Editor’s note: Despite no one asking us to revive this content, 3-on-3 is back! To refresh your recollection, throughout the season, three of our writers (Peter, Steven, and Keith) will get together and discuss their thoughts on the biggest (and smallest) issues surrounding Gonzaga’s season. Don’t be too mad at us.
Keith: Gentlemen, our long national nightmare
is over continues, but at least we have the salve of college hoops to help us through the winter months ahead. Hopefully.
In the scheduling tumult brought on by the pandemic, Mark Few and company have put together one of, if not the most, challenging non-conference schedules in the country for the preseason No. 1 team. Because of that, we’ll find out pretty quickly just how good this Gonzaga team is and how it compares to the top teams in the country. Assuming that all the games happen (yes, I know what happens when you assume), what do we think Gonzaga’s schedule will be at the end of the non-conference slate and who will be the team’s MVP at that point?
Steven: Realistically, I would guess they lose one game because it’s really hard to beat four elite teams (and Auburn). But if we’re being honest, I think they go undefeated through the non-con. Playing Kansas the first game of the season when the Jayhawks haven’t established any go-to scorer yet will help a ton and Gonzaga has a front court advantage against Baylor. If I had to guess a loss, I would actually say Tennessee because they have a really talented front court and extremely athletic, albeit young guards.
I’ll give the MVP to Drew Timme because I think he has the best chance to prove himself right away. He has an advantage against Baylor, but goes up against formidable foes in David McCormick at Kansas, John Fulkerson at Tennessee and Luka Garza at Iowa. If he holds his own or even outplays those guys, he’s going to open a whole lot of eyes around the country.
Peter: Undefeated? A random BYU troll account that appeared out of nowhere on Twitter last month has told me Gonzaga will go 0-5 against Kansas, Auburn, Tennessee, Baylor, and Iowa. Born and raised Catholic and with the fear of God properly instilled in me at a young age, I think the Zags will lose one game out of those five—not sure which one, however. I think Gonzaga is definitely talented enough to win all five, but, for all the hype bestowed on this team, it is important to remember that realistically, only three players saw meaningful minutes on last year’s squad (Timme, Kispert, and Ayayi — four if we want to include Watson). This team will have to learn how to play together, and learn how to do it quickly, considering the first four games on the docket.
I’ll pick a different MVP just to spread the love. I’m going with Jalen Suggs. I think we will see him insert his significant presence on the offensive end from the very get-go.
KY: I too fancy Gonzaga’s chances at going undefeated. Over the years, I think the GU coaching staff has demonstrated an adept ability at preparing the Zags to get out of the gates firing on all cylinders. But like each of you mentioned, it’s tough to run the table against a slew of elite teams right out of the chute (sick burn of Auburn, Steven). We’ll find the Zags at 10-1 when we leave 2020 behind and turn to WCC play with the sole loss coming at the hands of Tarleto…Baylor. I’ve always been skeptical of Scott Drew’s in-game X’s and O’s, but there’s no questioning how good that roster is and I think the Baylor backcourt will be a handful for Gonzaga. I see the Zags having a pretty tough time making shots on the perimeter against the BU defense, which will be the difference.
As for team MVP through the first 11 games, I have to ride with my guy Joel Ayayi. Corey Kispert will probably be the leading scorer, but Ayayi can impact a game in so many ways and I think he’ll be freed up to play to his strengths alongside Jalen Suggs and Aaron Cook.
PW: I like that none of us chose Kispert for MVP. Perpetually underrated.
KY: I said he’ll be the leading scorer! He’s definitely the lead dog on the squad.
SK: Can’t be a true Gonzaga senior leader without having great hair. He’s on his way.
PW: I wonder if he gets free haircuts at Dickau’s barber shops.
KY: Something tells me that Dan doesn’t give out freebies. But I am willing to be corrected if Dan is reading this! Just putting it out there...
KY: As indicated by the preseason No. 1 ranking, this Gonzaga team doesn’t have too many glaring weaknesses. However, that doesn’t mean the season will be all sunshine and rainbows. What will be the biggest challenge for Gonzaga this season (non Covid-division)?
PW: I think the biggest challenge is also going to be one of the bigger challenges facing all teams—how do they create energy when you are playing in front of a bunch of cardboard cutouts? They piped in noise (sort of) during Kraziness in the Kennel, but you can hear those sneakers squeaking on the floor more than ever. It goes both ways. I’m hardly terrified of the idea of playing in the Marriott Center, but what about that very close home contest against Pepperdine last season? The Zags are going to be better than every team they play in Spokane, and they will have to figure out a way to translate lost energy from the crowd into their play. A big fastbreak dunk isn’t going to elicit wild screams from Mark Few after all...
SK: Totally agreed on that point. Plus Gonzaga loves feeding off that road crowd to fuel their fire a bit. Nothing better than shutting up thousands of fans who hate your guts.
KY: Yup, the teams that are able to create their own juice will have an advantage for sure.
PW: In a certain way, having dudes like Suggs, Strawther, and Harris all arrive already as friends helps on this point to a certain extent. The culture of Gonzaga being basketball and brotherhood for life should help with the energy.
SK: On the court, I think the front court is actually Gonzaga’s biggest challenge. This feels like the first time in, who knows how long, that their backcourt is actually more established than the big guys. Drew Timme is obviously poised to break out, but then there’s Anton Watson coming off injury and hasn’t proven a ton yet and a super young, super raw Oumar Ballo and Pavel Zakharov. If Timme gets in foul trouble, or God forbid injured, how does Gonzaga fare without him?
PW: I totally agree on that one — that was going to be my other point. I never want to take too much away from a scrimmage, but I think a clear takeaway is, at the moment, the Zags will have to rely on Timme more than they might possibly want to. Or maybe we will see some small ball Anton Watson at the five!
KY: Depth at the 5 spot is the primary concern for me too. I have no problem with Ballo and Zakharov providing bench minutes, but if either has to be a spot starter in the event that Timme gets injured that will be very problematic. The offense looks like it won’t operate through the post as much as it has in years post, but they are still quite raw so this is a definite worry. There are some fun small ball lineups we could throw out there though!
SK: It’ll be a stark contrast to last season’s offense that seemed to rely on throwing it to Petrusev and just letting him go to work for 30 percent of their possessions. I think this offense will be far more explosive from the perimeter and a lot more fun to watch.
KY: Now that we are just a few days away from tipoff, tell me what each of you are looking forward to the most in this college basketball season?
SK: Every single game that gets played safely.
PW: Yes, that. I also think it is important to acknowledge just how freaking weird it is that a season is going on in the midst of this global pandemic. I think wanting basketball to happen, to provide a bit of normalcy, there is nothing wrong with that. Every single human being needs an escape from 2020 for some reason or another. But we can’t forget that, as of typing, 230,000+ Americans have died from COVID. And now we are sending out unpaid teenagers to play basketball for our enjoyment. It is all so very weird.
In a more positive note, I’m looking forward to this team finishing what last year’s team maybe was going to do: National Championship! RIP to Admon Gilder, Ryan Woolridge, and Filip Petrusev, but this year’s squad seems to be an extension of last year’s squad, squarely because there was no real conclusion to the 2019-20 year.
SK: Don’t forget Killian Tillie!
KY: Well said. Don’t forget Killian Tillie! No one deserved a shot at another Final Four run more than him! He might have had the most snakebitten collegiate career of anyone in recent memory.
PW: Gaaahhhh where is the edit button?
KY: That is going in just to stoke the fires in the comments section.
PW: It’s true—Tillie should’ve taken that fifth year of eligibility.
SK: Closing point: I think most of us are at the point where we’ve consumed and produced so much college basketball content the last few weeks that we just need the season to start. Playing Kansas on Thanksgiving and being the favorite to win is something to be grateful for. Also good luck to all of us trying to get up and watch an 8 am game the next day.
PW: I am legit upset at the start time of that game lol.
KY: As a Premier League and Formula 1 enthusiast, I am very accustomed to early morning coffee sports viewing. Can’t wait for coffee basketball.
The thing I’m most looking forward to? Peter threatening to stick his head into an oven. I can’t remember what prompted him to offer that scenario last year in one of these 3-on-3 chats, but I respect the commitment to college hoops madness and I’m hoping he threatens to do it again this year. Fingers crossed!
SK: (Reaches into the archives)
KY: If Gonzaga plays forty minutes of slightly good defense against BYU, can we get Peter to stick his head in an oven?
PW: If that is what it takes I will gladly be this fanbase’s sacrificial lamb.
SK: If TJ Haws dunks in the Kennel, I may put my head in the oven for other reasons.
KY: That would be a reasonable response, to be honest.
KY: Yes yes yes
PW: I hope this team can play defense hahaha
KY: I can always count on your (Steven’s) researching acumen.