When the bracket for the AdvoCare Invitational was announced, deep down inside I wanted Gonzaga to face Florida and Iowa State. I wanted Florida because we saw Gonzaga play Seton Hall last year, and I wanted Iowa State because racing up and down the court with the Cyclones might be the more entertaining game all season.
I have something to be thankful for.
The Zags overcame as cruddy of a first half as possible against Florida to squeak away. Meanwhile, after struggling against Indiana State in the opening round, Iowa State clobbered Miami to make it to the championship game. And here we are.
Meet the opponent
Iowa State Cyclones, 5-0, KenPom #27
There are two key things to know about Iowa State. 1) George Niang no longer plays on there after seemingly doing so forever, and 2) this team hauls ass down the court. The Zags are going to be sprinting to keep up with the Cyclones, whose tempo is 74.5 possessions per game compared to 71.1 for the Zags. Put it this way, the average Iowa State possession is a mere 13.7 seconds, where as Gonzaga’s is 16.1. Doesn’t seem like much but is a real world of difference.
This all starts at the hands of senior guard Monte Morris. Morris will be in the NBA next year, and he will be one of the best guards the Zags will face all season. Morris has been running off the charts this season. Just take a look at this line: 16.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 134.5 ORtg, all while shooting 56.7 percent from the floor. For the Zags to stay in this game, they will need to have Morris locked down.
He feeds the ball to seniors Nazareth Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas, and Deonte Burris, who are all averaging double-digit points per game. Mitrou-Long is especially a person of interest for the Zags. He has been given the green light to go bonkers from long range, and attempts seven threes per game. Right now, he isn’t converting most of them, but he is also shooting at a much lower mark than he has over his collegiate career. If Mitrou-Long starts draining those threes, things are going to get ugly.
What to watch out for
The Zags will have to play better transition defense.
Against Florida, there were a couple of abysmal transitions to the defensive end where the Zags looked completely unsettled and uninterested in protecting the hoop. Those sorts of lapses against Iowa State just cannot happen. The Cyclones will run the ball, that much is sure, but Gonzaga has to be prepared to get back as soon as possible. Iowa State is a much better team offensively than Florida, and the game will get out of hand quickly if Gonzaga falls asleep at the wheel again.
What is going on in these first halves?
Things seem a little backward from the Gonzaga Bulldogs I know, love, and constantly scream at the television about. Often times, the Zags have stormed out of the gates, and then instead of delivering a rousing halftime speech, Mark Few sends the guys to the sauna for a quick nap. This year, the script has been flipped a bit. Gonzaga has looked out of sorts offensively to open the past three games.
The baffling part about it though, is that the defense hasn’t suffered. Against Florida, while the Gonzaga offense looked like it needed to be taken out back and put down, the defensive effort was the only reason Florida wasn’t ahead by 20 points. But then things flip-flopped. The offense started to roll out of the gates, but then the defensive lapses started.
There are plenty of possible reasons for this. The chemistry question has been one on the tips of tongues nationwide, and there is a reason that everyone keeps saying this team will be better in March. Also, the tournament is a bruising affair. The Zags will be playing their third game in four days. Fatigue is a real thing.
Either way, if the Zags open cold against Iowa State, the game will get real ugly real fast.
Come back Jordan Mathews!
Mathews opened up the season hitting 9-of-14 three pointers against Utah Valley and San Diego State. Since then, he has hit just 3-of-12. A large part of Mathews value lies in his ability to hit the open three. We are used to great three point shooting squads at Gonzaga, but that isn’t so much the case this year. Johnathan Williams III and Killian Tillie will occasionally keep you honest, but our guards aren’t going to light anyone up from long range. Perkins three point shot is consistent and fantastic, but Nigel Williams-Goss and Silas Melson each only shoot 25 percent from long range. For both of those players, that mark is a little down on their career but not by much.
That is why it is so important for Mathews to hit his open shots. He isn’t taking bad shots, they just aren’t falling in. I’d be less worried about it if this drought was six or seven games, but it would be nice to see him blasting quick release shots from long range again.
- Time: Sunday, Nov. 27, 10:30 am PT
- TV: ESPN
- Radio: Gonzaga IMG Network
- Online: WatchESPN