Peter, Steven, and Keith are back for the Thanksgiving installment of the 3-on-3 series. Have a seat, grab a turkey leg, stay awhile.
KY: We’ve made it through the tune-up phase of Gonzaga’s schedule with an undefeated record intact—though UT Arlington did its best to make sure that didn’t happen. We’ve seen a lot of good, but also some things that may cause some consternation in the fan base. I don’t want to dissect all those things in this conversation, mostly because I don’t want to compromise the sanity of our readers, but let’s tackle one noticeable blip at the moment. Corey Kispert’s offensive rating on KenPom over the last three games: 58, 50, 54. Is it time to press the panic button? Has the panic button already been pressed?
SK: I’m not sure I would quite hit the panic button yet. Corey is definitely in a slump, though, as most shooters go through once in awhile. Zach Norvell had a ton of stretches the last two years where he was absolutely ice cold, but fans still had faith when he shot the ball. I’m not sure what the difference is with Corey - perhaps it’s because he has not proven to hit big shots like Norvell did in his career. I saw him come out 30 minutes prior to the game on Saturday and his mechanics all looked solid and he was draining shots like usual. So it’s going to turn around at some point and hopefully it’s on Thanksgiving Day against Oregon or Seton Hall
PW: I think what has definitely made it hard is that he isn’t just in a shooting slump. In those last three games, he has also only added a total of four rebounds, four assists, one block, one steal, and five turnovers. Those are not glue guy numbers. I think he will be fine, but he’ll need to get out of it pretty quickly. Gonzaga is going to face much better competition in just a few days, and it is hard to get over the hump of having one member of your starting lineup be that non-existent.
KY: I think that’s the biggest thing. Shooters definitely go through this. That’s the name of the game. But when they come, you have to find other ways to contribute until the ball starts going in again. I don’t think Corey’s done all the other things at an exceptionally high level over this little slump. I think the biggest concern is that his shooting woes appear to be affecting other areas of his game. Hopefully this is just a slump and doesn’t become a full blown crisis in confidence, because the coaching staff is relying on him in a big way.
SK: All fair and true points.
PW: What exacerbates the issue as well is Kispert is the best option at the three. Anton Watson hasn’t demonstrated that he can be a legitimate threat from long range, and the Zags will need those shooters. Otherwise, I imagine we will see a lot of that UT Arlington defensive scheme of just packing it into the post and limiting the mobility of our bigs.
KY: Watson is a nice option to have to fill in some of his minutes, but since he’s a non-entity as a shooter at this stage in his basketball development it’s hard to have him on the floor in certain lineup compositions as the spacing can really erode. Whether he’s making them or not, Corey at least presents the threat of a shooter that defenses respect.
Predictions are always a fool’s errand, and especially so in the context of Feast Week tournaments when teams are tasked with operating at peak levels outside the norms of their daily routines while preparing for opponents with less than a day to spare. With that said, give me your predictions for how Gonzaga’s road through Atlantis is going to play out.
SK: Well I was assuming we would get a Kansas-Michigan State final in Maui and then Sparty lost in the first round on Monday night. So anything can happen in these things. With that said, I don’t think UNC loses on their side of the bracket. I have loved Seton Hall since the season started, but Oregon has been playing as a top five team. So that game is going to be an absolute blast. I talked about it in my tournament preview, but it’s a contrast of rosters and if Oregon can use their quickness and shooting ability to offset Seton Hall’s size, they should win. With all of that said, I’ve got Gonzaga beating Southern Miss, beating Seton Hall, and losing to UNC in the title game.
I think Gonzaga can win the tournament, but I don’t think they will. And I’ll just go ahead and choose UNC as the opponent they lose to, but obviously would not be shocked to see them drop to Oregon or SH
PW: The second-round matchup between either Seton Hall or Oregon is going to be the most problematic game for the Zags, I think. Seton Hall provides a nightmare matchup in Myles Powell being the absolute dude and just so much experience on that roster. We haven’t seen the Zags play anyone of actual value, so they will have to do some learning really quickly. Oregon is an underrated squad for a team that is a top-15 squad. I’m personally not that scared of UNC at the moment. They are incredibly young, rely so heavily on Cole Anthony, and are one of the few KenPom top 10 teams that have played an easier schedule than Gonzaga.
I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see the Zags lose to either Seton Hall or Oregon, but if we push past that second-round game I think we take down UNC.
SK: Regardless of who they play in the second round, the Gonzaga guards will have their biggest challenge of the season. They have been able to turn teams over, but have also given up plenty of good shots. With Powell at Seton Hall and Payton Pritchard at Oregon, neither of them turn the ball over much. And each of them are flanked by good shooters.
KY: Southern Miss is that obligatory appetizer you don’t really want to eat but it’s on your plate so whatever. Day 2 will absolutely be a worthy entrée. Here’s hoping that Seton Hall and Oregon beat each other up quite a bit because that match up for a Day 1 game is delicious. Myles Powell is a freak and there’s a legitimate discussion to be had whether he or Cole Anthony are the best players in the tournament field, so part of me really wants to see Gonzaga play against him in round 2. But a Gonzaga-Oregon matchup needs to happen. Give it to us, basketball gods!! Whichever team we get on Day 2 is the team that is most likely to beat Gonzaga, at least in my mind. Cole Anthony is awesome, but I think UNC has a lot of question marks. I predicted a Michigan-Gonzaga final for this tournament back when I wrote my season preview, and I’m sticking with it, with the Zags returning from the Bahamas still undefeated.
Regardless of how the bracket shakes out, clearly Gonzaga is going to need to play at a really high level this week. Who will be Gonzaga’s MVP when the tournament is over?
SK: Killian Tillie is ready to remind the national audience why he’s a potential pro and Gonzaga’s best player. He has shined in his first two games back and his ability to stretch the floor is going to be enormous against Oregon or Seton Hall. The Ducks don’t have a ton of size, so being able to get Petrusev and Timme in one-on-one high low games would be huge, and the Pirates are enormous, but a little slower, so getting Tillie and his driving ability at the top of the key against a slower defender would be beneficial.
PW: I think it is definitely going to be Tillie. Like Steven said, he has been looking like he hasn’t skipped a beat since his sophomore year since coming back from injury. He stretches the floor in a way that Filip Petrusev can’t even begin to think about. Although I think Petrusev will have a nice tournament, Tillie is going to be the one that very well could lead the Zags in points scored throughout the tournament. He is such a unique player, and he is the senior, AND he is the good story about someone overcoming their injuries to lead their team in the most stacked Feast Week field.
SK: If you want someone more low key, I think Admon Gilder could have a huge impact. He may very well be tasked to guard Myles Powell and Cole Anthony. His size could help him a lot in those match-ups. He’s also right on the verge of a 20-point outburst offensively. He’s shooting it better and starting to attack a little more.
KY: Killian Tillie deserves all the good things in this world after the endless injuries he’s sustained over the years, including the injury that cost him last year’s Maui Invitational. I think the Committee of Basketball Karma will dispense some well deserved karmic justice his way in Atlantis. I expect him to be a force this week.
Gilder is a good call, his breakout game has to be coming. I’m using that same thought process in making Corey Kispert my pick. I’m a big believer in regression to the mean, and I think the ledger balances out the other direction for #24. For some reason, I think Kispert should be awesome at playing basketball in a ballroom.
SK: I just hope it’s the second and third game of the tournament and not just the Southern Miss game
PW: If that is the case you’ll find me inside the oven with the turkey on Thursday morning.