Keith Ybanez: Friends in hoops, what a time to be alive. No matter what the disparity is between Gonzaga and SMC, a beatdown of the Gaels always seems to give me life. It’s just so fun.
A few hours after the preliminary bracket preview had Gonzaga as the third overall #1 seed in the tournament field, just ahead of SDSU and crucially putting it in the West region, the Zags beatdown of Saint Mary’s would seem to justify that placement. The question is whether the Zags will stay ahead of San Diego State between now and Selection Sunday?
Peter Woodburn: I was honestly a little surprised to see Gonzaga ahead of SDSU in the reveal. Sure, Gonzaga has a better resume, but (prior to last night’s game) SDSU was ahead of Gonzaga in NET and the other metrics. Since last night’s demolition of the Gaels, the Zags are ahead of SDSU in KenPom, but SDSU is still ahead of Gonzaga in NET. However, since the committee put Gonzaga ahead, I think that means Gonzaga stays ahead until they slip up. Either way, I’d rather be the two seed out west than the No. 1 seed out east. Facing off against Duke in Madison Square Garden doesn’t sound like a path to the Final Four for me. (edited)
Steven Karr: Before last night, SDSU was number one in the NET and was 4-0 in Q1 and 4-0 in Q2 games, while Gonzaga was third in the NET, 4-1 in Q1 and 3-0 in Q2. So it was relatively surprising that the Aztecs were behind GU in the bracket reveal. With that said, Gonzaga has, in all likelihood, three more Q1 opportunities, starting with last night’s win, while SDSU may only have the Mountain West Title game if they play Utah State. So if both teams win out, Gonzaga will have the better resume, even with one loss.
KY: As you guys covered, the Zags have more opportunities than SDSU to enhance their resume over the next few weeks, so assuming that both teams win out I fully expect Gonzaga to stay ahead of an undefeated Aztecs squad on the seed line since that is already where the tournament committee has them. Make no mistake, SDSU is a good team that deserves a high seed, but if we’re looking at the total body of work between the two teams plus the eye test, Gonzaga should have priority. Like Peter mentioned, getting the #2 seed in the West region would be a better outcome than getting stuck in the East region with Duke, and a loss for either Gonzaga or SDSU would pretty much assure avoiding a 1-seed in the East region so things would still work out for either program in that scenario.
For the second year in a row, a game against BYU has been extremely costly for the women’s team. This time around, Katie Campbell was lost for the season due to a knee injury. She’s been a major piece all year long, and her absence was felt during Saturday’s loss to the Gaels. How will Lisa Fortier fill the void she leaves and how does her absence impact the team’s tournament hopes?
SK: More minutes for Kaylynne Truong and Louise Forsyth off the bench. Kayleigh Truong is moving into the starting lineup, and she’s a decent enough scorer, but a true freshman and not consistent yet. The biggest impact will come on the defensive end and in leadership. Campbell is a menace on defense and neither Truong sister is there yet. They should still get a top 4 seed and play at home if they win out, but one more loss would put them in the 5-6 seed range, just like the end of last season.
PW: Yeah, luckily the Zags are deep enough to more than absorb her absence on the offensive end. As Steven said, it is the defensive end that matters. Campbell was a tenacious defender on the perimeter, and her absence was rather notable in the loss to Saint Mary’s yesterday. The Truong sisters are going to need to learn fast on the defensive end, because that all-important top four seed means so much in the NCAA Tournament. That is the difference between hosting the first two games in Spokane, which is just another positive factor for the women finally getting out of the second round for the first time since 2015.
Either way around it, such a bummer for Campbell though. She was a great player to watch and it’s just crushing to see that sort of injury happen to someone in their senior year.
KY: Katie is a tough piece to lose, no matter how you look at it, and I feel awful for her. That’s a terrible way to end your collegiate career. There are options for Lisa Fortier to fill in some of that lost production, as you guys mentioned, but now I’m skeptical that the women’s team can avoid another loss over the remainder of conference play, It seems more likely than not, at least to me, that they will lose the opportunity to host over the first weekend of the tournament. That’s a bummer all around.
SK: The one positive is that they just got through the hardest part of their schedule. They should be able to win out in the regular season, even without Campbell. It’s just a matter of winning the WCC tournament after that.
KY: Drew Timme has been phenomenal over the last few games as his role has expanded with Killian Tillie’s latest injury. His evolution has really helped to stabilize the rotation and kept Gonzaga’s hopes for a No. 1 seed on track. On the other hand, Joel Ayayi has been scuffling a little bit of late, struggling in three of the last 4 games. Are either of you concerned about Ayayi, and can we expect Timme to keep this up?
PW: I’m not expecting Timme to shoot 90 percent from the field going forward, but I think in the past couple of weeks he has shown us what he was capable of on offense if he got the rock more often. He is a versatile scorer down low, and I think he is able to slip under the radar because teams have to focus on Petrusev and Tillie so much.
KY: Ye of little faith. 90% seems perfectly sustainable to me...
PW: As for Ayayi, I have no idea what has caused the train to go off the rails, but he just hasn’t looked himself at all in the past few games. His shot has absolutely disappeared, so unless he is drawing contact like he did against USF, he is just taking up space on the court. Unfortunately, the guard depth isn’t there...or I guess really anywhere for that manner. Players go through little slumps, and I think that is all we are seeing from him. It is easy to forget he is so young, so hopefully he can figure out how to push through it without destroying his confidence. Right now, I think it is affecting him mentally, however. It looked like he had figured it out with that early three against Saint Mary’s. He only took one more shot after that.
SK: Timme’s offense is obviously a sight to behold lately, but he’s also ranked number one in conference play in offensive rebound percentage and block percentage. So he’s getting it done all over the court, which is the most impressive part. He’s becoming a complete player and has improved an immense amount since the start of the season. I don’t see any reason why this can’t continue through the next month and into next year.
Ayayi is an interesting case. He’s not scoring like he was earlier in the year, and I think part of that may be the increase in scoring from a healthy Admon Gilder and another option inside with Timme, so Ayayi is not forced to do as much. He nailed a three to start the game last night, so his confidence is still there (I think). I wouldn’t be too concerned about him, as long as he continues to rebound, get some steals, and limit his turnovers. There’s so many weapons on this team that sometimes a player may go through a funk for a couple games.
KY: Ayayi was so consistently productive through the first half of the season, so I guess a down period for him was inevitable. The list of guys who can string together 30+ stellar outings is very, very small, so we have to give him a little bit of a break. However, I do wonder if he’s maybe just a little worn down. He doesn’t appear to be injured, but he also doesn’t seem to have quite the same burst or energy that he played with during non-conference play. Whatever it is, here’s hoping this is just a minor speed bump.
Timme is definitely getting a lot more opportunities to score now than he did at the start of the season, but he’s definitely improved as well over the last few months at both ends of the floor which allows him to capitalize on those opportunities. He has also drastically improved his free throw shooting which has helped increase his scoring averages. Give him a lot of credit for working diligently at improving that aspect of his game, as it was definitely a weakness at the start of the season, and I think should continue to improve over the coming weeks.