Keith Ybanez: Gonzaga loses so infrequently that it’s jarring every time it happens, which says a lot about how much this program has spoiled us with its excellence over the years. Losses happen though. The reality is the Zags have not been their best since the beatdown of SMC, and have gotten into the habit of starting slow in their last three games. They overcame it against Pepperdine and USF, but on the road at BYU proved to be a bridge too far. Should we be concerned about Gonzaga’s recent form or is it just a blip on the radar at the end of the regular season?
Peter Woodburn: You can say a lot of things about this Gonzaga team, but for the most part, they are pretty damn good at offense and a rather mediocre team on defense. The difference is in the two games. USF had the Zags number in the first half, playing the mismatches, stretching the floor, and really dictating the pace of the game. They just couldn’t hit a three to save their lives. BYU could, and granted, BYU needed to hit all those threes to win the game. But they also exposed Gonzaga’s poor perimeter defense, which, we all known has existed throughout this year and will continue to exist for the rest of the year.
I’d say that given the college hoops landscape this year, Gonzaga could just as easily lose in the second round as they could win the national championship. It is just that sort of season.
Steven Karr: I wouldn’t be concerned in the grand scheme of things. Gonzaga still has as good a shot of winning a National Title of any team. The offense is still good. The defense needs work. Both of those things were known long before the BYU game. I think the thing that was somewhat surprising to some was how clearly they were out-toughed all game. Outside of the Michigan game, Gonzaga has seemingly been the more mentally tough team in every game this season.
KY: I’m not in panic mode either, but I am a little perturbed by the performances that the backcourt has been churning out over the last few weeks. It’s no coincidence that Gonzaga’s dip in form has coincided with the backcourt scuffling of late. Gilder has been the best of the bunch in my opinion, as Ayayi’s been a non-factor in the scoring department (though at least he’s still grabbing boards) over the last month and Woolridge doesn’t look to score unless the Zags are in comeback mode. The frontcourt has been capable of carrying the load, but it is making Gonzaga one-dimensional and easier to game plan for if those guys aren’t making themselves threats.
PW: Didn’t help at all that Corey Kispert disappeared last night. I don’t think he’ll shoot that poorly from three too often in a game.
SK: It’s hard to win games when you don’t hit threes!
KY: If they played that game in a hotel ballroom in the Bahamas I’m pretty sure Corey would have gone 9-10 from the arc instead of 1-10.
Speaking of the defense, and particularly the perimeter, is there anything the Zags can do to fix this issue? Before the start of the season, there was discussion about how this collection of talent could be Gonzaga’s best defensive backcourt. But the perimeter defense is a problem that we’ve talked about with regularity this season.
PW: I think the defensive issue is what makes this year’s Gonzaga team this year’s Gonzaga team. It has been an issue all year, and you’d figure that against the top three pointing shooting in the team, BYU players wouldn’t get so crazy open so often. I’m not sure I can say anything else that it is what it is, and the Zags need to be able to overcome that by hitting threes of their own.
SK: It’s not necessarily the 1-on-1 perimeter D. They’re actually decent with that. It’s moreso the team defense in ball screens and post coverages. It’s no secret that Petrusev struggles in ball screens, and Timme isn’t that much better. Both struggled last night. And when you have a dominant post like Yoeli Childs owning you inside, you have to send double teams, which forces everyone to have perfect rotations, and that doesn’t always happen. It’s something they will continue to work on, obviously, but any tournament team with a dominant post and a ball-screen heavy offense could certainly give them problems.
KY: It’s no coincidence that Petrusev only played 22 minutes and 15 minutes in the two games against BYU despite not dealing with foul trouble in either game.
PW: When the Zags pick up the pace, I think it helps mask that as well. But when they fall behind, like they did against USF and BYU, it makes it harder because the opposing offense can just take their time and needle into those flaws in the defense.
KY: All season long, the scheme has called for the guards to drop down and help out with the interior as well as crash the boards since Gonzaga doesn’t have the same caliber of interior defenders it has enjoyed over the last few years. That won’t change. I do think they can be a little more judicious with whom they help off of and where that help comes from to mitigate their exposure at the three-point line without completely abandoning Petrusev and Timme inside, but this requires the scheme to be more game-plan specific rather than a set structure that has less variables. At this point in the year, that’s probably not a change the coaching staff wants to entertain.
SK: I’ve wondered all year how much the lack of bodies in practice has affected their defensive game plan, too. They don’t even have 10 healthy bodies at some practices this year so it can be hard to work on certain things.
PW: Pull in Tommy Lloyd down low
KY: I’ll fly in if they need a body to expose on ball screen coverages during practice. With Gonzaga and SDSU both losing on Saturday, do the Zags still have the inside track for the West’s 1-seed or are they at risk of getting bumped by an east coast team?
SK: No need to complicate anything: If they win out, they’ll be the 1 seed in the West.
PW: It is a pretty big gap to the second seed at this point, and not sure Maryland or Duke can do what it takes to move all the way out west as a one seed.
KY: Maryland had the opportunity but lost to Ohio State on Sunday. Duke getting blown out by NC State last week did not help its cause and its remaining regular season schedule doesn’t provide too many resume boosters, though winning the ACC Tournament would likely give it the 1-seed in the East.
PW: And never forget that Duke lost to Stephen F. Austin.
KY: Dayton and Florida State may be the dark-horse challengers if Duke moves into the East’s top spot, but I agree with Steven that if the Zags win out they’ll hold on to the #1 in the West.
Duke did in fact lose to Stephen F. Austin. AT HOME. People forget that.
PW: Since neither Arizona or Oregon is in the running, I think the committee will try and give it to Gonzaga of SDSU. No sense in punishing a team and flying them all the way across the country.
KY: SDSU’s loss was probably a blessing in disguise if it drops them down to the 2-line in the West rather than having to go out East.