After Gonzaga's loss to BYU on the final day of February, most Zag fans have run the gamut of explanations, excuses, and, for the most part, have coped with the Bulldogs second loss of the season. While that was nice for a week, now it is time to see if all those explanations, most of which centered around "this will be a good wake up call for them", actually play out. The Zags enter the tournament in Las Vegas as the clear favorites to win another conference tournament crown but after a month of shaky play, all eyes will be on Mark Few's club. Tonight's game against San Francisco will be the first measure of what kind of month we can expect.
As we've written, a late season loss to BYU should not de-value what the Bulldogs have accomplished this season. A 29-2 record, no. 7 in the country, and a pretty clear cut No. 2 seed at this time is nothing to scoff at. That said, with such a rough February, memories of past March failings are undoubtedly clouding the minds of many Gonzaga fans - if they aren't clouding yours, you are a far more centered human being than I am.
There are little fears of a loss in tonight's game. While Rex Walters has done a really nice job during his tenure of getting his teams 'up' to play the Zags (and I hesitate to say Rex Walters has done anything nice during his tenure) the Zags should cruise past the Dons in the quarterfinals. We'll measure tonight's game by how the Zags come out against San Francisco. Against BYU, the Bulldogs abandoned what had made them such a solid team all season. They largely ignored their stellar post game after it sputtered to get going and decided it was best to match BYU with a four-guard lineup which ultimately led to Kyle Collinsworth taking over.
Tonight, I expect to see a team that dedicates itself to establishing the post game with a great amount of force. The main thing I will be watching is how the staff handles Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis. There is little arguing that fact that Sabonis has been clearly better than Karnowski over the past month, particularly on the offensive end. For the past couple games, the staff has shown no reluctance to take a struggling Karnowski out and insert Sabonis. I would expect to see that continue on but hopefully Karnowksi can regain his early season form.
In addition to the post game, getting Kevin Pangos and Kyle Witljer off to a quick start will be crucial. Wiltjer, in particular, outside of his barrage against Pacific and late game heroics against Saint Mary's, has struggled. Getting him good lucks in the mid-range will allow the Zags to distance themselves from USF very quickly. For Pangos, it will be about getting more than that one quick three to open the game and sustaining some early scoring. He gets so much attention from opposing defenders that is has been challenging for him to get early shots but the Zags would do well to get him going early.
Hopefully we are discussing a dominant performance later this evening with the BYU loss clearly in the rear view mirror...