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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s Sweet 16 win over Creighton

29-0, three to go.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Creighton at Gonzaga Doug McSchooler-USA TODAY Sports

Four trips to the Elite 8 in the last six NCAA Tournaments. Take a minute to enjoy that achievement, because it’s not something Gonzaga fans should ever take for granted. If this year’s tournament has taught us anything, it’s that there are no guarantees when it comes to this competition with top seeded teams falling left and right during opening weekend. Gonzaga’s consistency and dominance is a remarkable feat, and is made possible by the preparation and sacrifice that the staff and players have put in for years. On to the observations from Sunday’s Sweet 16 victory:

  1. Despite five days to prepare for this game, Creighton looked completely unprepared to defend Gonzaga. The Zags had runners coming free on numerous possessions, and the Bluejays appeared to have little clue how to slow down their opponents. In their defense though, there’s not much you can do when the Zags are moving the ball like they did in this game. That was basketball as it is meant to be played.
  2. Imagine deciding to leave Joel Ayayi open possession after possession after possession while he continues to drain threes on you. That’s not a winning choice. In true Ayayi fashion, he wasn’t only getting it done on the offensive end as Creighton’s 7-foot center Ryan Kalkbrenner found it real quick that the French guard is a rebounding savant. Ayayi was a complete menace in the first half.
  3. Gonzaga’s defense took a bit of a step back in the first 10 minutes of the game with Watson and Timme on the floor together as Creighton made it a point of emphasis to create a mismatch with them on the perimeter and attack, but once Watson moved to the 5 and Gonzaga went small again the defense turned the screws on Creighton’s offense. Watson, in particular, was a defensive eraser highlighted by three consecutive possessions that he shut down Creighton penetration with stifling on-ball defense. He has been in excellent form during the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Creighton was going to snag a few extra offensive rebounds by virtue of the long rebounds that occur after misses on three point attempts, but any of those long rebounds that they didn’t get a hand on essentially turned into an automatic two points the other way with Gonzaga’s offensive prowess.
  5. As expected, Gonzaga overwhelmed Creighton in the paint over the course of the game. The Bluejays had very few answers for slowing down Timme or Watson, or protecting the rim against any of Gonzaga’s finishers.
  6. We haven’t seen him do it too many times this season, but Andrew Nembhard was extremely effective posting up Marcus Zegarowski on the low block. He had great touch on that 7-foot fallaway shot. And of course, I have to mention his masterful passing in the pick and roll game.
  7. This week’s stat that underlines how difficult Gonzaga is to beat? The Zags were up by 10 points at halftime despite the fact that Corey Kispert only had two points on one field goal attempt.
  8. Jalen Suggs passed up a couple of open threes during this game. He hasn’t been shooting the ball particularly well during the Tournament, but he needs to send those. Gonzaga will need him to convert those shots at some point during this competition.
  9. Gonzaga held Creighton to 22 points over the middle 20 minute stretch of the game. Other than Zegarowski hitting some iso jumpers, the Bluejays had very few answers for creating high percentage shots against Gonzaga’s perimeter defense. That was a masterclass defensive performance. Because of Gonzaga’s generational offense and its eye-catching style of play, the high level of its defense is often overlooked by the pundits, but it is the defense that has really turned games on their head over the course of the NCAA Tournament.
  10. Hopefully this was the worst referee crew that Gonzaga gets for the NCAA Tournament (I’m not sure a crew could be any worse but if there is a group out there that’s a step down that would be truly incredible), because that was a bad showing from the zebras. Shades of the 2017 Final.