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2016 NCAA Tournament: Sights and sounds from the Midwest Regional Open Practice

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The Zags made it rain in Chicago on the eve of the Sweet 16.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, this intrepid blogger got to see the Zags hit the United Center floor in Chicago for an open shootaround ahead of Friday night's matchup against Syracuse.

First things first, it was awesome to see Przemek Karnowski on the floor and moving around so well (and embracing Chicago by wearing a Blackhawks hat).

Shem got up some freethrows at the start of the session, and helped feed some entry passes into Ryan Edwards and Kyle Wiltjer as they got in some early work. For someone that had back surgery less than 4 months ago, he seems to be making good progress with his rehab, and looks to be in really great shape.

I caught a lot of the Iowa State practice just prior to the Zags, and the Cyclones spent most of their time casually getting shots up. I wasn't expecting to see Gonzaga (or any of the other three squads) work on anything substantive for the open session, since you know, it's open to everybody, but it was nice to see Gonzaga use the time on the floor productively.

The assistant coaches ran the team through a transition offense drill, and then another focusing on entry passes into the high post to the corner 3. As we've mentioned here several times this week, the latter will be a prominent feature of the offensive gameplan against Syracuse on Friday night.

It was pouring rain for most of today in Chicago, and after watching Gonzaga's shootaround, I have to say Wiltjer and the boys might be the cause of our current weather system. These guys can really make it rain.

I can only pontificate from my vantage point as an outside observer, but the guys seemed relaxed while still maintaining their focus on preparing for tomorrow. After the session was over, the guys did their press duties before heading over to the Chicago Bulls practice facility across the street to get in their real practice. A woman and her young son (both Syracuse fans) were seated next to me for most of Gonzaga's session, and the kid was in awe by Wiltjer's (and generally everyones) shooting. "He makes everything," came out of his mouth at one point. I told him to watch out for #11 and #33 on Friday night. Let's hope they're making everything.

Tip-ins:

  • Iowa State's practice was maybe the most lackadaisical shootaround I've ever seen. I like to watch how each player uses his time in these types of settings, and it was no surprise that Georges Niang, unlike many of his cohorts, seemed to be using it very wisely. Niang methodically worked through various spots and shots all over the floor, and it was obvious that it was a practice he'd been doing for some time. It's no surprise that Niang has worked himself into a great player despite not having the physical talents of some other players.
  • The Cyclones spent the last 10 minutes of their practice taking half court shots--which is fine, a lot of teams do this--but for their sake I hope they don't need it because that team is BAD from Steph Curry range.
  • Unlike Iowa State, and more like Gonzaga, Syracuse ran a very organized shootaround. I didn't stick around for too much of it, but Michael Gbinije looked sharp from what I saw. He's a big point guard, and it'll be fun to watch Eric McClellan matched up on him. On the flip side, I did see the Orange blow consecutive dunks in a drill, so that was fun.
  • Assistant Coach Brian Michaelson might be the most low-key fun person to watch during a shootaround. I want him to whip behind the back bounce passes to me while I'm firing up jumpshots.
  • Words of Wisdom from Iowa State's Jameel McKay: "A bucket is a bucket. It don't matter how you get it, just get it."