Keith Ybanez: The men’s team only had one game last week, but the women kept their victory train moving with a pair of impressive wins, including leading off a rare doubleheader at The Kennel on Saturday. Outside of a scare against Pacific a few weeks ago, the women’s team has looked pretty dominant in the WCC. Can they run the table during the remainder of conference play?
Steven Karr: Assuming they are back at full strength for battles against BYU and Pacific, I would say yes. Those are really the only two teams that could potentially upend them this year. LeeAnne Wirth and backup point guard Kayleigh Truong missed the last two games with ankle injuries. Despite that, their depth and defense led them to two blowout wins this past weekend. But they certainly need both of them to make a deep March run.
Peter Woodburn: Running the table is definitely a task that is easier said than done, but for my two cents, I think the women have a better shot of doing it than the men. As Steven pointed out, one of their biggest strengths is their depth. They shrugged off LeeAnne and Kayleigh’s absences off as if it were no big deal. Outside of that early (and huge) scare against Portland, the women have been dominating the WCC through a suffocating defense and a well-balanced offense. With the road game at BYU out of the way, I think they have this (knock on wood). The depth is there for the women, and the lack of depth for the men is one of the biggest reasons I think they can end up on the wrong side of an upset.
KY: I think they pull it off too. Even though they’re not at full strength (a familiar story for both teams this year), the ladies are playing at a really high level at the moment. Jill Townsend lit the world on fire on Saturday against LMU, and has found another gear to her game this season. As hoped, the backcourt has meshed well together and they are playing strong complementary basketball that has been really fun to watch.
As for the gentlemen, moving forward, I’m sure we’ll see plenty of the small ball lineup with Kispert at the 4 now that Anton Watson is done for the season and the coaching staff will look for opportunities to rest Tillie and Petrusev to manage their health. Does extended minutes for that lineup present any concerns for you guys?
SK: With the size of Gilder, Ayayi, and Kispert, it’s not a typical, super small four-guard lineup. When they trot the four guards out with Killian Tillie, it’s almost impossible for any team to guard. The only way it gets taken advantage of is if the opponent has multiple good post-up players and they can score at will inside. Luckily, nobody in the WCC really has that, and not many teams in general have that. And when a team is that big, they typically struggle guarding. In short, I love the lineup and I think it will be a huge weapon in the NCAA Tournament
PW: I like the lineup because it means my boy Joel Ayayi is getting the max minutes possible. That said, as long as it is Killian Tillie at the center for the small ball lineup and not Filip Petrusev, I don’t have too many concerns. Defensively, I’m not too sold on the idea of Petrusev and Kispert locking down the post together, but offensively, it is just so fun to watch. Realistically, if any of the big men get into foul trouble, or if there are any injuries, the coaching staff doesn’t have many other options. It is pretty clear that Pavel Zakharov is not ready to contribute in a meaningful way. Kispert is a big enough body with enough versatility that, sometimes, it might be fun to watch the four-guard lineup, even when it isn’t out of necessity. (edited)
KY: I’m pretty excited about it, particularly with Admon Gilder’s return to form now that he’s healthy again. That lineup, particularly with Tillie at the 5, can do a lot of damage and has tremendous versatility. That’ll be a tough group for most teams to slow down, particularly since most teams don’t have the personnel to make Gonzaga pay from a matchup perspective. Kispert’s a pretty big guy, so like you guys mentioned, there’s not many teams out there that could expose him at that position. The rebounding doesn’t suffer in any way since the guards are so good at cleaning up with the forwards doing a good job of boxing out. I think it ends up being the crunch time lineup for us like we first saw against Arizona.
On a side note, thanks for nothing Arizona. Pretty sure all of Gonzaga’s opponents are conspiring to ruin their non-conference resume.
PW: At least all three of their Pac 12 losses have come on the road I guess???
SK: Adding that to UNC being terrible and the non-conference is unfortunately not as helpful as we thought it would be back in November.
PW: Currently the worst KenPom non-conference SOS by a mile for quite some time.
KY: Everyone is trying to keep the Zags down. SMH. Since we can’t go back in time, we might as well look to the future. Joel Ayayi’s name is beginning to appear in NBA mock drafts and rankings. I’m sure he will “test the waters” after the season is over and go through the process, but how likely is it that he’ll make the leap?
PW: I am all for dudes getting paid, so if Ayayi wants to bounce after this year and try his hand at the NBA, I’m not going to blame him. I’m not sure you can ask much more from him this season outside of maybe hitting a few more three-pointers. He has been appearing on the mock drafts usually as a late first-rounder, so bouncing between that first round and second round has some money implications. However, if he were able to get a guarantee from a team for a second-round pick, I say go do it. The NCAA isn’t going to take care of you, you have to take care of yourself. Even if that means missing out on the potential natty run in 2020-21. You only get so many chances at the NBA. Making it all work requires as much timing as anything else. Just ask Matthew Dellavedova.
SK: A lot of it will be determined by how he performs in the biggest games toward the end of the season and in March. If I had to guess, he will come back to school next year after testing the waters, but if he leaves after going on a torrid run, a la Zach Collins, then good for him.
PW: (P.S. Delly has made 30 million because Kyrie Irving injured his knee and LeBron James is a good teammate. Nuts)
KY: Well said, Peter. Most athletes won’t ever have the opportunity to make money playing their sport. For the ones who can, the window to do so is incredibly small and the don’t owe anyone anything if they want to go pro. I think there’s certainly still plenty of growth potential for him at Gonzaga, but if he gets indication that he could go in the first round I’m not sure how you say no to that. The idea of Ayayi anchoring next year’s squad with the Tricky Trio coming in has me feeling a certain way, but he’s already playing a pretty big role on this team so he wouldn’t necessarily need to return for that extra experience. He came in young, but he has been at Gonzaga for three years. It’ll be an interesting conversation between him and the coaching staff after the season is over regarding the best environment for him to continue to grow as a player.
PW: It’ll also be an interesting reckoning for a lot of the fanbase as well. No one is more sure of what a player should do to make their own lives better than Gonzaga fans. However, when you become a yearly Final Four threat, oftentimes, players capitalize and leave early.
SK: He is still plenty of room to grow, especially defensively. But a back court lineup of Suggs-Ayayi-Kispert with Harris and Strawther off the bench certainly makes me drool.
PW: Just give me super senior Killian Tillie as a make-up for all those missed games and not even sure you have to play the actual season. Just hand over the trophy.