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10 Observations From Gonzaga’s Win Over Merrimack

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NCAA Basketball: Merrimack at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

1. Nolan Hickman has quickly become a fan favorite with his cool and confident play. There have even been some calling for him to take minutes if not start for Andrew Nembhard. One stat I haven’t seen mentioned, but troubles me, is Hickman has only four assists in the last six games in 119 minutes played. He had four assists against Alcorn State and three Bellarmine so he’s a capable passer. With Nembhard struggling, having a second point guard taking some of the distribution duties is a huge positive.

2. Speaking of assists, how about Anton Watson tonight. I’ve mentioned some of his outstanding passes in previous games but had no idea he was second on the team in dimes. He looked fantastic tonight and was one point short of a double/double. For a little perspective; Nembhard, Bolton, Hickman and Sallis combined for six assists and eight turnovers tonight while the backup big Watson had five assists and one turnover.

3. Karnowski used to hit the floor a couple of times a game and I worried about the floor. Holmgren hits the floor one or two more times a game and I worry about him. Chet was much more active in the post on offense tonight and he was rewarded with six offensive rebounds along with some easy put backs. I just wish he’d stay upright more often.

4. Gonzaga is shooting 32.9% three-point percentage good for 184th in the nation and that number feels inflated. They hit two with 30 seconds left to play with the game decided against Alabama and tonight Graves hit their fifth in 22 attempts with under 30 seconds left to play. Against the zone, Gonzaga was 0 for 6 in the first half and the guards, Nembhard, Bolton and Hickman were 0 for 11 for the game. I’m reminded of the 15-16 season when 10 games in GU was shooting 33.5% from deep on a team led by Kyle Wiltjer who shot 44% for the year. That year the young guards, Perkins and Melson, steadily improved as the season progressed. Let’s hope that’s the case again.

5. Speaking of the potential to improve three-point shooting, I’d love to hear how Dominick Harris is progressing and if he intends to play this year. Since he was hurt to start the season, he’ll be able to apply for a medical redshirt at season’s end and should easily be approved. Since last season didn’t count against eligibility, he could return next year with four years of eligibility in his third year with the program. Six years at Gonzaga is a long time and I’m wondering if he could return in January, would he? Adding a shot maker and strong defender who’d hit mid-season form in March would be great.

6. Loved that Mark Few pulled Timme and Nembhard relatively early in the second half and let Holmgren play with Watson, Strawther, Hickman and Sallis. This is an exciting lineup that hopefully gets a lot of run together in the conference season

7. Sallis is literally improving every game. Gone are the days when he tried to do too much and was getting charging calls, he’s playing within his capabilities and once again filled up the stat sheet. He had six points on 3 for 4 shooting and six rebounds (three offensive). Richard Fox accurately described his game as similar to Anton Watson’s.

8. I’ve wondered throughout the season why I haven’t seen more of Ben Gregg. I found out with 1:47 to play in the first half. Ben entered the game and a Merrimack guard Watkins immediately drove by him for a lay-up. On the next defensive possession forward Justin Connelly blows by him for a lay-up and Gregg fouls him. Few pulls him after 49 seconds. Gregg showed such an upside last year and looked so good at Kraziness I thought he’d be the fourth big. With Kaden Perry’s status in question, he may now have to be.

9. After a series of ineffective three-point shots to start the game, Hickman and Sallis came in and the offense started to click. You could see Few spent a lot of time practicing sharp, quick passes and the two freshman guards executed them to perfection.

10. Turnovers: It’s hard to get too excited about sloppy play against an over-matched team in a game when the outcome isn’t in doubt, but tonight wasn’t good. Timme and Holmgren continue to make poor passes in the post, Bolton tried to dribble through the paint against the zone while Hickman and Nembhard tried too hard to thread the needle on passes. A week off with a chance to work on fundamentals could be just what the doctor ordered.

10.5 Finally, a shout-out to Martynas Arlauskas who got two minutes of run tonight. Every time I see him on the sideline or during warm-ups, he’s enthusiastic, engaged and always positive. With Pavel Zakharov disappearing from the Cal Baptist roster, it’s good to see Marty still here and enjoying his time at Gonzaga.