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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Virginia

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NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Virginia Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga juggernaut rolls on. Another week, another highly touted opponent falls at the hands of the Zags who matched the largest margin of victory against a ranked opponent in the Mark Few era—a margin that would have been bigger had Few not emptied his bench with five minutes left in the game (think about that for a second). The Bulldogs have continued to impress as they stay true to their brand of basketball. Can we get that Baylor game rescheduled?

  1. I remember interviewing Corey Kispert in the spring of 2016 when he was still a junior in high school. He had just taken his visit to Gonzaga, but hadn’t committed yet. I was immediately impressed by how thoughtful, articulate, and mature he was at such a young age. Everything about him screamed Gonzaga. Much to the dismay of the Notre Dame and Virginia staffs, Kispert had that realization too. Nearly five years later, he’s the unquestioned leader of the best team in the country, owns the best offensive rating in college basketball per KenPon, is the “walking poster child of Gonzaga basketball” in the words of his own coach, and now has etched his name in the record books amongst legendary Zags in Dan Dickau and Kevin Pangos. What a career and what a guy.
  2. Virginia, a team that doesn’t turn the ball over, started the game by turning the ball over on its first three possessions which Gonzaga capitalized on by scoring the other way to jumpstart the game with a 7-0 lead. By the end of the afternoon, Gonzaga had scored 27 points off of 15 Virginia turnovers, a season high for Tony Bennett’s squad. Because of the pace the Cavaliers play, they simply can’t afford to be in a big hole and don’t have the firepower to overcome big deficits. It was Gonzaga’s defense, not Virginia’s that essentially ended the game in that first minute.
  3. Gonzaga’s offense is special. Case in point: count the number of times Kispert was pried open on so many occasions with continuity and ball screen actions. Virginia’s bread and butter is defense and rarely drops the ball in terms of coverage assignments, so it was impressive to see so many open threes created for Gonzaga’s best shooter who outscored the entire Virginia team through the first two media timeouts.
  4. If it wasn’t over for the Cavaliers when they coughed up the ball on the game’s first three possessions, it was definitely over when Drew Timme hit them with the ‘stache salute twice in five seconds. Timme put on a show with 29 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists in front of a large contingent of his friends and family. The most impressive part about his line was that at no point in the afternoon was he forcing the action outside of the flow of Gonzaga’s system, which speaks to his maturity. It would have been tempting for him to “overplay” at every half opportunity, but he let the game come to him.
  5. Jalen Suggs basketball IQ, instincts, and passing ability are so underrated. His athleticism is understandably the first thing that catches the eye, but he’s so much more than just a guy who jumps out of the gym. He didn’t have a big scoring game, but Virginia definitely still felt his impact on the game. He’s the total package.
  6. Such is the depth of Gonzaga’s talent that Joel Ayayi and Suggs went scoreless in the first half and the Zags were still throttling Virginia. Gonzaga can get it done in so many ways with so many different options. How do you defend that?
  7. Anton Watson opened the scoring at the start of both halves. He’s answered the challenge from the coaching staff, after they flirted with the idea of starting Andrew Nembhard in his place, and you can see his confidence growing.
  8. Kispert and Timme have a headband celebration with each other? Thoughts and prayers to the rest of the NCAA. They combined for 61 points, which was the same amount of points that Virginia had when they exited the game with 5 minutes left. Unbelievable.
  9. Virginia may still be the reigning champs, but Tony Bennett knows his current squad is a long way off from the group that won the national championship. Kudos to him for taking this game anyway on short notice and testing his team. We’re finding out a lot about coaches and their management philosophy through their scheduling practices this season. If I were a highly rated high school recruit, I’d want to play for the Mark Fews and Tony Bennett’s of the world.
  10. The Zags imposed their will on every top team they have played this year. Regardless of the location, the amount of practice time available, or the style of play of their opponents, Gonzaga has yet to be stopped for 40 minutes. The rest of the college basketball world is on notice.