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2017 NCAA Tournament: 10 Observations from the Gonzaga-West Virginia Sweet 16 game

35-1. Three down, three to go.

West Virginia v Gonzaga Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Give West Virginia a lot of credit for how tough they played. It’s probably fair to say that the Mountaineers provided the Zags with their stiffest test of the season, and you have to tip your cap to them for stretching Gonzaga to its limit. Jevon Carter in particular was impressive, and it’s a shame someone had to be a loser last night.

Also, since Jordan Mathews got his own post last night I wanted to address some other points below. It doesn’t mean I love him any less!

  1. The coaching staff came up with a good plan to combat the West Virginia traps. Perkins was the primary inbounder and took advantage of the ability run the baseline. Ballhandlers were presented with secondary runners making diagonal cuts in fullcourt and halfcourt situations when the Mountaineers moved to close traps that left spaces open. Obviously, it’s still not easy to make those plays under the face of pressure, but there was a sound plan put in place by the coaching staff.
  2. While Gonzaga didn’t have that much trouble getting the ball across the timeline, the halfcourt offense was not anything to write home about. It’s hard to toe the line between moving the ball quick enough to beat the traps and playing so fast that the game turns into a turnover festival. But, there were too many possessions where the Zags seemed to suffer from paralysis by analysis.
  3. Nigel Williams-Goss had one of the worst games of his career, but I imagine a lot of that was due to the mental and physical exhaustion it takes to play against West Virginia as a point guard. It says a lot about the Zags that the team’s best player could have that bad of an outing, see West Virginia succeed in many of their keys to the game, and still come out victorious.
  4. It was eye-raising to see Killian Tillie get subbed in ahead of Zach Collins, and have Rui Hachimura hit the floor in the first half in such a big game. I loved that Few was willing to move away from his rigid rotation and experiment with a frontcourt that featured NBA length and athleticism in Collins, Tillie, and Rui. While Rui’s impact was muted, his athletic profile was a good counter to the lineups that West Virginia could field, and he soaked up some minutes and fouls in the first when it looked like the entire Gonzaga team was going to foul out.
  5. Gonzaga shot 4-10 from the arc, which is a decent percentage considering how difficult it was to find rhythm & flow because of how the game was officiated. But, West Virginia’s style of play lends to giving up some open 3s, and the Zags left some good looks on the table.
  6. Remember how bad Gonzaga was at giving up offensive rebounds at the beginning of the season? That reared its ugly little head against last night. West Virginia is 6th in the country in offensive rebounding, and despite Gonzaga’s size advantage, we knew this would be a problem area going into the game. However, it was still demoralizing to see West Virginia get 2-3 bites at the apple on every possession thanks to the 20 offensive rebounds they collected. If the Zags lost this game, the biggest reason would have been the offensive glass.
  7. Josh Perkins stat line won’t jump off the page at you, but he was the positive X-factor he needed to be in this game. He didn’t attempt a single field goal, but he buoyed the team in the second half when Williams-Goss was ineffective and on the bench with foul trouble, and then made the subtlest big play of the night in blocking Nathan Adrian at the rim which led to THE SHOT.
  8. Silas Melson is also going to fly under the radar when most fans think back to this game in the future, but he grabbed a huge rebound for the Zags with about 40 second left on the clock and the score at 60-58. Melson grabbed the board and held on despite getting mugged by the entire West Virginia team. While he “only” split the free throws, it was enough to give the Zags a 3-point cushion and force West Virginia to need a 3 to tie the game. A few air balls later...Elite 8.
  9. Przemek Karnowski was the anchor Gonzaga needed. When West Virginia made its run in the second half to cut Gonzaga’s advantage and then take the lead, I think the team would have fallen apart if Karnowski wasn’t on the floor. The chicken enthusiast provided some big buckets, but more significantly, he provided mental toughness at a fragile moment in the game.
  10. I could probably write a whole book about how bad the officiating was last night. Yes, West Virginia’s style of play lends to a more whistle-heavy game, but both teams got jobbed last night. Jamie Luckie (I highly recommend entering his name in the Twitter search bar), who officiated Gonzaga’s dumpster fire game against Tennessee in Nashville back in December, was once again at the helm tonight, and he was in fine form. The types of fouls getting called were wildly inconsistent, and it felt like a whistle was blowing every 10-15 seconds of gameplay. The final tally was 51 combined fouls, 61 combined free throws, 734 calls made by the referee furthest away from the play, and a 7-minute review after the refs blew an out-of-bounds call. You all know which play I’m talking about. Equity demanded that West Virginia retain possession of the ball when replays showed Adrian wasn’t out-of-bounds when he tapped it back into play. But, the referees reversing the call on the premise that an “inadvertent” whistle was blown is laughable. I totally get that they knew they blew it and had to figure out a way to get West Virginia the ball back, but there was nothing inadvertent about the whistle or the out-of-bounds signal the referee made on that play. Nice work bending the rules there.