Keith Ybanez: A lot has happened since we last convened. The Zags went 2-1 in the Bahamas, but lost a third of the team to injury and got taken to the woodshed by Michigan. The loss in the final was understandable in light of the circumstances, but there were certainly issues that the Zags need to address moving forward. Gonzaga is following up Atlantis with another challenging stretch, so we’ll see how quickly they’ve been able to address some of those concerns.
Perhaps the most alarming issue I saw in Atlantis was how poorly Gonzaga responded to physical play in the interior. Was that an aberration due to exhaustion or a problem that could cost the Zags in March?
Peter Woodburn: Filip Petrusev is such an interesting case to me. We’ve seen quite a few of those fundamentally sound European players roll through Gonzaga, and thinking back specifically to Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski, neither of those guys ever shied way from contact. Petrusev, at the moment, seems to hesitate a bit more often than he should. Jon Teske played him hard and physical in the Michigan game and just took him completely out of the game.He bounced back nicely against Isaiah Stewart in the game against Washington, but overall, I think Petrusev has to play through contact a bit more. It is just something he doesn’t do too often now, and against more physical teams, he will get taken advantage of in that regard.
I also realize it is not fair to compare anyone to the rage machine that is Sabonis.
Steven Karr: I think it’s a problem. Jon Teske owned that Michigan game on both ends of the court. And then Sunday night, Isaiah Stewart was an absolute animal offensively. For as talented as Filip Pestrusev is, he is not built to guard thick, strong dudes like that. They sent doubles all night to Stewart. Luckily, there aren’t an outrageous number of them in college hoops. Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks aren’t absolute loads for UNC, but Zeke Nnaji could be a challenge for Arizona. Athletic and quick big guys like Jaden McDaniels are typically guarded pretty well by the Zags, as he was on Sunday.
KY: I get that none of these guys are Brandon Clarke, Przemek Karnowski, or Domantas Sabonis, and it’s not fair or reasonable to hold them to that standard. But there’s a little too much finesse and not enough attitude for my liking. Timme is only a freshman and still finding his feet at this level, so I’m giving him a pass, plus he’s shown that he’s willing to throw his body on the floor. Filip is our fulcrum inside, so I need to see him physically assert himself more than he has so far. If he doesn’t, it’s going to be a big issue now and will probably do Gonzaga in come tournament time.
Mark Few’s preference is clearly to employ a tight 8-man rotation. With the Zags ailing from a health perspective since Atlantis due to the injuries to Admon Gilder and Anton Watson (and to a lesser extent Woolridge and Tillie), is Mark Few being too stubborn in not finding time for the likes of Martynas Arlauskas or Pavel Zakharov?
PW: I’ve just pretty much learned during my time as a Gonzaga fan to never doubt Mark Few and company unless it is a timeout. That said, roster wise, I have to assume that Zakharov just isn’t where he needs to be against the more top-flight competition, probably a bit on the defensive end. I’ve loved seeing Arlauskas in his spot minutes, but between Anton Watson and Corey Kispert, he really is a third wheel that doesn’t have much of a place at the moment, minutes wise.
SK: They have no real use for Zakharov, if we’re being honest. He’s so raw and they don’t need another 5. Arlauskas is an interesting case because he can play the wing and you can slide Kispert over to the guard spot. But he’s not going to play in big games right now, and Gonzaga needs as much court time as possible with their rotation players because of how little they have played together coming into the year. Also, Arlauskas is not really a threat offensively right now. Solid enough defender, but not quite there on the other end.
KY: Agree with those thoughts. I’m not advocating for Arlauskas or Zakharov to all of a sudden play 10+ minutes a game or to play against prime opponents, but I think it would behoove the Zags to find them a little more game action playing alongside the regular rotation in non-garbage time, in case the depth gets hit again with injuries. My big problem was seeing Gilder playing against Texas Southern when he could have had a two-week stretch to get healthy while playing just spot minutes against UW. He’s not healthy and it seemed really shortsighted to trot him out there when the Zags could have mixed Arlauskas in for a few minutes with the regular guys in the first half.
Speaking of Gilder’s injury, his inability to practice prompted Few to drop him from the starting lineup in favor of Joel Ayayi, who has seized the opportunity. Ayayi’s star has been on the rise all season, and he’s been a genuine game changer. Should he stay in the starting lineup for good even when Gilder gets back to full strength (assuming Gilder gets back to full strength)?
SK: I don’t think it matters if he starts or not. I don’t care who starts, and typically Few doesn’t make a big deal out of it either. The thing that matters is if Ayayi continues to play at this level. And if Gilder can get healthy and break his shooting funk, then Gonzaga has all three of their guards clicking at the same time and that’s really great news.
PW: Yeah, as long as Ayayi can consistently hit threes to keep the defenses honest, I think you leave him in it. No offense to Gilder, but Ayayi has been one of the more consistent bright spots on this squad, and I think he has earned his spot in the starting rotation.
KY: As the conductor of the Ayayi express, I want him on the floor for 40 minutes per game. With that said, I do think Ayayi was perfect in the 6th man role and I think it’s the most effective role that Gonzaga could deploy him in this season assuming that Gilder returns to form. If that doesn’t happen, however, Ayayi has shown in Gonzaga’s biggest games to date that he can produce what Gonzaga needs in an expanded role and I don’t see any reason why that can’t continue.
PW: I think this is the deepest I’ve been in a season in which I truly don’t have any idea how March could end up. I feel like this squad could just as easily flame out in the second round as they could advance to the Final Four, and that sort of uncertainty is actually kind of fun. The Oregon game was a great, gutty win. The Michigan game was a total disaster. The Washington game was a fantastic road win. Who knows what is coming next.