Arrow-right Camera
Go to e-Edition Sign up for newsletters Customer service
Subscribe now
Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

‘It’s a beautiful thing to watch’: ESPN college hoops expert Joe Lunardi offers thoughts on Gonzaga

UPDATED: Mon., March 7, 2022

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

LAS VEGAS – After observing a Gonzaga basketball game in person for the first time this season, Joe Lunardi offered a glowing review.

The top-ranked Zags are as good as advertised, according to the prominent ESPN analyst, and freshman sensation Chet Holmgren is one of a kind.

Lunardi, the founder of “bracketology” – the process of predicting NCAA Tournament qualifiers and seedings – sat courtside during GU’s 81-71 win over San Francisco in the semifinal round of the West Coast Conference Tournament on Monday at Orleans Arena.

He’s based out of Philadelphia, so Lunardi hadn’t had a chance yet this year to see the Bulldogs (25-3) up close. He found himself captivated while watching Holmgren, the WCC’s defensive player of the year and newcomer of the year who was named a Sporting News second-team All-American just hours before tipoff. Holmgren is widely expected to be taken early in this year’s NBA Draft.

“First of all, he’s outrageous,” Lunardi told The Spokesman-Review. “He’s just outrageous and it’s so plain to see in person how impactful he is. If that first half is indicative of the light that’s gone on for him, then this team will be playing in April again.”

The 7-foot Holmgren scored 11 points, snatched six rebounds and swatted four shots in the first half alone as the Zags grooved and opened a 20-point lead. He finished with 17 points (7 of 10), eight boards, six blocks and three steals, helping GU stave off a Dons rally in crunch time.

“The unicorn is in the lane now instead of at the point,” Lunardi said, comparing last season’s Zags team to this one. He was referring to Jalen Suggs, a superstar freshman point guard last year who now plays for the Orlando Magic.

The Bulldogs raced out to a double-digit advantage in just five minutes versus USF. Their patented system of free-flowing, ball-distributing offense was in peak form throughout the first period.

“I love the M.O.,” Lunardi said. “To me, it’s like, ‘We have more skill than you. We know we have more skill than you, so we’re going to play more possessions than you want to play.’

“That’s John Wooden. I grew up with that. That’s what they did, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch, unless you’re on the other side of it. It takes incredible discipline to stop it and there may be five teams in the country that have it, and it happens that one of them is in (Gonzaga’s) league.”

Saint Mary’s, ranked No. 17 in the AP Top 25 poll, handed the Bulldogs their only WCC loss of the year, a 67-57 decision on Feb. 26 in Moraga, California.

“Because Saint Mary’s is so disciplined at what they do, they’re a piece of kryptonite (for GU) every four or five times,” Lunardi said. “Still, if it was a best-of-7 NBA series and 48-minute games, the Zags would win in four or five every time.”

Gonzaga has been Lunardi’s projected No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed in every bracketology update of the year save one, when Auburn took the top spot for a week in late January.

Lunardi, affectionately nicknamed “Joey Brackets,” sees three WCC programs punching their tickets to the NCAAs – GU, SMC and USF.

“Three bids is extraordinary,” he said of the rising WCC, which is in the midst of its most successful season as a conference.

He predicts that BYU will narrowly miss March Madness. The Cougars were knocked out of the conference tournament by the Dons on Saturday.

“It’s almost impossible to move up when you’re not playing,” he said of BYU. “Some teams will back up, but not enough.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Follow along with the Zags

Subscribe to our Gonzaga Basketball newsletter to stay up with the latest news.