Keith: So over the weekend we learned that Oumar Ballo was going to miss the next 3-4 weeks with a thumb injury, which pretty much means he’s out for the rest of the regular season. Should there be any concern about the knock-on effect that Ballo’s absence might have on the rotation?
Steven: As long as Drew Timme continues to stay out of foul trouble and there are no injuries, I really don’t think there’s going to be a big problem. Gonzaga’s best seven can match up with anyone as they are. Watson at the 5 is not a huge issue offensively with how well Gonzaga dictates tempo and how well he has played the last week. And defensively, their ability to switch everything causes havoc on teams. That group looked really good against Pepperdine.
Peter: Yeah, Drew Timme has fouled out twice this season. Against West Virginia (after 34 minutes of play) and against Iowa (when Luke Garza fouled everyone out). Other than that, he doesn’t find himself in foul trouble that often. Even in the rare chance that he is in foul trouble, the Zags can switch the lineup around and still come out alright thanks to the versatility of both Watson and Corey Kispert. Definitely, if there is a further injury to the frontcourt, things are going to get tricky, but most teams probably wouldn’t be able to weather two injuries to their frontcourt players too often.
KY: The Zags should be fine through the rest of WCC play for the reasons you guys stated. If Ballo has to miss tournament games though, my concern level would definitely escalate. It’s not like the team is built around him or anything, but college referees can’t be trusted and if Timme has to sit out for prolonged periods of time in a big game with Watson and not much behind him at the “5” that would be extremely uncomfortable.
PW: It helps that Timme is a smart player, especially on the offensive end. He doesn’t tend to pick up a lot of those extra fouls in that way. He is averaging just 2.2 fouls per game this season. Last year, in less minutes, he was at 2.8!
SK: The good thing about a hand injury is that you can still run and stay in shape. So hopefully whenever he is healed, he will be game ready right away. Hopefully they receive better news than expected when they re-evaluate it.
PW: Ballo is going to come back as a left-handed wizard. The man will be unstoppable.
KY: I’m now imagining Ballo returning to us with an unstoppable left-handed skyhook. To your point, I trust Timme. I just don’t trust college referees. Have you seen the fouls they’ve been calling this season?
SK: As long as he doesn’t involve himself in any block/charge calls, he should be okay!
KY: So Gonzaga’s schedule opened up this week due to positive COVID pauses in other programs. Obviously, we’ve all been pining for the matchup with Baylor that we were denied. If you were in charge of scheduling and could add two non-conference games this week, and scheduling conflicts weren’t a problem, who would you add? You can’t pick the obvious choice in Baylor, and I’m taking Villanova off the table too.
PW: Gimme Houston, cause that defense is just gnarly. The story between Gonzaga and Baylor is offense vs. defense. Baylor’s defense is good. Houston’s is better. If Gonzaga dropped 80+ points on the Cougars, I don’t need to see the Zags/Bears championship to know that the trophy is ours. After that, probably Alabama. The Crimson Tide have a good offense, a better defense, and outside of Gonzaga are the only highly ranked KenPom team to push the tempo. The game would most definitely be a high-scoring, entertaining affair, but most importantly, it would pit the Zags with a team that likes to run just as much as they do (and can actually back it up a bit).
Or Mississippi Valley State, who are unceremoniously ranked No. 357 in KenPom and feature the No. 357 offense AND the No. 357 defense. Just to see what the final score would be...
KY: Mississippi Valley State and Mark Few can’t empty his bench.
SK: Give me Houston and Michigan. Mark Few has said his goal is to find as many different styles of play in the non-conference so that they’ve seen it all come March. Houston has the top ranked defense and is the best offensive rebounding team in the nation according to KenPom, despite their general lack of size inside. They also play at a snail’s pace on offense. It would be a great challenge on the glass against a physical team. My other team was going to be Alabama because of their propensity to shoot 35 threes, but since Peter was already on the same page, I’ll go with Michigan. They are arguably the third best team in the country when they play well. They have size with Hunter Dickinson, experienced guards, good shooters, and they own the best 2pt defense in the country. Gonzaga is the best 2pt offense. It would be a battle.
PW: Smart minds think alike. Or dumb ones too.
SK: The other option is to schedule USC and UCLA and just own the Pac 12, but what fun is that?
KY: I agree with you on Michigan—that would be a tasty matchup. The Wolverines were trumpeted as being on the same tier as Gonzaga and Baylor for a few days after they destroyed Wisconsin, but then dropped their very next game on the road at Minnesota. That’s the only blemish on their record, however, and the Wolverines boast top-10 rankings per KenPom on both sides of the ball. Plus, it would be nice to get a chance to avenge last season’s loss at the Battle 4 Atlantis. For my other choice, I’m tapping another school from the Lone Star State in Shaka Smart’s Longhorns. Texas has dropped two of its last three conference games, but I think they would also be a good pre-tournament test for Gonzaga. The Zags were supposed to play the Longhorns in Austin this season in the original draft of the schedule, so we know these coaching staffs are down to make it happen. Plus, I can’t turn down a chance to look at Shaka Smart’s hair revolution.
Also, the Pac-12 is worse than the WCC and you cannot convince me otherwise.
PW: Texas guards would also be the perfect tune-up for the Baylor guards as well.
SK: They play each other on Tuesday night. Texas is likely still shorthanded because of Covid, which is unfortunate. But it should still be a good game.
KY: Let’s not forget that the Gonzaga women are on a roll in WCC play and wrecking everyone. They have won every conference game by double digits, is there any chance they keep that up the rest of the way through conference play, and if your answer is no, why not?
PW: We will find out after Tuesday when they get the rescheduled chomp at the BYU Cougars!
SK: They only beat LMU by a couple points in their first conference game. After that, they’ve been on an absolute tear. But if any team is going to stop their interior attack, it’s BYU. They have a ton of size and Shaylee Gonzalez is back. Sara Hamson blocks nearly three shots a game and now they’ve added another interior presence in Lauren Gustin who averages 13.5 REBOUNDS per game.
KY: That’s a silly number.
PW: If they can get Kayleigh Truong chipping in a mere 17 points while bombing from long range, outside of BYU, it is borderline impossible for any WCC team to compete with the Zags’ frontcourt size. It already is hard enough for most teams to deal with that, but if you throw in that additional guard play, it is game over. They are still prone to some stretches of confusing, turnover-prone play, but against Pacific they rattled off a 29-1 run at one point!
SK: Yeah their turnovers are a problem seemingly every single game. But their defense is consistently stifling that it never seems to matter. Imagine if they played a clean game!
KY: I think the Zags can do it. They stopped playing down to their opponents, and are playing with a ton of confidence right now. They can throw a lot of size at teams, and I still think their best basketball is ahead of them, which should be a scary thought for the rest of the WCC. They have a big hurdle to clear against BYU on Tuesday night!