Even in a virtual simulation, the Gonzaga Bulldogs found a way to make fans sweat it out. But as they did in their last trip to the Final Four in 2017 (coincidentally also against a #7 seed), the Zags survived a late run from the Providence Friars to advance to the QuaranTourney national championship game against Duke, who knocked off Creighton. If you missed the game, you can watch it free on demand here complete with pre-game show featuring Matt Santangelo, Sean Widmer, Eric Edelstein, Sam Adams, and yours truly (one of these is not like the other...). I have to add, even though it was a video game simulation with the requisite video game quirks, it was compelling enough that I was stressing out during the final minutes of the game! On to the observations:
- Virtual Killian Tillie was a questionable game-time decision (too realistic) with a hip pointer that he played through in the Elite 8 win over San Diego State. Despite the injury, you know Tillie wasn’t going to miss a
Final FourQuaranFour and toughed through it to provide a spark off the bench that lifted the Zags and allowed them to stay a step ahead of the Friars. It was no surprise that Tillie was the leading scorer for Gonzaga. Even in the video game world, Tillie is a gamer.
- The virtual offense is nowhere near as efficient or free-flowing as the real life version. There were a lot of wide open shots passed up in lieu of contested 8-footers. I suspect Mark Few would have a conniption watching some of the decisions being made on the floor.
- While Few wouldn’t like the halfcourt sets run by the virtual Zags, they stayed true to form with their transition game and pushed the ball whenever they had a half chance at a fast break.
- Anton Watson (miraculous and unrealistic recovery) got the start in the injured Tillie’s place and was an excellent contributor at both ends of the floor. It makes you wonder what could have happened if the real life tournament were played out with Watson available this year. I think he would have provided a big boost to many of the defensive woes that plagued the Zags throughout the year.
- Tillie tossing himself an alley-oop off the backboard in transition that he laid in instead of dunking was quite the plot twist. Didn’t see that coming. Also, pretty aggressive move for a guy nursing a hip injury!
- Ryan Woolridge and Joel Ayayi were aggressive in hunting their own shots and came up big for the Zags throughout the game. Just like in real life, when those guys have their offense going, Gonzaga becomes real difficult to stop.
- Virtual basketball players love biting on pump fakes or contesting shots for no reason. You hate to see false hustle.
- Just like your local pick up game at the park, pick and rolls and off-ball screens are hard to come by in the QuaranTourney.
- Eric Edelstein’s Bill Walton impersonation is perfect. That alone is reason enough to tune in.
- There were a lot of eery comparisons between this simulation and Gonzaga’s Final Four win over South Carolina. In both games, Gonzaga had a big first half and then got stymied in the second. It looked like the Zags were going to cruise to a spot in the championship game thanks to a 14 point lead with three minutes to play, before they inexplicably did everything in their power to give it away. Fortunately, time ran out before the Friars could complete the comeback, and the Zags survived to secure the program’s first Natty against hated Duke. Tune in on Monday night.