We’re back for the second installment of our 3-on-3 series...we’re so sorry.
Keith Ybanez: Gents, the Zags are off to the races and have a pair of tidy victories in the bank. Winning by a combined 81 points in the first two games of the season is pretty good, right? There’s a lot to unpack from Week 1, but how do we feel about what we’ve seen from the freshmen so far?
Peter Woodburn: That steal and the dunk by Anton Watson on Saturday night was a full-blown big boy dunk. He was a little bit quiet in that first game, so it was nice to see him get those highlight reels against Arkansas Pine-Bluff. It is kind of funny to me because I think for a lot of fans, Watson was a bit of an afterthought because he is homegrown, so him choosing GU isn’t that big of a deal, especially when you get a player of Drew Timme’s stature making the decision as well.
Someone, somewhere, got upset because (I think) Greg Heister said Drew Timme reminds him of Sean Mallon, and in the most positive ways, I totally agree with him. I’ve loved watching Timme play around the post. It is so effortless. If he can just cut out a few of those freshman fouls, he’ll be on fire.
Steven Karr: Watson has unbelievable instincts, specifically defensively. He also sees the floor really well and his passing is very underrated. I think he and Timme play really well together because Timme is a more natural post scorer and Watson is so good at getting him the ball in high-low situations. Timme’s touch is crazy good for a freshman. I imagine he will be the one to lose a few minutes when Tillie returns, but he’s going to be a star. It’s also going to be hard to ever take Watson out of the starting lineup.
PW: I totally agree with that. Defensively, Watson is an absolute terror. You don’t replace that when he goes to the bench.
KY: Yea, that was definitely Heister who made that comparison. Timme is going to be a sneaky killer. He knows exactly who he is as a basketball player and has such a good feel for working in the post. He already has a lot of old man veteran savvy to his game, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a highly skilled player. He’s shown he can finish with ease in a lot of different ways around the post and I’m excited to see him drive opposing forwards crazy over the next few months.
Watson’s physical traits are pretty wild, and he’s got a knack for getting himself in the right place at the right time. A lot of what he does is stuff that’s really hard to teach. He looks so casual out there that sometimes it doesn’t even look like he’s playing that hard and all of a sudden he’s wreaking havoc.
PW: I’d like to see a bit more on the defensive glass from Timme, but I’m not calling it an issue two games into the season. Plus, when you have top-10 defensive rebounder in the nation Joel Ayayi on the floor, it is something that can be overlooked.
SK: He (Watson) was the same way at Gonzaga Prep, too. Sometimes it was hard to tell if he was playing hard because he’s so much better than everyone else. For him to put up the numbers in college while still looking effortless is a testament to his ability. Him at the top of the press is more effective than Rui because he’s more active and anticipates things much better.
KY: Am I allowed to say that Watson’s going to get to the level Rui was at last year a lot faster than Rui? Because that is definitely what’s going to happen. Few is using him in a lot of the same ways and we’re going to see him dominate in that role sooner rather than later. He’s already doing it in spurts right now.
Arlauskas and Zakharov gave us some glimpses of what we can look forward to down the road as well. I’m sure WCC coaches are shaking their heads thinking about what’s coming down the pipeline.
SK: Zakharov is a very large man. He almost looks like a huge puppy still learning that his body is huge. Once he becomes more fluid, he’s going to be a big factor. He’s obviously very skilled. He hit a three!! And assuming Petrusev leaves after this year, he’s going to have to be a huge role player next season.
KY: Before we start crowning anyone, the Zags are still a work in progress. Where can they make the most improvement over the next two weeks before heading to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis?
PW: I’m still not over the fact that this team was out-rebounded by Alabama State for a good chunk of that game. I haven’t been uber impressed on the defensive glass, even though the KenPom stat sheet says the Zags rebound pretty well -- a lot of that is skewed by Joel Ayayi being everywhere. Considering that both Alabama State and Arkansas Pine-Bluff are the worst teams Gonzaga will play this season, we will need to see a better effort against the more standard competition. It is worth pointing out that as I type right now, Joel Ayayi is ranked No. 8 in the nation in DR%, and that is awesome.
KY: As the conductor of the Ayayi Express, I love the fact that Ayayi is crushing the boards, but you don’t want your backup point guard to be leading the team in rebounds.
SK: Gonzaga’s half court defense is really interesting right now. They force a ton of turnovers, but both ASU and Pine Bluff shot pretty well from the floor. In essence, Gonzaga either forces a turnover or gives up a bucket. Right now, their main goal should be shoring up their communication on coverages. Oregon, Seton Hall, and UNC are all three incredibly talented offensively. So when you face a team that you can’t turn over 15 times, you’ll need to force tougher shots.
PW: Yeah those blown coverages were rather visible during the Alabama State game, and they shot 9-of-16 from long range on a lot of open looks.
KY: This team definitely needs to talk (and listen) more on defense. With the caveat that it’s the beginning of the season and there are a million new faces on this team, it’s not a good look when guys are getting lost on rotations against teams that aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts. The devil is in the details when it comes to being a rock solid defensive unit, and this squad will have to lean into doing all the little things well to defend the basket rather than just banking on forcing a turnover and getting a quick bucket the other way. You can’t count on your offense showing up every night. As the saying goes, defense travels.
SK: We’ll see how Tillie fits in with all this. When he came back last year and wasn’t fouling, he was a great rim protector. His game at San Francisco last year was a great example. He can also take a lot of pressure off Petrusev and the freshmen inside as well.
PW: Credit to Mark Few for scheduling two of the worst possible teams to open up the season, because the defense takes time to get those jitters out. If we were playing a top-100 opponent I wonder what the overall feeling in Gonzaga land would be.
KY: That’s why he gets paid the big bucks.
SK: Texas A&M will be the perfect challenge. Power 5 team on the road, but they are fairly weak and missing their starting point guard. Should still face a little adversity for the first time this season.
KY: Enough hand-wringing, let’s get back to the fun stuff. Who gets the nod for the best performance from Week 1?
PW: Are we talking just one game or both games?
KY: However you want to interpret that. Could be across both games or a singular performance in either game.
SK: I’ll go Ryan Woolridge. I think he exceeded most people’s expectations. He is extremely quick, makes excellent decisions in transition, and is very handsy defensively. He also knocked down a couple threes, which would be quite the development since he didn’t do that much at North Texas. Assuming he stays healthy, he’s a really good, and stable, answer at point guard for a team that had so many questions at the position over the offseason.
PW: I agree with that, and I am going to put (who I think we can collectively say is now our boy) Joel Ayayi into the mix. I think a lot of people wrote him off because he came to Gonzaga so young and raw, and we just haven’t seen anything of him until this season. Point guard was such a huge question mark, and Ayayi looks more than ready to handle the backup, and then some. He is currently on-track to land on Seth Davis’ All-Glue Guy Team by the end of the season.
SK: I thought he would start this year because I had a feeling he was ready. I understand why he isn’t after watching Woolridge play these first two games. The fact that both of them are playing at such a high level is incredibly encouraging. The only question is which one will record a triple-double first this season?!
KY: Woolridge should definitely be the starting PG for this team, but Ayayi is definitely my performer of the week. When you snag 13 rebounds coming off the bench (and 20 total across the two games to lead the team) while running the offense with aplomb, you get new hashtags created for you. #A11Aboard, folks. The Ayayi Express is running full steam ahead.
Dang, the race to the triple-double is the competition I didn’t know I needed, but now I’m completely invested in Ayayi getting there first.