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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Eastern Oregon

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NCAA Basketball: Eastern Oregon at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs season opened up with an entertaining Sunday afternoon win over the Eastern Oregon Mountaineers, 115-62. Here are a few more thoughts about yesterday’s win.

  1. Chet Holmgren is as good as advertised, and he showcased a variety of ways he will be a difference maker this season. Holmgren finished with 17 points, eight rebounds, two blocks, a steal, and no turnovers. He hit a three-pointer, went 5-of-6 from the floor and 6-of-7 from the free-throw line. Most importantly, he displayed an ability to pass (80 foot outlet pass down to Andrew Nembhard after corralling a rebound) and his ball-handling skills. The ball-handling skills will be the kicker. This Gonzaga team, like the many that come before it, will push the ball in transition. Having a big able to handle the ball like Holmgren is going to wreck opposing defenses.
  2. Julian Strawther is an absolute bucket. We all knew that coming into this season and we probably would have known that if we got to see him play more last season. The sophomore winger earned the starting spot and led all scorers with 18 points (all scored in the first half) and nine rebounds. He showcased confidence in taking open three-point looks, hitting 3-of-6 from long range. Strawther has a scorer’s mentality and on any other team, he might average well over 20 points per game. He won’t this season, but the stage is pretty clearly set.
  3. Rasir Bolton is fast. Bolton earned the other starting spot (alongside the expected in Holmgren, Drew Timme, and Andrew Nembhard) and his first course of action was to immediately sprint up the floor on a fastbreak that lasted perhaps two seconds. Overall, Bolton finished with just six points off 3-of-7 shooting, but he has the speed of Ryan Woolridge or Demetri Goodson. He looks like he will be absolutely lethal in transition this season as the Zags look to push the pace in every single game.
  4. The starting five of Nembhard, Bolton, Strawther, Timme, and Holmgren makes sense. Granted, this is just an exhibition so there isn’t much of a point in extrapolating too much off this one game, but it shouldn’t be too surprising if this is the most consistent formula throughout the season. The Zags are deep enough with talented players that outside of Nembhard, Timme, and Holmgren, you can theoretically have two rotating players in there. However, Strawther’s offense will make it hard to keep him off the floor and Bolton has the experience, which helped avoid some of the transgressions from the younger cohort.
  5. Nolan Hickman only finished with three points, but he dished out four assists and was dialed in on defense. He also led the squad with 26 minutes. Hunter Sallis put together a nice and tidy 11 point, seven rebound effort that was only marred by three fouls. However, as we can expect multiple times this season, they (and the other freshmen) displayed some poor judgement during the game as freshmen do. Sallis drove on a fastbreak into four Eastern Oregon players and came up with nothing to show for it. Hickman dribbled the ball off his foot speeding up the floor on a non-fastbreak transition. Those mistakes are going to happen more often than last season, largely because the team is so much younger.
  6. The Zags finished just 7-of-24 from three-point range. If you remove Julian Strawther’s three makes, as well as Will Graves’ and Matthew Lang’s makes, the Zags went 5-of-21 2-for-13 from long range. Specifically, Andrew Nembhard, Rasir Bolton, and Nolan Hickman went 0-for-9. That probably isn’t going to happen too often. The jury is out on Hickman, but neither Nembhard or Bolton are better than average three-point shooters throughout their college career. Holmgren can help open up the floor in this regard, but it will be interesting to see if defenses pack it in to contain Drew Timme and dare the Zags to beat them from afar.
  7. Kaden Perry is very bouncy. Perry is going to remind a lot of people of Brandon Clarke. He is aggressive and he packs a punch in the post. That free throw shooting touch can use a bit of work, but Perry finished with 12 points in 14 minutes and was all over the court absolutely brawling for rebounds in the post on every single possession. If there is anyone who looks like he will play himself into more minutes, it is Perry.
  8. Speaking of the future, Ben Gregg was the last player off the bench (except for Martynas Arlauskas who didn’t get out of his warm-ups). Gregg and Perry played very well off each other, with some nice high/low action featuring a three-pointer from Gregg. He finished with six points and four rebounds. We probably shouldn’t expect too many meaningful minutes from Gregg this season, but him and Perry showcased why the future is bright next year even if the Zags (most likely) lose Timme and Holmgren to the NBA.
  9. Speaking of Timme, he finished with a quiet 10 points off an un-Timme-like 5-of-10 shooting. However, he also blocked three shots with two of them coming in on the eye-test as “hustle blocks.” Rim protection was not Timme’s forte last season, but it was something he mentioned working on throughout the summer. Not that Eastern Oregon is the best example, but if he has improved ever-so-slightly in this regard, the Zags are going to be tough to score on with Holmgren’s 10 foot arms lurking as well.
  10. Special shout-out to Max McCullough and Paul Pennington. McCullough is Eastern Oregon’s leading scorer and injured his knee in the first half of the game and did not return. Former Gonzaga walk-on Paul Pennington (and Kevin Pango’s brother-in-law) looked like he broke his arm during the game. Absolutely brutal thing to have happen and we wish them all the best in their recoveries.