginia, coming back to win that game in the closing minutes.

I might be a little biased considering my thoughts about them in the preseason, but I don’t see anything to not like about this team.

I’d probably go 2:1 or 5:2? I’m terrible with setting lines, but I’m looking at it as either Gonzaga vs. the field or Gonzaga vs. Baylor vs. the field. I’d take the Zags no matter what because I like being right and love winning money. Mark Few’s squad is the clear, clear favorite in my eyes.

Are we talking best non-conference game left for best conference game left? I’ll give one for either.

Obviously, Gonzaga-Baylor is the top non-conference game that ends up getting rescheduled (we can hope, right?). But, assuming that doesn’t happen, let’s go with Gonzaga-Virginia. Not only do we get to see the nation’s best offensive go up against what could be the nation’s best defense, but it’s also a game UVA needs to perform well in given their slower start.

In terms of conference games, I’m going to cheat a little bit because I think every game played between teams at the top of the Big 12 – Baylor, Kansas, Texas, and West Virginia – will be wildly entertaining and must-watch.

I’m going to go with Sheldon Williams or Alvin Jones, which puts Bates among the very best in league history (Williams and Jones are both in the top three in ACC history). Williams played a few years after Jones, though, so I guess the answer is him.

Bates is phenomenal. I’m always amazed at how quick his reactions are and how he manages to avoid the foul trouble that plagues many shot blockers. He led the nation in block rate last year and is third so far this season in a bigger role, averaging nearly four per game. Having that level of rim protection allows a team to play with more pressure on the perimeter, which is exactly what Kevin Keatts and the Wolfpack want to do.

Brian Rauf is a college basketball writer for HeatCheckCBB.com. His content has been featured by Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, and FanSided, among other publications. Rauf is also a current USBWA member and Rockin’ 25 voter.