Last season is going to be hard to top. Gonzaga ended the year on top of the Kenpom rankings as the nation’s most efficient team with the best defense. They were one game (or one Karnowski eye poke) away from a National Championship and an NCAA season record tying win total. Can the unprecedented success be duplicated? Why da hell not.
This year’s first eight could be the most athletic in Gonzaga history and will be able to run and score with any team in the country. You saw a glimpse of it last season when Karno and JWIII took the bench and Collins and Tillie were inserted. The team went from being a post dominated offense to playing more free-wheeling sets where speed and cuts to the basket provided the scoring. Insert JWIII in the Collins role, plus three fast, long and athletic studs (Rui/Norvell/Kispert) and Few’s Motion Offense gets turned up to 11.
A lot of today’s best college teams put five elite athletes on the floor hoping to outrun or out jump their opponent’s, how will this Gonzaga team be any different? It’s the three-pointer. Most uber-athletic teams usually have one or two guys who can shoot the “3”, Gonzaga will have good to great three-point shooters at all five starting positions. When they get tired, Rui/Norvell, Kispert and Wade will be waiting in the wings. Opponents locking down the perimeter will be burned by screens and cuts or the guy they will guarding will just blow by them. This is going to be fun to watch.
Speed, length and athleticism not only equate to scoring. Expect Gonzaga to return to the upper echelon of defensive teams. Perimeter defense will once again be outstanding and could possibly improve. As much as we loved NWG and Mathews and as good as they played defense last season, they weren’t as long and athletic as Kispert, Norvell or Rui. T. J. Haws meet Mr. Hachimura and his 84” wingspan, he’ll be guarding you for the next ten minutes. So the perimeter will be locked down, what about the post?
To quote Ringo (geez I’m old), “they’ll get by with a little help from their friends”. JWIII and Tillie won’t have a problem going head’s up with 80% of their opponents. In the rare cases they do, expect to see a lot of weak-side help and guards doubling down. That’s the beauty of having athletic guards, they’ll be able to double down on a big without throwing the entire defensive scheme into complete chaos. As far as weak-side help goes, JWIII, Tillie and Rui all seem to be guys who live for coming out of nowhere and swatting a shot. For more conventional post D, welcome Jacob Larsen. Yes, Larsen is unproven, but remember as a 16-year-old he was MVP in European FIBA championship beating out Lauri Markkanen. He also grew up guarding an older brother who grew to 7-foot and played professional basketball. GU will be fine in the post.
So, if everything goes right can Gonzaga return to the Final Four? You bet they can. Perkins and Melson could turn out to be one of the country’s most potent guard combinations. JWIII spent the summer finding out what he needed to do to improve his NBA draft stock and you know this high quality young man is going to do just that. Rui and Tillie are potential first-round picks going into the season and either has the talent to average 20+ points-per-game. Norvell, Kispert, Larsen and Wade all have the potential to have break-out seasons. Lastly, don’t forget who’s putting this team together and ensuring they mesh; college basketball’s reigning Coach of the Year.