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Prisoners of the moment, we are. That’s a truism reinforced by the fact that Gonzaga hoops graduated from a collective national ugh earlier this season to the notion that, who knows, might have six more games in it.
Such was the rush created by the Zags’ ruthless 77-51 dispatch of Saint Mary’s the other night. Gonzaga treated the Gaels like somebody propped up in a “buy” game on a Wednesday night late in November, leading by 37 before SMC trimmed the deficit with its starters against Gonzaga subs.
Even so, 26 was the largest margin either of these WCC strongholds have inflicted on each other in their long history in the league tournament.
Sunday, Gonzaga earned a No. 3 seed opposite WAC winner Grand Canyon, with TCU, UCLA and high-upside Connecticut also lurking in the West Region.
Following the woodshedding of Saint Mary’s, the bouquets rained in for the Zags, except for this one from Brian Rauf, a writer at HeatcheckCBB.com:
“Seen a lot of talk about Gonzaga being a national-title contender because of how it blew out Saint Mary’s. To me, the game says more about the Gaels’ offensive struggles vs. athleticism than anything Gonzaga. Zags are still a solid team but I don’t see that ceiling . . . some issues – perimeter shot creation and rim protection chief among them – haven’t gone away. WCC opponents just couldn’t exploit them to the same extent.”
Rauf’s is a point worth examining. There are some warts with this Gonzaga team, and the question is: After a long, sometimes-bumpy season, have the Zags managed to chip away those weaknesses in advance of a long March run, or did they just do what they almost always do, which is shame the rest of the WCC?
Gonzaga’s performance against the Gaels was beyond dominating. Most impressively, its defensive rotations were terrific, its help almost unerring.
“Our defense was as good as it’s ever been,” said GU coach Mark Few. “It wasn’t just 10 minutes, 20 minutes, it was 40.”
The way it unfolded, Saint Mary’s was never going to win this game. But it also must be said that this was one of those nights for the Gaels, one in which they fluffed shots at the rim and threw passes to people in the seats. By themselves, apart from the Zags, they were horrendous.
Rauf’s observation about perimeter shot creation is valid. The Zags don’t have much of that. They do, however, run such exquisite offense – tops in the nation, per KenPom.com – that it helps mask that deficiency.
I’d be more concerned about that No. 75 defensive number in KenPom, and whether the Saint Mary’s evisceration is evidence of a defense finally getting it, or merely a one-off.
Zag fans who needn’t have a long memory might counter Rauf by pointing out that better Gonzaga teams have stumbled against Saint Mary’s – late season, and in the 2019 WCC-tournament final, when GU was top-ranked.
If you’re Zag-centric, you could argue the three games against Saint Mary’s this season summarize neatly Gonzaga’s ascendant arc. In Moraga early in February, the Zags led most of the way before Aidan Mahaney stole the game from them with a brilliant few minutes.
In Spokane, Gonzaga controlled throughout and won decisively but not in one-sided fashion. Then in Vegas, the Zags made Saint Mary’s look like the East Bay Irregulars.
This week, the Zags will truck some glitzy luggage into the NCAA tournament. They’ve won 13 straight first-round games, fifth all-time and trailing only a collection of royalty named North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA.
They’ve been in seven straight Sweet 16s. One more gets them undisputed third all-time, behind North Carolina and Duke.
Win it all? I doubt it. Even in a year of parity, that mountain is a sheer one for a team without great margin for error against the requisite array of opposing styles. What seems failsafe one night can be MIA the next. Last year, Andrew Nembhard was nails against Memphis, helping push the Zags into the Sweet 16. Against Arkansas, not so much.
But maybe with a break or two, the Final Four isn’t necessarily a bridge too far. For Zag types who would dare to dream, the Saint Mary’s game was a nudge into dreamland.
I’ll have to admit, I’m not much for advanced analytics in college basketball. My expertise in numbers tends to become strained somewhere just past the old maxim that a good free throw shooter will hit 70 percent.
So it was a bit of a relief for me – if not for Gonzaga – when I stumbled across a number that goes a long way toward describing the Zags’ uneven 5-3 start entering Monday night’s game with Kent State.
What gives with this Gonzaga team, you might wonder. How do you get destroyed at Texas, how do you get schooled shamelessly by Purdue? How, in a grinder where converted baskets are like gold, do you surrender an 8-0 run in the last 90 seconds to lose to Baylor?
When I was researching Glory Hounds, I recall being around Zags coach Mark Few during some fretful times early in the 2015-16 season. That was when Josh Perkins was a not-ready-for-prime-time redshirt freshman, and the guard play was unsteady, and Gonzaga dropped winnable home games against Arizona and UCLA, and suddenly found itself needing to win the WCC title to keep its NCAA-tournament streak alive.
To be clear, this isn’t that. Even lurching through the first month of the season, the Zags have collected three quality wins, against Michigan State, Kentucky and Xavier. They won’t be sweating Selection Sunday.
But a lot of other things, well, those seem very much on the table – like the Zags’ remarkable string of seven straight Sweet 16s. Dare we even think that a Washington team playing better could be a threat to win at Gonzaga Friday night, for the first time since, what is it, 1937?
Back to that telling statistic. The Zags have an assist-turnover ratio of 1.03, which is territory visited only by the irredeemables of college basketball.
Something up around 1.20 is a good number. Anything threatening 1.40 is very good. And anything beyond that is elite, a number that bespeaks a team that shares the ball well, knows how to get a good shot, knows how to pass up a good shot for a better one and generally beats the opponent into submission simply by its precision.
I suspect the number 1.03 drives Few crazy – not the number per se, but what it represents, which is the absence of all those attributes.
For perspective, the four Gonzaga teams from 2019-22 never dipped below a 1.49 assist-turnover ratio, topped by the insane 1.695 turned in by the 2019 team – Perkins as a senior, Zach Norvell, Geno Crandall off the bench – that lost to Texas Tech to go to the Final Four. Those guys threw a lot of profitable passes to Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Corey Kispert.
In Gonzaga’s gilded history, you have to go all the way back to 2010 to find a poorer number than 1.03. It was 1.027 then, with Matt Bouldin’s less than 2-to-1 ratio weighted down by some big turnover numbers from Elias Harris and Robert Sacre.
To date, the Zags don’t really have a complementary front-court scoring piece to go with Drew Timme. Anton Watson is a valuable player, but not a scorer. That’s why the emergence of Ben Gregg should be important going forward, especially in light of the back problems that have derailed Kaden Perry.
Essentially, when teams overplay Timme – and they’re likely to do more and more of that – the Zags are reliant on outside shooters as a means of retaliation. Julian Strawther has had his moments as a version of ’20-21 Kispert but he’s also committed 20 turnovers, compared to 26 all of last year.
The overshadowing factor in all this, of course, is the fact the Zags are breaking in a new point guard in sophomore Nolan Hickman. That’s an unusual strait recently at GU, which has become accustomed to Nigel Williams-Goss and Perkins-as-vet, and the dynamism of Jalen Suggs, and the joystick control the past two seasons of Andrew Nembhard, now in the NBA beating the Lakers with buzzer-beaters.
So here were the Zags last week against Baylor, suddenly down one in the dying seconds with Timme having fouled out. During a timeout, coaches peered at some notes and then sent players back onto the floor. As the sequence began, somebody appeared to shoo Hickman out on top.
There was an exchange of turnovers. In the last seconds, Rasir Bolton drove and put up a shot that wasn’t close.
The whole thing wasn’t Gonzaga’s finest look. And it reinforced another frailty of this team: There’s really nobody who can create his own shot.
Big picture, the profile of the program has become associated with Elite Eight or Final Four runs. The Zags have established an awfully high bar, and anything less seems unworthy. And even as out of sync as Gonzaga has sometimes looked, there they are with KenPom’s No. 2 offensive rating.
Last week, it was almost laughable when Peacock TV's announcers underscored the notion that a loss to Baylor might scuttle Gonzaga's chances at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. What snow-globe world was this they were visiting?
Perhaps, though, it’s a reminder that every season can’t be cherries jubilee for dessert.
Some years are going to be more like pudding. Absent some big improvement, this could be one of those.
Five words. Five innocent, but chilling words that frame the future of two Pac-12 basketball programs, and indeed, the entire conference.
“I never got a call.”
As the college hoops season winds down, one of its surprises is the University of Arizona, which, following the skidding, contentious final years of Sean Miller, finds itself in prime position to nail down a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament under first-year coach Tommy Lloyd.
Yes, I’m surprised, but not because I didn’t think Lloyd was an ascendant star as he did excellent work over two decades for Mark Few at Gonzaga. Rosters being almost unknowable several months out these days, and allowing for the usual adjustment to a new regime, I figured the Lloyd track at Arizona would be something like this: A couple of uneven transitional seasons, and by the third year, appreciable success.
Two things happened: Lloyd re-recruited key parts of Miller’s last roster, though it’s stunning to realize that Arizona retained only two of the top six scorers from last season. And second, he and his staff have coached the hell out of this team. They play a brisk, up-and-down style (hello, Gonzaga), stand third in the nation in scoring and rank in KenPom’s top 10 in both offense and defense, a recipe for solid candidacy to win the whole enchilada in April.
Lloyd is the most logical choice for national coach-of-the-year recognition -- and given that there are several outlets making that pick, he's in the pole position to win at least one of them.
Answered, at least in part, is the question that accompanied the promising assistant at Gonzaga: What if Tommy Lloyd could coach? He had long since proven himself as a recruiter, especially overseas, and if he had similar chops on the bench, he’d be the total package. Now we’re seeing what was fact at Gonzaga, that Lloyd had considerable say with Few in day-to-day operation and intricacies of strategy.
Meanwhile, as Arizona was early into the work of assembling its 22-2 record, Lloyd was asked by longtime Arizona Daily Star columnist Greg Hansen if he had heard from nearby Washington in the spring of 2017 when it replaced veteran Lorenzo Romar with Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins.
“I never got a call,” Lloyd replied.
He never got a call.
This was the landscape five years ago: Gonzaga was about to crash its first Final Four. Yes, between that one and now, it has played in another Final Four, made more excursions to the top of the polls and cemented its place as one of the real monoliths of the sport. So Lloyd’s star wasn’t as bright in ’17 as it was last spring.
But Washington was making an unusual commitment in its willingness to hire an assistant. That’s a relatively rare thing at the major-conference level. At Washington State, hardly a college-basketball destination, you have to go back four coaches to find a hire who was last an assistant, and that was a special case in Tony Bennett.
And yet, if we are to believe him, Lloyd never got a call.
True, hindsight is 20/20. And it’s far too early to make a final judgment on either Lloyd or Hopkins as a head coach. Lloyd, as the jocular old bromide goes, may be giving Arizona fans too much too soon (though they’d find a way to excuse him if he won a national title in his debut). And Hopkins may, somehow, at long last, still the Huskies into some stability after a wildly convulsive five years. He won Pac-12 coach-of-the-year honors his first two seasons, flopped spectacularly the next two, and in Year Five, has rebounded with a new cast of local kids who came back home for a final college season.
But the Huskies are winning only modestly, probably headed for a secondary tournament and in today’s here-and-gone environment, needing to replace the key parts of the roster. Since Jen Cohen, the UW athletic director, owes Hopkins about $9 million, he probably gets to stick around and see if he’s up to the task.
What might have Cohen -- who hasn’t been a stalwart in major hires at the UW -- been thinking back in ’17? Perhaps there was some institutional knowledge that Few had turned down Washington back in 2002 when it hired Romar. Maybe there was a fear that Lloyd would give the Huskies the thumbs-down as well, and it would be a public embarrassment. Maybe they were just too proud. But the Huskies had a chance not only to see if a rising coach with state-of-Washington roots was interested, but potentially to chip away at the school across the state that has long been a bete noire to Husky basketball.
But Tommy Lloyd never got a call.
With the installation of Gonzaga as the No. 1-ranked team in the country in this week’s polls, I harked back to 2013, and the early-March Monday that the Zags gained that honor for the first time. On the buoyant campus, there was a 21-foot sheet cake with a blue “No. 1” shape, provided by GU’s food-service contractor and free to student passersby to partake (sounds like the same ritual happened this time).
I ran into Drew Barham that day, and the Zag reserve forward had a look on his face perhaps best described as a mixture of pleasure and bemusement at all the attention.
The recollection of Barham, the grad transfer from Memphis, got me thinking this week: How does this Gonzaga team compare to that one?
Barham was an excellent, catch-and-shoot operator who hit 44.4 percent of his threes that season. And he was a quiet, understated, great team guy. But he was limited in speed and quickness, and essentially, a one-trick pony. He averaged eight minutes a game, and would take on a greater role in 2013-14.
Which leads me, a little circuitously, to this conclusion, one you won’t hear uttered from the lips of coach Mark Few anytime soon: The current team is significantly better.
The ’13 outfit, recall, had first-team All-America Kelly Olynyk at center, Elias Harris at forward, and the sophomore guards, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. After some long, mostly early, experimentation with Guy Landry Edi at a small forward, the coaches settled on handyman Mike Hart at the “three” spot, and he ended up starting 20 games.
For depth, that team was relatively close to the ’17 club, although Edi’s role shrank to the point that he averaged only 11 minutes a game. Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski came off the bench, Dower at 16 minutes a game and Karnowski, at 11 minutes, a mere shadow of his ever-more versatile presence today.
David Stockton (19 minutes) was the first guard off the bench, and the best passer, and Kyle Dranginis, a redshirt freshman, contributed 11 minutes a game.
But in just about every metric, the ’17 Zags seem superior, including the eyeball test.
For instance, Dower was the first “big” off the bench. He was an offensive factor, but not a defensive or rebounding force. He averaged only 2.7 boards a game.
Compare that to the first reserve big guy on this team: Zach Collins is the third-leading scorer, and he leads the Zags in rebounding (5.7) and blocked shots (31). The No. 2 big off the bench, Killian Tillie (mending now from an ankle sprain), has made 10 of his 21 threes.
The starting guards, then and now, are probably close to a wash, although keep in mind, Pangos and Bell weren’t halfway through their careers until that season ended. Stockton versus Silas Melson, the first guard subs? Stockton was a better playmaker, but Melson’s athleticism facilitates his role as a solid defender, and in his junior year, he’s contributing more as a shooter (.389 on threes, .871 on free throws) than Stockton did.
Check the team stats: This squad shoots .512 overall and .380 on threes; the numbers were .497 and .371 in ’13. At the foul line, the edge is .744 now to .705 then.
Defensively, the ’17 team surrenders .369 shooting, .290 behind the arc. In ’13, it was .385 and .330.
This team has a slightly better assist-turnover ratio -- 1.54 to 1.35. The only major statistical edge owned by the ’13 team is rebound margin, 7.5 to 6.0, no doubt owing to the current team’s penchant for allowing offensive boards.
But here’s the number that jumps off the page: The 2017 team has 100 blocks, which already tops the 2013 team’s total of 96. Collins, Karnowski and Johnathan Williams III protect the rim, giving Gonzaga an intimidation element that’s rarely been part of the repertoire.
For the analytics geeks, Ken Pomeroy had the '13 team at No. 3 in offensive efficiency and 30th in defense. The latest edition is No. 7 on offense and third on defense.
What’s been happening on the floor reflects all the metrics. While the current team has routinely obliterated WCC opponents, the ’13 club -- while it ran the table in the league -- had some struggles. It beat Santa Clara by seven on the road and Saint Mary’s by five in Spokane. It nosed out a two-point win at San Diego and won by five at BYU.
Nobody in the league has come closer than 15 to this team.
In Collins and Tillie, when he returns, it appears there’s upside with this team. And if Jeremy Jones and Rui Hachimura continue progressing, there could even be more options available.
It’s possible this team could plateau and lose games unexpectedly, and never mind the imponderable of injuries, etc. And now, at No. 1, it gets the best of every opponent and opposing fan (as if it didn't already).
But for now, as February begins, this is the best it’s ever been at Gonzaga.
Gonzaga got three minutes worth of national advertising Saturday on ESPN’s weekly College GameDay show, as the subject turned to the Zags’ potential shelf life in the NCAA tournament.
“There’s still skepticism,” said host Rece Davis. “There’s always skepticism about Gonzaga.” But he added: “They made good tournament runs the last two years.”
There was no bigger skeptic than Jay Williams, the ESPN analyst. And while his words won’t be popular among Gonzaga fans, his point deserves airing.
“I think they’re legit, but it’s the same old story,” Williams said. “Let me tell you why. I think they have the talent to get to a Final Four. The only thing I worry about, when you coast through the West Coast Conference like they’re going to do, even if you have a hiccup and you lose at Saint Mary’s, I don’t think the team is battle-tested, and I think that could be a major issue when you go into the NCAA tournament.
“I think there’s a lot to be said about a team that’s used to being in those grind-it-out-scenario games. You have experience in those types of adverse moments. You know who your leaders are. You know who the ball’s gonna go to. Those are all gonna be new things when they’re facing adversity in the NCAA tournament.”
Williams could be right. There’s just no way of knowing.
Starting in 2002-03, the Zags began throwing in a mid-to-late season game against a quality opponent. That first came in the old ESPN Bracket Busters event, which Gonzaga quickly decided the program had outgrown, and opted out.
Later came January-February games against Stanford (2006 and 2007) and Memphis (2007-2011). As recently as last year, the Zags, struggling to find a quality win, lost at Southern Methodist.
Perhaps there’s a muscle-memory element to what Williams says. Maybe when you’re locked up against a physical Wisconsin team in the NCAA tournament, something clicks in and you realized you succeeded against a similarly bruising team a month earlier.
But it’s debatable.
I don’t know if Gonzaga failed to get to the Final Four in 2015 because the moment was too big against Duke. More likely, it was because the GU guards, while good, just weren’t quite good enough. Similarly, last year against Syracuse in the Sweet 16, it seemed more a failing of fragility and inexperience in the backcourt that cost Gonzaga down the stretch. And remember, Syracuse’s pressure brought the Orange back from a much bigger deficit against Virginia two days later than it faced against Gonzaga.
Two things: The nature of the tournament -- playing tougher teams as you progress -- seems to argue against Williams. In the early rounds, if you advance, you’re ostensibly playing more and more capable opponents. For those teams that don’t face a rugged league schedule -- and let’s face it, Gonzaga is one of those -- it’s like on-the-job training.
Then there’s this: If Gonzaga was indeed vulnerable because it hasn’t been drop-forged by a heavyweight conference, it would probably have shown up in some immediate, stunning losses. Instead, over the 18-year streak of consecutive NCAA tournaments, GU is 15-3 in first-round games. Moreover, on most of the occasions the Zags have been in tossup first-round games, or close to it, they’ve prospered -- to wit, against Florida State in 2010, St. John’s in 2011, West Virginia in 2012 and Oklahoma State in 2014. The middle two of those were blowouts.
Gonzaga has never suffered the jaw-dropping, can’t-believe-it first-round upset that would support the theory, while a lot of purebred programs have -- Duke, Michigan State, Kansas. That doesn’t debunk Williams’ theory, but surely the first game is where you might find some supporting evidence.
Bottom line: Every theory has some legs, until Gonzaga silences the doubters with a Final Four.
As West Coast Conference men’s basketball play begins Thursday night, there’s a sense of newness. That is, right up until you project the best in show in the WCC.
In eight of the past nine years, Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s has always either won the league or finished no worse than a tie for second in the regular season. That’s a trend expected to prevail in 2016-17, as the Zags, now No. 6-rated by the coaches, are the league favorite, while Saint Mary’s (10-1) is No. 19 in both polls.
The league underwent a 40-percent upheaval in head coaches last spring. WCC commissioner Lynn Holzman would tell you that’s reflective of a new wave of presidents unwilling to accept the dominance of Gonzaga, and to a lesser extent, Saint Mary’s.
So veteran Herb Sendek is now installed at Santa Clara. Ex-Saint Mary’s assistant Kyle Smith has taken over at San Francisco. And former NBA point guards Terry Porter and Damon Stoudamire are in place at Portland and Pacific, respectively.
A Cliffs-Notes look at the league as it begins play, alphabetically in order:
Brigham Young (9-4)
Coach -- Dave Rose (12th season as BYU head coach).
Best win -- Beat Colorado 79-71 at Provo.
RPI -- No. 147.
Key stat -- C Eric Mika, returned from a church mission in Italy, leads Cougars with 20.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
Coach -- Mark Few (18).
Best win -- Beat Arizona, 69-62.
RPI -- No. 6.
Key stat -- Pick one: Zags are No. 2 nationally in 3-point FG defense at .267, they’re shooting .744 on free throws and have a 1.32 assist-turnover ratio.
Loyola Marymount (7-4)
Coach -- Mike Dunlap (3).
Best win -- Won at Colorado State, 69-66.
RPI -- No. 199.
Key stat -- Shooting has been an issue; Lions make .332 from three and 65.8 percent of their free throws.
Coach -- Damon Stoudamire (1).
Best win -- Beat Wyoming 73-65 in Stockton.
RPI -- No. 246.
Key stat -- Team shoots only 40.4 percent.
Coach -- Marty Wilson (6).
Best win -- Beat Little Rock, 66-65, on neutral floor.
RPI -- No. 256.
Key stat -- Chris Reyes, 6-7 Utah transfer, averages 14.7 ppg, shoots .619 and leads Waves in rebounding at 8.1 a game.
Coach -- Terry Porter (1).
Best win -- Beat Oregon State 53-45, at the Moda Center in Portland.
RPI -- No. 192.
Key stat -- G Alec Wintering’s 21.5 ppg leads four players in double figures.
Saint Mary’s (10-1)
Coach -- Randy Bennett (16).
Best win -- At Dayton, 61-57.
RPI -- No. 30.
Key stat -- Lots to like here: Big man Jock Landale has either led the Gaels in scoring or rebounding in all but one game. SMC has a 1.7 assist-turnover ratio and 9.4 rebound margin.
San Diego (7-5)
Coach -- Lamont Smith (2).
Best win -- Beat Cal-Santa Barbara, 77-68.
RPI -- No. 160.
Key stat -- Spokane University High product Brett Bailey, 6-6, has made quantum leap to lead Toreros in scoring (18.6) and rebounding (7.2).
San Francisco (10-3)
Coach -- Kyle Smith (1).
Best win -- Beat Utah 89-86 in Diamond Head Classic.
RPI -- No. 142.
Key stat -- Dons shooting .484, and .413 behind the arc.
Santa Clara (6-7).
Coach -- Herb Sendek (1).
Best win -- At Valparaiso, 87-80.
RPI -- No. 272.
Key stat -- Broncos have launched 104 more treys than opponents. Foes shoot 40.5 percent on threes.
This being sports and all, it’s foolhardy to assume anything and look ahead. Nevertheless, caveats, disclaimers and disavowals in place, there’s this: It might be awhile before Gonzaga loses. In fact, the Zags (11-0) might well be the last team standing nationally without a defeat in 2016-17.
Rick Barnes broached this possibility after the Zags survived his Tennessee team Sunday in Nashville: That they could run the table in the regular season and go into the NCAA tournament unbeaten.
That’s a big leap. Certainly, it’s not an impossible notion, if indeed this is one of Mark Few’s top-shelf Gonzaga teams, and it appears it is. The West Coast Conference schedule isn’t exactly loaded with land mines (although the cliché of every gym lusting for Zag blood will again hold forth.)
So we won’t go there with Barnes. But it isn’t out of the question the Zags, who host South Dakota of the Summit League Wednesday night in their final pre-league game, could soldier well into January -- like right up to Jan. 14, when they host Saint Mary’s -- without a defeat.
To date, five others nationally have spotless resumes -- Villanova, UCLA, Baylor, Creighton and USC.
Gonzaga has obviously surmounted the most imposing hurdles on the non-league schedule, even as a couple of those, like San Diego State and Iowa State, haven’t exactly assembled boffo portfolios.
It would be unwise to attach too much credence to Ratings Percentage Index numbers at this point. But South Dakota is No. 211, and of the first four WCC opponents, the only one with an RPI better than 200 is Portland at 125. Add a grain of salt to all that, since the No. 69-ranked team right now is Indiana and No. 81 is Michigan State. (Gonzaga is No. 8.)
But this is Gonzaga’s longest walk among the undefeateds to start a season since it began playing D-1 basketball in 1958-59. It just might last a good while longer, with all the attendant challenges and pressure.
It's also debatable whether the Gonzaga coaches would even want an extended, long unbeaten run deep into the season, such is the scrutiny it would invite.
Other observations on the state of the Zags, now No. 7-ranked:
-- The inability to simply strangle opponents after holding a big lead should be a concern. It’s happened against Iowa State, Arizona and now Tennessee. While an opening salvo like the 27-6 burst at Tennessee can’t be sustained for a game, too often those comfortable leads have seemingly led to some bad fundamentals, like losing three-point shooters and . . .
-- The defensive-rebounding malaise. What was before a curiosity now seems a problem. A year ago, Gonzaga allowed 10 offensive rebounds a game. In 2016-17, it is surrendering 15. There are times when it looks like GU’s best chance at a defensive board is that the opposing rebounder simply mishandles the ball.
-- Part of those struggles, though, are due to Gonzaga generally playing very good half-court defense, where Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted rankings now put GU at No. 16. Gonzaga is holding opponents to .361 field-goal shooting, markedly better than last year’s number of .396. In other words, there are a lot of rebounds.
-- Turnovers (20) were a problem against Tennessee, where it almost seemed that Gonzaga’s active defensive tempo carried over to the offense, to its detriment. On occasion, the Zags rushed shots or failed to make the extra pass.
-- Its depth continues to be a boon for Gonzaga. Freshman Killian Tillie, who is contributing mightily, is the No. 8 scorer at 4.7 points.
-- It’s been a spotty transition for Missouri transfer Johnathan Williams III. He has struggled with foul trouble, tied for the team lead in whistles, while averaging 9.0 points per game. Improved decision-making and the occasional ball- or shot-fake would flatter his natural athletic ability.
-- A .744 team free throw percentage is a good sign for the Zags. Przemek Karnowski, who has always hovered around 50 percent, is at .621, and surely the coaches would take that all year.
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