Keith Ybanez: Gentlemen, the Zags are still undefeated and are over halfway to a perfect record (pre NCAA tournament). Let’s rejoice. With that said, the last 3 games haven’t featured their greatest performances of the season. Are there any doubts creeping in about this squad?
Peter Woodburn: Not at all. At the end of the day, I’d be more worried if any of the scores were ultimately closer, but none of them were. The Zags went 3-0 and won by an average of 22 points. It is definitely frustrating to see the team struggle for almost entire halves, but at no point did they ever look like they were on the verge of falling apart. I think there are expectations that because this team is No. 1 they are apparently supposed to be the most dominant squad ever for a full 40 minutes of play, and that is just never the case for any team. No squad in the history of college basketball maybe outside of UCLA in the 70s has done that.
KY: Excuse me, but I demand 40 minutes of perfection every night. It’s not too much to ask.
PW: I mean that is sort of the entry point for being a true Gonzaga fan.
Steven Karr: Yeah I wouldn’t say there are any doubts. It’s not like they played poorly against Pepperdine or Saint Mary’s. Certainly it wasn’t the performances against Kansas and Virginia, but it’s impossible to expect that every night (sorry). The Pepperdine game was marred by foul trouble and whistles and they still scored 95 points and held Colbey Ross to the second lowest offensive rating of his career. Saint Mary’s totally mucked up the pace of that game and Gonzaga still finished with 1.08 points per possession and won by 15 on the road while holding SMC to 32 percent from inside the arc. Sure, the offense wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen in the past, but for the most part they were in complete control of both games and there’s no reason to think they aren’t the best team in the country still. Conference play is hard sometimes!
KY: Even in the truck stop conference?
PW: People treat 40 point wins as something that should just casually happen.
SK: Even in this conference with six top 125 KenPom teams!
KY: I think the last few games have only proven that for Gonzaga to drop a game, it is going to take A LOT of things to go wrong. The first halves of both the Pepperdine and Saint Mary’s game will not feature in the season ending highlight reel, and yet the Zags were ahead at the half on both occasions. That’s crazy. Sure, neither one of those squads are threatening to be ranked teams this year, but the fact the Zags can play suboptimal basketball (for them) and still figure things out to win comfortably says a lot about this team and why they’re in the conversation as one of the best teams in recent history. They’ve won uptempo games, slow grinders, on fire from the three-point line, and shooting poorly outside of the paint. They can win playing any style of basketball, and that’s what it will take to win the national championship.
So we’re keeping the faith that this team is still incredible. But would they be best served to lose a game before the tournament to eliminate a big distraction and relieve the pressure of a perfect season?
SK: No. I hate that excuse so much.
PW: I think, ultimately, the focus is only on the national championship, so that is where the real pressure comes from. I’m sure every single player on that team would agree with that as well. If they win the national championship, that is the goal. If they win the national championship and go undefeated, that is an added bonus. I don’t think a loss teaches anybody anything more than what a close game can provide.
SK: The pressure internally to win the national title will be the same whether they are 25-0 or 24-1 going into March
KY: Yea, I agree. Losing is stupid and you should never wish for it. I understand the argument that could be made about a loss resetting the team’s focus and taking the weight of history off their shoulders, but in the end I just don’t buy it. This team is good enough to pull off perfection, and you never know what a loss might do to the squad’s confidence and mental state. There’s no guarantee it would help them play freely in the tournament. Let’s chase perfection.
SK: I think going down double digits and getting outworked for 15 minutes by Saint Mary’s is just as much a teaching lesson and reset as losing a full game. Every game there is something to learn and focus on, win or lose. And we’ve seen that this team gets up big time and is ready to play when they face great teams.
PW: Yup. I highly doubt the 2017 squad looks back on that Senior Night loss against BYU and says, sure glad that happened.
KY: According to the NCAA, that game never happened. Shout out Nick Emery. Speaking of past Gonzaga squads, if you could add any past Zag to the current squad, who are you adding and why?
SK: Brandon Clarke. That’s usually my answer for every team, not just this year. But putting him in that Anton Watson spot next to Drew Timme would be a whole lot of fun.
KY: Absolutely. There’s not much rim protection on this team, and he’s one of the best the Zags have ever had at that role. Plus, his athleticism and style of play still fits right in with this group. Imagine having him as a rim runner with Suggs and Nembhard throwing him lobs. Plus, as we’ve said multiple times this season, the frontcourt depth is the weak spot on the roster. We didn’t get much time with BC, so it would just be nice to have the chance to watch him play in a Gonzaga jersey for more than one season.
PW: My gut instinct says Przemek Karnowski, but I’m not sure that him and Drew Timme would be the most effective combo on the floor together, so I’ll take Zach Collins. Again, rim protection is essentially the one worry on this squad, and if you can have Collins pulling off some of those punching the basketball back through the hoop blocks, it’d be beautiful. Granted, he probably fouls out every single game. But 20 minutes of Collins is probably all this team needs. I’m also just trying to pick someone other than Brandon Clarke cause I also immediately thought Clarke as well.
KY: Zach Collins is still enemy No. 1 at Northwestern. Don’t think they’ve gotten over that.
SK: Gonzaga was still going to win that game even if goaltending got called. They can cry (literally) all they want.
PW: This is why you don’t go to live sporting events as a child.
KY: BC and Zach make a lot of sense. For sentimental reasons, I’m taking it back to Ronny Turiaf. He would be super fun on this squad, fills that same hole, and I wish we could’ve gotten him into a Final Four.
PW: Honestly, Ronny is probably one of the more deserving players for accolades. There are a lot of people who played before to help make this team what it is, but Ronny is the first of the international stars. You take out that aspect of recruiting success from Gonzaga and we aren’t talking about this season like we are right now. Plus, he’s just an all-around fantastic human being. Even though he missed his free throws against Texas Tech.
SK: Another low key addition would be Zach Norvell. This team needs another reliable shooter who can defend the perimeter. No idea how he would fit into the rotation, but 3-point shooting is a small weakness on this squad.
KY: Remember Snacks going off for 28 against Ohio State in the second round of the ‘18 tourney? That was an amazing game.
SK: Also hit the game winner against Greensboro in the first round. He was a baller.
KY: Gonzaga needs to keep mining Chicago for talent.
SK: Before we go, shoutout to the Gonzaga women who have won six straight by 16+ points. They host second place BYU this weekend in what should be the best WCC game of the season so far.
KY: Everyone watch that. The Zag women are rolling right now.