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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over North Dakota State

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NCAA Basketball: North Dakota State at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The primary talking point from Monday wasn’t anything that happened against North Dakota State, but the news that came out before tipoff that Geno Crandall sustained a fracture to his right hand and would miss the next 4-6 weeks. Crandall’s injury strains Gonzaga’s depth even further, and raises a lot of questions about how the Zags will handle the backup point guard spot for the rest of the non-conference slate. Gonzaga’s offense hasn’t looked very good this year when Josh Perkins isn’t on the floor (in non-mop up situations), and Mark Few doesn’t really have the luxury of holding an extensive audition for the backup job considering the next four games are at Creighton, home to Washington, Tennessee on a neutral floor, and at North Carolina. If last night taught us anything, it’s that Zach Norvell appears to be the guy tasked with taking up most of Crandall’s duties (see #4).

This game against the Bison could have easily been a slog coming off the highs from Maui, but it’s a testament to Gonzaga’s focus and preparation that there were no such shenanigans on Monday night. Here’s what I took away from the seventh win of the season:

  1. Brandon Clarke’s motor is always running hot. He’s really good about getting down the floor in defensive transition to put himself in position to block, or at the minimum, alter what should be an easy layup for opposing players. He was dominant from the offensive end too, and has established great chemistry with Perkins and Norvell in the pick and roll.
  2. Zags were switching 1 to 5 in the first, and on one defensive possession Clarke found himself on the perimeter with Perkins covering his man in the post. Clarke was able to keep the Bison’s guard in front of him, while Perkins did a great job preventing an easy entry pass resulting in the ball being batted away and creating a transition opportunity. That play highlighted why the Zags have the luxury of being so aggressive with their switches in defending ball screens.
  3. Gonzaga can score so many points in the blink of an eye. The Bison took a 19-18 lead midway through the first half, and all of a sudden the Zags reeled off a 35-6 run over the rest of the half to put the game to bed.
  4. Norvell (8 assists) is definitely the guy handling the rock the majority of the time that Perkins is on the bench. Perkins is going to play heavy, heavy minutes in the next few games, but if he needs to sit expect Norvell to handle the point guard gig while Foster and Ayayi battle it out for the remaining PG minutes (if any).
  5. Amazingly, the Zags shot the ball so well from the field in the first half (21-29/72.4% field goal percentage and 7-12/58.3% from the arc) that their worst shooting percentage came at the free throw line. The free throw shooting sample in the first half was small (4-8), and it feels ridiculous to complain about anything in a 42-point win, but considering that it has been the most notable wart on this team through the first seven games and almost cost Gonzaga the Duke game, it’s worth highlighting.
  6. Corey Kispert lit it up from the three-point line, highlighted by a 51-second stretch around the 12-minute mark of the second half where he hit a trio of 3’s. His shot has been inconsistent through the early part of the season, but if he gets going the offense will somehow get even better.
  7. Joel Ayayi finally got some extended play in the second half and looked pretty good during his time on the floor. There’s a lot to like about his tool kit, and he showed off some of the dynamism in his game that makes him my preferred choice to be the primary backup. It’s evident, however, that at this juncture he doesn’t have Few’s trust. He’ll have the opportunity to win more minutes over the next few weeks, and it’ll be interesting to watch him and Foster push each other (though I still wouldn’t expect to see much of either against Tennessee or UNC).
  8. The 3-ball is a heavy component of North Dakota State’s offense, with 51% of their field goal attempts coming from behind the arc. Though the Bison shot the ball well through the first 10 minutes of the game, the Zags locked down the three-point line (4-27) and didn’t concede many open looks. With a short rotation and a potential hangover from Maui, it would have been easy for the Zags not to give the extra effort on the defensive end and sleep walk through a win. They didn’t do that, however, much to the Bison’s detriment.
  9. Few emptied the bench with over 6 minutes to play, and it was great to see those guys get their first extended run of the season. Shout out to Jack Beach for picking up the first 3-pointer of his career.
  10. It’s always great to see the “1” next to Gonzaga’s name on the scoreboard.