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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Creighton

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7-1

NCAA Basketball: Creighton at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

I watched a handful of Creighton’s games over the last few weeks to get a sense for what we could expect, and it was plainly obvious that Greg McDermott had a good squad that had not been properly rated by AP voters. The short-handed Zags, then, should feel very good about how well they played against a team that will be ranked in March and should comfortably make the NCAA Tournament barring any significant injuries. On to the observations:

  1. Gonzaga opted to switch on everything defensively in the opening possessions of the game in an effort to contain Creighton’s penetration and perimeter shooting. It wasn’t a bad plan considering those are Creighton’s two greatest strengths, but the Bluejays countered with slip-n-rolls early and often through the first 10 minutes that Gonzaga struggled to slow down. You could see this was a point of emphasis for the coaching staff during halftime as the Zags were much better at rotating over from the help side to take away the easy basket at the rim.
  2. Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas were another great test for Gonzaga’s guards as they are in the midst of a 10-day stretch playing against the nation’s best backcourts after seeing Florida last week and Villanova on Tuesday. Foster is a dynamic talent that can do a lot of damage from the three-point line as we saw last night, and Thomas is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country while being an underrated scorer. While Perkins struggled (he’s entitled to an off night after the first six games he’s had), it was encouraging to see Silas Melson and Zach Norvell have so much success against them.
  3. Considering that Creighton is a little undersized in the frontcourt, it did a good job of controlling the paint in the early going and limiting the Zags to one shot per possession which was surprising as I thought Gonzaga would have a decided advantage in the interior. As the game wore on, Gonzaga did a much better job of asserting themselves in the paint to win position.
  4. The inadvertent whistle on Silas Melson’s steal and assist to Perkins that wiped three points off the board was bad on a lot of levels. Seems like the refs simultaneously spaced out and thought Gonzaga was on offense and also forgot the rule change that any ball deflected over the halfcourt line was still live. To complete the circle of sadness involved with that play, ESPN announcer Eric Rothman was adamant that Silas Melson was the Zag who took the three...
  5. Mark Few likes going to the 2-3 zone defense when he subs in Jacob Larsen but it was clear pretty quickly that the zone was disastrous against Creighton’s shooting. The Bluejays simply had too much space on the perimeter, and the Zags weren’t helping themselves much by playing the zone fairly lazily. Arms were down at players’ sides far too frequently and the zone was slow to shift from side to side.
  6. Gonzaga would have been in a huge hole at the break if not for Silas Melson who carried the team offensively during the first 20 minutes when no one else was able to get anything going. He shot a perfect 5-5 from the field while making plays on defense. His play allowed Gonzaga to remain in the game until it figured things out in the second half.
  7. While Gonzaga’s defense wasn’t great in the first half, it was the spark that got the offense going at the start of the second half. The offense struggled to find any cohesion with Josh Perkins on the bench with foul trouble, but generating easy transition opportunities through defensive stops really helped the offense find its rhythm and restored confidence throughout the lineup. The defensive intensity and activity was greatly improved in the second half, and the Zags were strong at contesting attempts at the rim.
  8. Creighton double-teamed Johnathan Williams just about every time he caught the ball with his back to the basket. He made a good adjustment to catch the ball and immediately face up which gave him a better chance to hit a cutter before the double could came or take on his defender and drive to the basket. Williams could have been helped more by his cutters too when he was getting doubled, as they were frequently slow to flash through the lane. On two occasions Zach Norvell started to cut but then bailed out. But instead of going through and clearing the area, he reversed and walked back to the wing, leaving his defender in position to help on Williams which forced a travel and then a stalled possession. Need to be smarter about that in the future.
  9. Speaking of Norvell, he has been known for being a bit of a streaky scorer dating back to high school. He famously had a 53 point game on the AAU circuit that included 11 made 3’s in a single half. After missing his first 6 three-point attempts in a spot start for the injured Corey Kispert, Norvell did well to start attacking the basket early in the second half to get his offense going. He’s not the most explosive athlete, but he is exceptionally good at understanding angles and finishing through contact around the rim. Once he made a few layups, he started to feel good about his stroke and proceeded to make 4 of his next 5 three-point attempts which helped to effectively put Creighton away.
  10. Killian Tillie should be getting a lot more national recognition than he currently is as he demonstrated just how good his all-around game is. Current Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau (one of my favorite coaches at any level), once said that it always gets pointed out when a player/team goes an offensive run, but they can go on defensive runs too. Thibs would have loved Tillie’s second half then, as he augmented a personal 6-0 offensive run with a stellar stretch of defense that included three second half blocks, a pair of steals, and stout interior defense. Creighton had no answer for him.