The Zags are standing tall right now at 6-0. Wins against Florida and Iowa State helped propel Gonzaga into the top 10 in the latest AP poll. Saturday’s game against Arizona looms on the horizon, spelling an end to the meat of the non-conference slate.
Now, we are nearly a fifth of the way through the season, so things are no longer necessarily a small sample size. The AdvoCare Invitational gave us plenty to chew on, and here are some of the biggest takeaways from the first six games of the season.
1) First and foremost, this team still has a lot of gelling to do.
We all knew it was going to take some time for this team to come together. Mark Few said so, half of the players probably said so, and 100 percent of the commenters definitely said so. Because of this, watching those ugly halves in the AdvoCare Invitational, specifically the first half of the Florida game and the second half of the Iowa State game, were great reminders that this team still has a long way to go. This is by no means a bad thing. National pundits were picking the Zags as a potential Final Four team for a reason, but there was also a reason that Gonzaga opened up the season ranked in the low teens and not as a top 10.
At Gonzaga’s peak level of operation, as we saw in the second half of Florida and the first half of Iowa State, this squad is without a doubt in the conversation for one of the best in the country. But they aren’t there consistently yet. All signs are pointing that the Zags will arrive at this point, and when they do, that is when things get really fun.
2) Przemek Karnowski is fully healthy.
One of the big concerns going into the season was the overall health of Gonzaga’s favorite big man from Poland. Mark Few kept the news tight, almost maybe a little too tight. After suffering season-ending back surgery last season, there were a lot of questions as to whether or not Karnowski would even play this year. He did, and he is making the most of his minutes.
Granted, his minutes are cut down a bit compared to previous seasons, but when you have a more than capable backup in Zach Collins, there is no reason to put further strain on the body. Karnowski is averaging 20.7 minutes per game this season, down from 24.5 his junior season. The big difference is that he is doing more with those minutes than he has in his career. If you look at per 40 minute totals, Karnowski is averaging career highs in every statistic across the board: points, rebounds, assists and blocks, and his lowest turnover amount as well. The only reason he isn’t doing better? Karnowski’s field goal percentage sits at .533 through three games, a full six percent lower than his career average. Once he gets his little hook flip from the post back, Karno is ready and roaring to go.
3) Josh Perkins is a legitimate three point threat.
Last season, Perkins finished with a 37.8 percent mark from three-point range, which was drastically raised by him shooting 46.3 percent from long range during WCC play. This season, he hasn’t missed a beat from long range. Perkins is the squads most consistent three-point threat, hitting 48 percent from afar, while attempting five long range shots per game.
The importance of Perkins as a long range shooter cannot be overstated enough. Although Williams-Goss is shooting 45 percent from three right now, much of that is inflated by him going 6-for-8 against Iowa State. Prior to that, he was 3-for-10 from three-point range. Johnathan Williams has demonstrated he can hit an occasional shot, as has Killian Tillie, but other than that it is only Jordan Mathews. The ability of Perkins to hit the outside shot forces defense to stay honest, and also makes it so all the pressure in the world isn’t residing on Mathews’ shoulders.
4) Mark Few is going to run with an eight-man rotation.
Bryan Alberts, Rui Hachimura and Ryan Edwards have all seen time in four games. Those happen to coincide with the first four games of the season where the Zags never really had to battle at all. Against Florida and Iowa State, when more was on the line, Few shortened the bench a healthy amount. Williams-Goss and Perkins average over 30 minutes, Silas Melson, Williams, Mathews and Karnowski are over 20 minutes, and Zach Collins and Killian Tillie sit around 17 minutes per game.
That right there is your eight-man rotation, and barring any injury, that is most likely the way it is going to stay for most of the season. Unfortunately, for Edwards, there just isn’t room in the post to get him any meaningful minutes. Alberts’ role with the team is a little bit redundant now that Perkins can hit threes, and Hachimura is still too green behind the ears to allow for minutes when it matters.
Out of all of those three, the only person who theoretically will start to get more minutes will be Hachimura, but even then, it is hard to see who those will come at the expense of.
5) There is a good chance Zack Norvell ends up with a redshirt.
I hope I am wrong on this. Truly, I do. There is a good chance I will be, especially considering I kept yabbering on an on before the season started about how Hachimura was going to redshirt. Look at where that got me.
What we do know is this: Norvell had offseason surgery and both him and the coaching staff have been a bit frustrated with how the recovery is going. He played some minutes in the exhibition game, but that has been it.
Now, there is no doubt that Norvell is a great talent. And there is also no doubt that if the Mark Few feels he needs to burn the redshirt, he will not hesitate for a second (e.g. Silas Melson a couple of years ago). But right now, the Gonzaga backcourt is operating quite nicely. Williams-Goss and Perkins are playing nicely as a duo together, Melson has accepted a new role of a lockdown defender, and Mathews is playing great minutes on the wing.
Now, unlike the frontcourt, there are some minutes to spare in the backcourt. Both Williams-Goss and Perkins are putting on some miles, and if you hack away at everyone’s totals you can easily come up with 12-15 minutes per game for Norvell to play with. So maybe he does come in. But don’t be surprised if he doesn’t step onto the floor during a game this season.