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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Norfolk State

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27-0, five to go.

NCAA Basketball: Norfolk State at Gonzaga IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

Now that is how you start a tournament run! As other top seeds faltered during the opening round, the Gonzaga Bulldogs romped their way to a comprehensive and entertaining victory. Gonzaga’s 43 point win was the largest in the Tournament since 2016 when Villanova wrecked the Bulldogs next opponent, a No. 2 Oklahoma, by 44 points in the Final Four.

This game had everything, including some excellent performances late in the game from the young Zags in Julian Strawther and Dominick Harris. I’m guessing most of you are feeling pretty good on this Sunday. Here’s what else I took away:

  1. The 11-day layoff between games was always going to make Gonzaga’s start to the game a point of interest. A layoff of that length was more likely to affect the offense more than the defense, particularly since the Zags play such an open, read and react type of offense that flows better in rhythm. It was no surprise then that the Zags appeared to have a few cobwebs in the opening minutes, as they missed their first four shots and the team movement wasn’t quite there. Fortunately, they moved past that pretty quickly and the rest is history.
  2. The Anton Watson game? The Anton Watson game! He was excellent throughout the night as he paired his usual defensive disruptiveness with perfect offensive basketball. If you haven’t checked out his stat line yet it’s impressive—17 points (7-7 FG), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and an offensive rating of 222. That was the best performance we’ve seen from him this season. He’s such a dynamic x-factor for Gonzaga when he has it going. Hopefully he was more of those still to give.
  3. I appreciated Mark Few’s willingness to bring Watson and Aaron Cook into the game early to jumpstart the squad. The Zags looked much more lively at both ends of the floor after that substitution.
  4. Norfolk State’s opening defensive strategy was focused on taking the paint away and trying as best as possible to keep Gonzaga on the perimeter. It worked for the first few minutes of the game, but the Zags are excellent problem solvers and they also have that Kispert guy who can knock down a bunch of shots from the three-point line. You can’t keep out the Zags forever, and their off-ball movement eventually wore the Spartans down.
  5. Jalen Suggs looked to be a victim of tournament nerves/excitement. It probably wasn’t the debut he envisioned for the NCAA Tournament. That won’t continue and it’s nothing to be concerned about. It’s nice to have an awesome team around you in that type of situation to pick you up so it doesn’t affect the team’s overall play. The big thing was that he continued to stay aggressive—that’s the mentality you want to see. He’s going to have some big games in this tournament run.
  6. The Spartans aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts, but you have to like the defensive intensity from Gonzaga. They gave up very few quality shot opportunities, and Norfolk State looked very bad on a number of possessions (count the number of shot clock violations they had) as they struggled to find ways to break down the GU defense.
  7. I was fully on board with leaving the starters in for some extended minutes even as the lead ballooned over 30 points. It was important for them to get 30+ minutes of action in their legs for the rest of the tournament after 11 days off, and they needed to get dialed in on offense despite what the sideways scoreboard might tell you.
  8. Corey Kispert’s magnificent performance feels like something we’ll look back on when this is over and point to it as the tonesetter for Gonzaga’s 2021 NCAA Tournament run. That was how you lead the way.
  9. Norfolk State, quite literally, poked the bear in the first half. They found out right away that nothing good comes from that.
  10. This team is such a delight to watch. Enjoy these last few games when they’re together, because their level of connection is rare. They’re truly a special group, no matter what happens the rest of the way.