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10 Observations from the North Florida game

Great offense and solid defense with 15 steals lead to a 41 point win

NCAA Basketball: North Florida at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve got to admit it, after the exhibition games I was more than a little worried that this year’s team would need more time to gel than the previous upperclassman led squads of the last few seasons. Last night’s superb performance has made me feel much better going into Friday’s Michigan State game and next week’s Texas and Kentucky contests.

1. Thus far, Efton Reid is doing exactly what I’d hoped he do. First, providing Drew Timme with 10 or so minutes of rest when needed without a significant drop in offensive production. Secondly, his big body in the lane is delivering rebounding and some semblance of much needed rim protection. Including the two exhibitions, he’s 10 for 12 from the floor and tonight got 8 rebounds in only 12 minutes of play. He challenged shots, moves very fluidly and has good pair of hands. I also saw him working hard in the high post on consecutive plays to run the high/low with Timme. Good on ya Efton.

2. No Chet Holmgren may leave this squad lacking rim protection, but this year’s defense has the best hands I’ve seen on a Gonzaga team. Sallis had 6 steals against Warner-Pacific, Watson had 5 tonight and the team had a record 15 steals total. Add 22 turnovers to the steals, giving the Zags abundant opportunities to run the break. Perimeter defensive rotations also looked much better than they had during the exhibitions and the sharpshooting Ospreys were held to 8 for 30 from deep.

3. I was one of those who expected Strawther to start at the “4” and four guards to be on the floor for most of the game. It still may happen, but Watson and Reid are looking so good the four-guard line-up may only be used sporadically to keep opponents off balance.

4. It’s only one game, but it looks like Mark Few’s eight-man rotation may be taking shape. Smith was the first player in, subbing for Hickman. Sallis followed shortly thereafter for Strawther then Reid in for Watson. Dom Harris was inserted the last 38 seconds of the first half for defense and an additional three-point threat. The next three game will tell, but the bench usually gets shorter as the games get tougher

5. Not only did Malachi Smith look more comfortable last night, he looked spectacular. He does everything well. He grabbed two rebounds in his first minute of play, goes coast-to-coast on the break finishing strong at the rim, is a tough defender on ball and in the post and was 1 for 2 with his three-pointer. His play isn’t flashy, just so fundamentally sound and consistent.

6. Gonzaga has only shown glimpses of the three-quarters court press but I’m pretty enthusiastic about what I’ve seen thus far. This team’s overall length, quickness and athleticism make the press a potent weapon, especially early in the season as opponents are finding their footing.

7. As impressive as Malachi Smith was attacking the rim last light, rim attacking seems to be a point of emphasis for Julian Strawther this season and he’s pretty spectacular at it. Early in the second half, he had the play of the game. A crossover dribble, followed by a spin move, ending in a made scoop shot on which he was fouled. Though it’s only a minuscule sample size, both he and Anton Watson appear much more assertive on offense than they were last season.

8. After his second foul, Nolan HIckman was pulled early in the first half but returned to play 22 minutes of consistent, nearly mistake free basketball. He had the team’s highest offensive rating of 175.4 off 3 for 4 shooting, 5 assists and no turnovers. Filling Andrew Nembhard’s shoes will not be easy but counting the exhibitions, Nolan has 12 assists with only 2 turnovers.

9. Great article in the Spokesman-Review two days ago previewing last nights contest: The story of North Florida’s coach Matthew Driscoll crossing paths with Mark Few 24 years ago in Laramie, Wyoming then again eight years later while an assistant with Baylor illustrates the tightness and exclusivity of the D-1 coaching community.

10. While I feel that Heister, Dickau and Fox are Spokane’s answer to Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell and Dandy Don Meredith (I’m really old), it’s always pleasing to hear a different voice call a game at the Kennel. Tom Glasgow did an excellent job last night and I’m always impressed by Richard Fox’s solo commentary.