Keith Ybanez: It looks like the Covid-pause didn’t negatively impact Gonzaga too much. Despite the lengthy layoff and the lack of practices prior to the Iowa game, Gonzaga found its feet pretty quickly and put together another performance that confirmed its credentials. Is it time to crown the Zags as the favorite to cut down the nets in Indianapolis?
Peter Woodburn: That is what makes it such a bummer that we didn’t get to see Gonzaga and Baylor play (I guess technically yet, but I’m not too hopeful they can squeeze it in). The Zags and the Bears are a head above everyone else. That said, Gonzaga has now handily defeated Kansas in the first game of the season and Iowa after two weeks of minimal basketball. Operating under the theory that most teams get better as the season goes on, I’d be buying my tickets for Indy right now (if we could).
Steven Karr: I would say Gonzaga and Baylor are in a clear tier above everyone right now. Nobody has the ceiling of those two teams. If Villanova ever got completely healthy, I think they could approach it. But I think we can save everyone some time and energy and just let the Zags and Bears play a seven game series for the Title right now.
KY: It certainly looks like this is Gonzaga’s year. At this point, I don’t see how Gonzaga doesn’t enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated. There is a huge gulf between GU, Baylor, and everyone else. Now that the Bears are off the schedule and rescheduling that matchup is looking increasingly more difficult, I simply don’t see another team on the schedule that could hand Gonzaga an L. I’m with Steven. What the nation really needs is a best of 7 series between Baylor and Gonzaga for the national championship. There would be some awesome games in there, and at the end, I still think the Zags would come out as the winner. Oumar Ballo would be the series MVP...kidding.
SK: If their defense ever gets close to their offensive prowess, it’s hard to see anyone beating them.
KY: I thought the defense played really well in the first half (against Iowa), and the game plan on Garza was spot on. The rotations were good, and the help defense was being deployed from a lot of different angles. I’m convinced that this team’s defense is good enough to get the stops they need when the stakes are high in the spring.
PW: Joel Ayayi flashing that versatility with the 18 rebounds. He basically was the difference on the defensive glass.
SK: I agree. I’ve mentioned before to not look at total points as a way to evaluate their defense just because there are so many possessions in a Gonzaga game. They held Iowa to just 1.04 points per possession in this game. You’ll take that every night against the top-ranked offense in the country. (Their previous low was 1.18 vs UNC)
KY: Ayayi is a freak. Truly one of the best rebounding guards I’ve ever seen. The Zags drained ten 3’s in the first half against Iowa and finished the game 13-26 from the arc. Was that an aberration, a one-off thanks to Iowa’s porous defense, or can we expect better three-point shooting moving forward?
SK: I would say a combination of all three. Gonzaga is talented enough to hit more than the 5 makes they averaged to start the season. Suggs’ shooting consistency was a question coming into the year, but if he has become an elite shooter, then I no longer have concerns about their perimeter shooting.
PW: We saw both Watson and Timme not attempt a three pointer for the first time this season, so that helped the average a bit. That said, Gonzaga is not going to shoot 50 percent from long range every game. Getting a couple of three pointers from Aaron Cook is an added bonus, but both him , Joel Ayayi, and Andrew Nembhard are mediocre-at-best three point shooters. However, I agree with Steven. If Suggs is able to be an elite shooter, then the Zags perimeter game is going to be fine. You absolutely know that Corey Kispert is going to get his buckets. They just need one other player to be consistent from long range.
KY: Well, they won’t with that attitude! Cook’s path to getting more minutes is being a 3-and-D guy. He shot 35% and 37% during his junior and sophomore seasons at Southern Illinois, respectively, and he’s played good defense all this season. If he can replicate that shooting production at Gonzaga, and Suggs is doing *waves hands* this, the Zags should be in a pretty good spot. We probably shouldn’t expect Suggs to hit 7 threes in a game again, but it’s probably also not smart to underestimate him.
PW: Respect for Suggs though, I forget if it was after his fourth or fifth three that he lobbed up his heat check and it hit the front of the rim as aggressively as possible.
KY: That was dope.
SK: The thing that’s scary is that Gonzaga was held to just 18 fast break points, they had 18 turnovers, Kispert and Timme fouled out, and they still won pretty handily. This team is just insanely talented.
KY: Speaking of the talent on this team, and contrary to Clark Kellogg’s comments, Mark Few went deep into the bench with 10 guys playing meaningful minutes in the first half. What can we expect Dominick Harris and Julian Strawther’s roles to be this year?
SK: Well he did the same thing in the first half against Kansas the first game of the season, so he clearly thinks highly of them. It will be interesting to watch them get some extended run, along with Ballo, in Monday night’s game. I think their role is pretty set: be the 9th and 10th guys and make the most of the minutes you’re given. Neither of them look like they’re trying to do too much, which is nice.
PW: Yeah, and considering the depth and talent ahead of them, it is nice that they can enter the game, get some quality minutes, and not necessarily be expected to do anything. The situation is a bit different for Ballo, just because the Zags are a bit thinner in the front court. Either way, I have long trusted the coaching staff when it comes to minute distribution. If you aren’t seeing a player on the floor, Few and Co. don’t think that player is ready. Seeing Strawther and Harris now (when honestly in the grand scheme of things we don’t necessarily need to) bodes well for the future.
KY: Few hasn’t played more than an 8-man rotation very often over the last few years, so it is nice that he’s making an effort to get them a few minutes here and there against the best teams on Gonzaga’s schedule. They’ll play a little more as the season goes along, and will get to play without any pressure or expectations as you’re both right in that they are locked in to those 9th and 10th man roles this season. I think of this as bonus development time for them which will pay dividends in future seasons, much like the surprise re-classifying of Ben Gregg who is joining the team this year.
PW: Having that experience will be good going forward. Gonzaga can always find itself in a foul-ridden March Madness game in which many of your key players exit early because of foul trouble and you need the minutes. Not speaking from experience or anything.
KY: Don’t know what you mean. College refs are excellent and never ruin Gonzaga games.
SK: I can’t wait to see how many points this team scores against a lesser opponent this season. It’s going to be ugly.
PW: I do honestly feel bad for Northwestern State. But, I need Gonzaga basketball so if they need to be sacrificed on live television so be it.
SK: Setting the over/under for most points in a game this season at 113.5. What say you?
PW: I’d take that over lol.