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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s loss to Villanova

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7-2

NCAA Basketball: Incarnate Word at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

It was a tough night at Madison Square Garden for Gonzaga who played a Villanova squad that was clearly a cut above. While the Zags undoubtedly played their worst game in quite some time, it would be a waste to simply chalk this game up as an “off night” and forget about it. Instead, the Zags should learn from the level of effort and attention to detail exemplified by Villanova that it needs to reach on a consistent basis in order to be considered one of the best teams in the country. Here’s what else I took away:

  1. Outside of the first 3-4 minutes of each half, Villanova dominated this game because it was able to find the balance between playing aggressively but under control. The Zags, as a whole, were sped up by Nova’s pressure and got completely out of sync on the offensive end. 11 turnovers through the first 13 minutes of the game is how this one got away.
  2. As the offense got flustered, it began to seep into the defense as Zags were routinely closing out on Nova’s shooters by flying at them out of control instead of also protecting against the drive. Villanova used this to its advantage, routinely getting penetration to compromise Gonzaga’s scrambled defense to get an easy layup or kick back out to an open shooter because a Gonzaga defender was forced to rotate and leave his man.
  3. Corey Kispert’s absence was keenly felt in this game. Upper echelon teams have to be able to absorb injuries, but Kispert’s basketball profile made him a good fit for this matchup as he would have been able to help contain Villanova’s bevy of wings while also providing a measure of composure beyond his seven games of NCAA experience.
  4. I thought this was the kind of matchup that would really suit Johnathan Williams since Villanova lacks long, interior players. Nova’s biggest player is 6-8 freshman forward Omari Spellman, but instead of taking advantage, Williams was a non-factor. While he did flash his defensive ability when isolated on Jalen Brunson after a switch on the perimeter, Williams never gave himself much of a chance to make an impact thanks to foul trouble throughout the evening. While he only played 18 minutes, a zero in the rebound column is hard to fathom from Williams.
  5. Gonzaga was able to get the ball into Larsen in the post, but struggled to generate clean looks for Williams and Tillie due to Villanova’s ball pressure and effectiveness at denying entry passes to the post. Even in the high-low, which has been Gonzaga’s staple for the last few years, execution was sloppy outside of one nice connection in the second half. It’s not like opportunities weren’t there, as Jalen Brunson got stuck on Johnathan Williams a handful of times inside. The Zags simply failed to take advantage.
  6. Speaking of Brunson, I was pretty impressed by his ability to use the entire floor to his advantage. He doesn’t have the explosiveness of other point guards in the country, but he’s adept at changing speeds and creating angles for himself. There was a play in the second half where Silas Melson was covering him the whole way down the floor. Melson is a much better athlete than Brunson, but the Villanova guard saw Larsen extended out to the wing and used him as a screen against Melson which created just enough separation for him to get the basket and convert an and-1 foul. It was smart, heads-up basketball.
  7. Villanova is very well coached on the defensive end. The Wildcats were able to disrupt passing lanes all night because their hands were constantly active and in search of the ball. The Zags had a tough time just handling the ball cleanly for many possessions. That level of sustained pressure is mentally exhausting to deal with for opponents and forces teams into bad mistakes and easy opportunities going the other way.
  8. The Zags drew a double team every time a player caught the ball in the corner with his back to the basket. Tillie got trapped because he kept his back turned after receiving the ball despite being 20 feet away from the basket while being covered by the much smaller Donte DiVincenzo. It’s important to be aware of where you are on the floor and understand where opponents will trap. Tillie needed to immediately face-up to the basket and make himself a threat rather than a target.
  9. Gonzaga had no answer for Mikal Bridges who dominated on both ends of the floor. I thought Bridges would struggle against the athleticism and length of Williams and Tillie, but it was the other way around. He’s really raised his game to another level and is moving up draft boards.
  10. If these two teams played a 7-game series, I don’t think Villanova wins that easily every time. But right now, the Cats would easily win a series. Gonzaga is good enough to beat any team in the country on any given night. The challenge for this squad is to be good enough to beat any team in the country every night.