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2017 NCAA Tournament: 10 Observations from the Gonzaga-Northwestern game

34-1. Two down, four to go.

Northwestern v Gonzaga Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Survive and advance is the name of the game in March. Gonzaga has learned that lesson after 19 straight years of tournament appearances. Northwestern got a taste.

  1. In the first half, Gonzaga’s defense showed why it’s currently ranked #1 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings. Northwestern was completely overwhelmed by the defensive intensity with which Gonzaga played during the opening 20 minutes, and finished the first half shooting 30% from the field and 1-11 from 3. Notably, Northwestern only averages 10.6 turnovers per game, but had already tallied 8 at halftime and 13 total for the game.
  2. Jordan Mathews played his most complete half of the season during the game’s first 20 minutes. Mathews was an impact defensive presence, and played with great activity that disrupted Northwestern’s offense.
  3. While Gonzaga’s stifling defense in the first half undoubtedly played a large part, Northwestern seemed mentally unprepared for the moment/stage to start the game. Give them credit for rallying at halftime and putting up a stellar effort in the second half. It would have been very easy to pack it in and call it a good season after going down 18 points to a #1 seed.
  4. Nigel Williams-Goss rebounded from Thursday’s disappointing outing with a much better game highlighted by a dominant first half in which he notched a 14-6-4 line. However, his efficiency did take a hit in the second half when he shot 1-9 from the field and failed to pick up another assist. But, he did hit a big 3 and shushed the crowd which was awesome. The fact the refs and announcers called out Nigel for making that gesture is comical, to say the least.
  5. The Zags did an excellent job locking down Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh who finished with an offensive rating of 91 and 5 turnovers (averages 2.7). He had a stellar second half and finished with 20 points, but was ineffective for long stretches of the game which crippled the Wildcat offense. I have to give Johnathan Williams a shoutout for the job he did on the perimeter against McIntosh on the several occasions he found himself switched on him. Williams ability to switch everything and guard perimeter players is a huge part of what makes the defense so successful.
  6. Killian Tillie gave the Zags 14 really good minutes, which was the most he’s played since February 9. It’s not easy to miss time due to injury and have to work your game back into form in the midst of a tournament run. Tillie contributed with a much-needed 8 points and provided his usual energy off the bench. It was his length and athleticism when coupled with Zach Collins that provided the Zags with a lot of defensive range in the game’s closing minutes.
  7. I know some people—particularly the announcers—were perplexed that Mark Few kept Williams and Karnowski on the bench late in the game and let his freshmen close it out. But, the way the game was going at the end favored the Collins-Tillie dynamic, and enabled Gonzaga to switch 1-5 on Northwestern’s numerous ball screens.
  8. Once again, Zach Collins came up huge for the Zags. The postgame story was his basket interference that the refs missed, which is a shame because the story should be how well Collins has played. The freshman center had a tough WCC Tournament, but has been money in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
  9. Speaking of the basket interference situation, there’s no doubt the refs blew that call. The blown call ended up causing a 4-point swing thanks to Chris Collins getting whistled for a tech after racing onto the court to protest the non-call. But if Collins doesn’t pick up that tech, the Zags don’t get two free points. While he had a right to be upset, Chris Collins had been flirting with a tech all game with some of his sideline protestations, and the refs rightfully had enough when he ran onto the court. That tech is on you coach, sorry.
  10. I spent enough time last night peeved with Jay Williams for criticizing Gonzaga’s locker room celebration after the game. Literally every team has celebrated its win during this tournament in similar fashion, but the Zags are the ones getting criticized for it. Winning games in the tournament is hard. These college kids aren’t professionals, they’re young people making awesome memories with some of their closest friends. Let them celebrate all they want.

*Bonus: The refereeing in the second half was brutal for both teams. Both fan bases will feel aggrieved, and both will be right.