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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Kent State


NCAA Basketball: Kent State at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

If you were hoping for a comfortable and big win on Monday night to cleanse the palate, I’m not sure why you would have been expecting that. Kent State proved to be as advertised - a veteran squad that will apply the pressure and make you beat them. Unsurprisingly, the Zags had to dig deep to make that happen.

  1. There were some good signs in this game from Gonzaga. Kent State entered the contest forcing opponents into 20 turnovers per game. The Zags finished with 9 turnovers. Considering how poorly Gonzaga took care of the ball in the first 8 games of the season, I would take 9 every time, though it didn’t feel that way as a 10-point lead evaporated in the second half.
  2. Coming off a tough outing, it was imperative to get Drew Timme in a rhythm right away. That’s exactly what Gonzaga did in this game. The key thing was that Timme was delivered the ball in favorable positions moving toward the rim (and not from 18 feet away) on the first two possessions and he turned those opportunities into a trip to the free throw line and a made short jumper. Those are the looks he needs to be getting more regularly.
  3. On the other hand, Malachi Smith followed up his strong performance against Baylor with a tough game against Kent State. Yes, he had a big three-point play with just under two minutes left to help Gonzaga put the nail in the coffin, but those were his first and only points in the game and the rest of his outing wasn’t much to right home about. It will be hard for Gonzaga to string consistent performances and comfortable wins together if there is such a wide variance of outcomes from key rotation pieces. As a seasoned player at this point in his career, it’s not unreasonable to expect a greater level of consistency from Smith.
  4. Gonzaga’s off-ball movement and ball movement looked better in this game. Guys were cutting on-time and with purpose and it put a lot of pressure on Kent State’s defense. Naturally, it made the offense look much more in sync. That’s progress, I suppose.
  5. Perhaps in a sign that the coaching staff recognizes his development needs to be accelerated as much as possible, Nolan Hickman played every minute of this game. The reps are valuable and he needs as many of them as possible.
  6. That was a good Kent State team that is obviously well-coached. It’s clear to see why they are the favorite to win the MAC and if they do they will be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament. They can close deficits quickly because of their ability to manufacture turnovers and shoot the three at a good rate.
  7. I am certain that Gonzaga’s scouting report highlighted that Miryne Thomas was a three-point threat. That made it all the more frustrating to concede so many quality looks to him.
  8. The free throw shooting is headed in the wrong direction. To be fair, the Zags in the non-Timme or Watson division have been good at the line, but those two guys get the lion’s share of opportunities at the charity stripe (and will continue to do so) and are making that area a major achilles heel for this team. They simply have to be better in that department.
  9. It’s so fun to watch Hunter “Clamps” Sallis play defense. Sincere Carry is not an easy guy to cover, but Sallis made him work for everything whenever they were matched up. Sallis’ defensive effort all over the floor helped the Zags close out this game. Guys can seal wins with buckets, but they can also seal wins with defensive stops. Sallis provides that.
  10. Mark Few has settled on who the eight guys in his rotation will be this season. It’s now incumbent on that group to make consistent strides for the rest of the season.