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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s loss to Purdue


NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Gonzaga Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
  1. It has largely been four games against four quality teams and Gonzaga is 2-2. However, the defensive effort in those two losses have been abysmal at best. Last night’s was so putrid that Gonzaga dropped another roughly 10 spots in KenPom’s defense rankings to No. 46. Similar to the loss to Texas, the Gonzaga defense just doesn’t appear to be communicating on the level needed for a good team. Zach Edey is a monster and there will always be some breakdowns there, but by the time the game was concluding, the Zags’ defense just looked like it had zero gas in the tank. To see that level of complacency at this point in the season is a bit concerning.
  2. The final line for Ben Gregg is hardly the thing of champions, but in front of a home town crowd, the young big man provided one of the few sparks off the bench. Granted, he fouled out in just nine minutes, but tasked with defending Edey for those nine minutes, Gregg also demonstrated some of that offensive versatility. With Gonzaga essentially floundering, Gregg entered the game off the bench before Reid did and it looks like he might have supplanted the LSU transfer in the depth chart at the moment.
  3. Things have been a bit up and down for Nolan Hickman to start the season, but he has had a quality tournament so far. Hickman has nine assists and just one turnover in the past two games and he found his shot last night, hitting three threes and finishing with 15 points. His growth over the course of the year will be critical to the success of Gonzaga.
  4. Julian Strawther had an absolutely brutal game offensively, finishing just 2-for-8 from the floor with four points. He wasn’t the only one who struggled from the field, as Gonzaga overall shot just 40 percent from the floor. With Strawther, however, one of the big keys he has worked on and displayed from the offseason is being less of a three-point spot-up shooter and demonstrating a drive to the hoop. The problem is he just isn’t converting up close. Last season, Strawther shot 65.9 percent from two. This season, it is just 45.2 percent.
  5. There is absolutely no reason that a 6’0 and a 6’4 freshmen guard should have outplayed the Zags backcourt so thoroughly in a game, but here we are. Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith were fantastic for Purdue. Nothing against them as basketball players, but they should not have been able to dictate the pace of the game like they did, on both sides of the floor.
  6. Speaking of, Gonzaga shot just FOUR free throw attempts in the entire game. They didn’t have a single free throw attempt in the entire first half. With a player as large as Edey on the court, that will obviously offset some of the direct takes to the hoop, but Edey also didn’t play a full 20 minutes in the first half. Nor is he fast enough to keep up with a Gonzaga team that wants to run in transition. The offense in this game just didn’t make any sense. There was zero coherency to it. We can give some credit to Purdue’s defense, but the Purdue defense is hardly elite. The Zags theoretically are better than last night, but sure couldn’t show it.
  7. Perhaps one of the only bright spots in the box score was last night was the Zags finally figured out how not to turn the ball over 20 times, finishing with just seven. That is a step in the right direction and hopefully something they can build off of.
  8. It was nice seeing Gregg come in before Reid, but that is about it for how the lineup was managed. It was pretty clear that nothing was going right on the offensive or defensive end of the ball, especially in the second half. Why Dominick Harris sat on the bench in place of Malachi Smith’s 22 minutes, who had pretty clearly used all of his good Portland magic in Thursday night’s game, is a little interesting. Not sure that makes any difference in turning this game from a L to a W, but sometimes, you just have to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks in games like this.
  9. It is pretty clear that Gonzaga is not the preseason No. 2 team in the nation and that is fine. North Carolina barely pushed past the Portland Pilots and then dropped their second-round PK matchup to Iowa State. However, an expectation reset is pretty much required for Gonzaga at this point. The talent is definitely there on the team, but the coaching is going to have to figure out how to extract the most out of them. Right now, the Zags are not playing Gonzaga basketball as we know it.
  10. There are four teams in the KenPom top 20 who are 4-2. Gonzaga, San Diego State, UCLA, and Kentucky. Gonzaga and San Diego State are the 10th and 9th, respectively, most difficult schedules. The difference in quality of opponents in the top 10 is staggering.

This isn’t to say that a 19-point loss and an 18-point loss coming in the time span of four games isn’t concerning, but we also need to acknowledge the difficulty of the schedule so far, and the fact that the Zags are still 2-2 against that Tier A competition. The Zags clearly need more work and if the NCAA Tournament was starting tomorrow they very well could be out in the next week. But guess what, the NCAA Tournament doesn’t start tomorrow! How Gonzaga is able to learn from and build off these losses will be the only storyline of the season worth tracking.