After eight long, excruciating months, we got to witness some Gonzaga basketball on Thursday night. It was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise polluted world, and for an hour, we felt a sense of normalcy. The 2020-21 Zags split into two teams and had a 16-minute intrasquad scrimmage to show the fans if they may live up to all the preseason hype. If those 16 minutes were any indication, Mark Few’s team is in for a very special season. Here are 10 observations from Kraziness in the Kennel (or without the fans, maybe we should call it Mildness in McCarthey):
1. First and foremost, this team’s talent is off the charts. From top to bottom, this is the most athletic roster Gonzaga has ever had. And for the first time in quite awhile, they may not play through the post. Their guards and wings are so talented, you may see more small ball than ever before. Everything we thought about the team coming in appears to be true: they are deep, supremely talented, and have an edge to them. Those are ingredients to success.
2. Now to some individual players... This is Corey Kispert’s team. 20 seconds into the game, he hit a transition three and you could feel the energy oozing off of him. Both on and off the court, Kispert is the unrivaled leader of this group. On the floor, he’s becoming more aggressive and well-rounded offensively. He’s no longer just a shooter. He gets downhill to the basket and has developed a deadly pull-up midrange jumper. Off the court, his senior leadership will be key in bringing along the new faces to the program. He led all scorers with 14 points.
3. Drew Timme was throwing down hammers in pre-game warmups and was begging for a dunk contest. With the three-point and dunk contests canceled this year, he’ll have to wait until next year’s Kraziness to show off his dunking prowess. With the way he looked in this scrimmage, he may not even be in Spokane next Fall. He is going to have the breakout season everyone expects from him. He also had 14 points, and he did it in every way possible. He scored in the post, he hit a midrange jumper when given too much space, and most impressively, he led the fast break himself and scored two transition buckets. A 6’10 center coming downhill in transition hit a defender with a between-the-legs, crossover double move at the three point line and drove in for a layup. His skillset continues to improve and impress.
4. Jalen Suggs had the highlight of the night. His vicious dunk on top of Dominick Harris would have torn the house down if there were fans in the building. The biggest prospect in Gonzaga history showed a little bit of everything. He finished the game with 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting. He drives to the rim with ease, finishes well around the rim, and has good length defensively. His biggest drawback is consistency from beyond the arc. Gonzaga needs more shooters to step up besides Kispert and Ayayi.
5. The guard situation is really interesting. Suggs is insanely talented, Ayayi grabbed 10 rebounds, and Aaron Cook had five points, four rebounds, and two steals. Cook has the chance to be the best defender on the team and does so many little things well. The three of them combined are probably the best rebounding trio of guards that Gonzaga has seen. Because of that, you can play all three of them at once, alongside Kispert and a center, which is exactly what we saw on Thursday. The white team started all three guards with Kispert and Oumar Ballo and they put up 45 points in 16 minutes. I still think you’ll see a traditional starting lineup with Anton Watson alongside Timme, but Gonzaga had a ton of success last season with their small ball lineup and they are in even better position to do it this year.
6. One of the interesting battles coming into the season is the back-up center spot. Ballo and Pavel Zakharov are both fighting for minutes this season behind Timme. If this scrimmage was any indication, Ballo is ahead in the pecking order. He played double the time that Zakharov did and they really tried to pound the ball inside with him. He finished 3-for-6 from the field and had a nice sequence where he scored on the block at one end and then came down and blocked a shot on the other. However, he looked gassed by the pace of play midway through the scrimmage and his hands remain a work in progress. Zakharov split a pair of free throws and grabbed two rebounds. Prior to the game, he was out hitting a bunch of jumpers, extending to the three point line. He’s got the body and skill set to be a big contributor by the end of his career in Spokane.
7. Anton Watson is healthy and he’s starting to gain some of his confidence back. His game is so smooth that at times, it looks like he isn’t even exerting effort. He missed a couple bunnies, but his aggressiveness was good to see. Watson doesn’t need to average double figures with the talent around him, but he does need to be confident enough to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. His biggest impact will come from his defensive versatility. He did get blown by multiple times, though, including a nasty jab step from Kispert.
8. Before the game, Dan Dickau mentioned that Dominick Harris will earn his minutes with his defensive play. He is incredibly quick and his length causes a lot of problems. He plays with a reckless abandon on both ends of the floor, for better or worse. He had a beautiful drive and finish late in the game and you can see the flashes of brilliance. He also went 0-for-7 from deep. With Cook solidly in the rotation, it will be interesting to see if Harris can carve out a role for himself.
9. Andrew Nembhard is going to be extremely good when he takes the reigns in 2021-22. He hit two smooth step back jumpers and led the blue team with three assists. He was a solid player at Florida, but their pace was much slower than Gonzaga’s. He seems to be thriving in a faster tempo with more ball screens and may be poised for a Nigel Williams-Goss type season in two years.
10. Martynas Arlauskas looked much stronger and quicker than a year ago. He had a driving spin move for a bucket and hit a corner three. Julian Strawther didn’t play because of a minor injury and the team is being cautious. Arlauskas and Strawther are liking fighting for minutes at the same spots and it would have been nice to compare the two.
—Final Note: Being in an empty arena is a little weird. They toyed with piping in crowd volume for a segment of the game and it’s very bizarre. But the team brought their own energy, which they’ll have to do all season.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a better offense in the country than this one. It will look a little different than the past several years, though. As mentioned earlier, they may be more perimeter and drive oriented as opposed to playing through the post just based on their roster make-up. There’s still so many questions out there, and they will be answered as the non-conference moves along. For now, it was just fun to watch Gonzaga play basketball for half an hour, even if it was just against themselves.