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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Alabama State

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

A perfect 40 minute opener it was not, but the Gonzaga Bulldogs showcased a lot of good qualities in an easy win over an Alabama State program that shot the ball really well from long distance for much of the night. Here’s what I took away from Gonzaga’s season opener:

  1. Confidence goes a long way. Corey Kispert showed no hesitation at the offensive end and he played with tons of confidence en route to a new career high. He knows how important it is that he plays aggressively and hunts his shot, and eliminating just the slightest bit of hesitation which crept into his game a lot last year when he was the 4th or 5th offensive option will really aid his production.
  2. I like getting Anton Watson schemed up to get the ball downhill on dives into the paint. It’s an easy read for the freshman and takes advantage of his athleticism. Mark Few used that a lot with Rui Hachimura to get easy buckets and help build his confidence. He’s using that same blueprint with Watson.
  3. We saw flashes of Filip Petrusev’s talent last season, but he looks like a different guy this season. He’s very comfortable on either block and has a plan of attack when he touches the ball. He’s moving his feet a lot better on the defensive end too.
  4. If you thought the Zags lived in transition last year, this season is going to be on a whole different level. They’re playing with a lot of pressure on defense which will create a lot of transition opportunities for a lineup full of guys that like to run.
  5. I don’t anticipate that Filip Petrusev’s ankle injury will be that severe, but if he has to miss any amount of time that vaunted front court depth we’ve talked about all offseason will be tested early. Something tells me that Drew Timme and Anton Watson can hold the fort down for at least the next week.
  6. Ryan Woolridge’s first step is going to stress so many opposing defenses. He’s going to beat a lot of guys off the dribble this season. He’ll need to improve his free throw shooting, however, or else teams are going to start sending him to the charity stripe early and often.
  7. The last few minutes of the first half didn’t look great, and I think we’ll see some 2-3 minute stretches in the first few weeks of the season where the team loses its collective focus. I’m curious to see which player(s) step up and are able to get everyone back on track to arrest any negative momentum. Gonzaga has a pair of senior guards starting in the backcourt, but they’re brand new to the program and might feel like they don’t have the cachet to get in a peer’s face yet. Or, that just may not be their personality considering Mark Few described them as “severe introverts.” This is where not having Killian Tillie on the floor could really hurt.
  8. The Zags opted to double in the post a few times in this game, which they haven’t done much in the past with the personnel they’ve had in the frontcourt. Curious to see if this will continue throughout the season or just until Tillie gets back.
  9. I wonder what the level of defensive communication was on the floor for the middle half of the game. From my seat it looked pretty lacking. Energy was low, rotations weren’t executed well, and there were a handful of occasions where guys lost of track of their mark. The talking should be a constant presence on that end of the floor.
  10. Here’s something to feel good about—this team is nowhere near its peak yet. There were a handful of breakdowns on both ends of the floor that you can chalk up to an overeager young group learning how to play, and play together. There’s a lot of room for this team to get better. It’s going to be fun to watch.