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Bud Withers' Blog

The Zags and running it up (whatever that is)

Happened to catch a Seattle radio segment the other day on which CBS sports bracket specialist Jerry Palm appeared. (Yes, occasionally sports-talk radio here veers dangerously from assessing what Seahawks mini-camps will look like in May and realizes we’re well into college-basketball season.)

The subject of Gonzaga’s 98-39 boat-racing at Santa Clara came up, and with it, the fact that the NCAA’s new NET rankings recognize margin of victory – but only out to 10 points. Never was it specifically alleged that the Zags’ clocking of the Broncos represented running it up, but still, I sensed an undercurrent in the conversation that Gonzaga might have treated the game differently than it would have without that NET factor.

Which, if that’s what Palm and/or his host believes, is ridiculous. I suppose if you want to split hairs, you can argue that with 14 minutes left, Gonzaga led 66-25 and it was going to be virtually impossible for five guys plucked out of Jack and Dan’s at closing time to lose the game with a lead like that, and the GU starters could have come out then. Or even earlier.

As it was, if memory serves, Gonzaga had all its starters out of the game for good at around the nine-minute mark, which is about as early as you’ll ever see. True, that left Killian Tillie, Geno Crandall and Filip Petrusev to wreak more indignity on the poor Broncos, but them’s the breaks.

Indeed, the most minutes by a Zag was Josh Perkins’ 26. Brandon Clarke played only 20 minutes and Rui Hachimura 18.

I bring this up because in a year in which Gonzaga is clearly the class of the WCC – by a bunch -- the subject is likely to arise again.

At 10 points, the scoring-margin component of the NET is almost so negligible as to be moot. If you win by nine or 10 points, it’s often the case that it was a one- or two-possession game inside the last minute. Example: Gonzaga’s 13-point victory over USF a while back was anything but comfortable.

Putting aside the NET, and looking at the subject from the sportsmanship angle, I’m often intrigued by discussions of running it up. There are so many gray areas that it’s become a silly topic. What’s running it up to one person isn’t to the other. Case in point: I was watching one of the football bowl games in December, and a team that was blowing out its opponent had the ball with a fourth down on the opponent 15- or 20-yard line in the fourth quarter. The team leading eschewed the field goal and went for it on fourth down, causing a cry of consternation from the play-by-play guy. How dare they?

Well, in many quarters, kicking the field goal with a five-touchdown lead is considered bad form – worse than simply lining up and running the ball and giving the defense a chance to stop you. But in either case, it’s stupid to get worked up about it when there’s no agreement on what either act signifies. Over the years, I’ve pretty much come to subscribe to the drawling dictum of the old Florida State football coach, Bobby Bowden: “It’s not mah job to stop mah offense, it’s yo’ job to stop mah offense.”

Funny, but “running it up” even carries two different connotations. At its most innocent, it means scoring a lot. Taken at its most nefarious, it means pouring it on to embarrass your opponent.

A final thought on it: Some fans think a game is only about who wins and who loses – end of story. Coaches don’t look at it that way. They coach against the game. They want to see improvement with certain combinations. They want to see how certain vulnerabilities are addressed.

Mark Few wants to see Tillie’s timing on certain ball-screen sets, he wants to see Crandall’s advancement with Perkins playing off the ball. He wants to see things that suggest his team is on an upward arc toward March. It isn’t about giving gratuitous minutes to the guys at the end of the bench – though they certainly deserve their run -- so the crowd can repair to the nearest bar to discuss the night.

The Zags face a four-game stretch with BYU, San Diego, USF and Saint Mary’s. Don’t look for them to beat any of those outfits by 59 points. But down the road, there will be a good many moments when the question isn’t winning or losing, but far more esoteric matters.
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The wizardry, and the imponderable, of Brock Ravet

The first time Brock Ravet cast up a shot Monday at the King Showcase in Kent, it was from near-Steph Curry territory on the right wing.

“Oh, my God,” muttered a guy a couple of rows behind me.

Ravet missed. In fact, in a rough start for his Class 2B Kittitas High team against 4A Kentlake, Ravet forced things, going 0 for 5 with three first-quarter turnovers. Then he settled in, and when the afternoon was done, he had 30 points, 13 rebounds and six assists and Kittitas had broken from a 13-13 second-quarter tie to a 77-52 walk in the park.

I don’t claim to be the most sagacious at projecting what might be ahead for high school basketball prospects. There are eyes much more trained and discerning than mine at that.

But I’ve seen high school games of a good many future Gonzaga players over the years – Dan Dickau, Adam Morrison, David Pendergraft, Steven Gray, Josh Heytvelt, Gary Bell Jr., Cory Kispert, Anton Watson – and I’d have to say of all of them, I found Ravet’s game most intriguing. That doesn’t make it the best, or the most promising, but it certainly seems flush with possibilities. (For the record, although I liked Morrison, I didn’t foresee the huge national splash he created, but I don’t know if anybody else did, either.)

First, in the grand tradition of Gonzaga guards (and a virtual must in Mark Few’s system), Ravet (say Ruh-VAY) can shoot. His pet shot appears to be a step-back effort, and he drilled maybe three of them from 25-foot range.

He went 11 for 25 from the field, but don’t be alarmed by the percentage. A good many of the misses were from mid-range or in traffic. He can fill it.

Right away, you can see some of the things that caught Gonzaga coaches’ eyes: He has great court vision, he has a feel for tempo and he’s an exceptional passer. Time and time again, he gunned 35-to-40 foot passes to open teammates. Listed at 6-1 and 175 pounds and widely termed a combo guard, he’s at least a capable ball-handler.

Kentlake tried some box-and-one against Ravet. As he’s now within 129 points of the all-time state scoring record (Lance DenBoer, Sunnyside Christian, had 2,851 in the early 2000s), you’d have to figure the guy has pretty much seen it all.

His dad and coach, Tim Ravet, ascribed the slow start to adjusting to a different level of competition.

“I felt he forced it a little at the start of the game, not knowing how quick they are compared to what we play,” the senior Ravet said. “If we have a step on somebody in our division, usually they’re going to outrun the guy. I felt we got that to where he played quarterback a little longer (with the ball) in his hands until it opened up.”

After those initial rocky moments, you were left with a feeling of what’s-he-gonna-do-next? Once, he blew into the lane and did a tight spin-dribble. But he missed the shot and fouled at the other end. On the last two possessions of the third quarter, he called for the ball outside the left block, took a dribble back and swished a 16-footer, and then, with the clock running out, nailed a deep three to push the lead to 65-36.

On one 2-on-1 possession, he drove, hung the ball on his hip as if to go behind the back to a teammate and instead laid it in.

At times, there’s a hint of reckless abandon in Ravet’s game, probably the result of having his way with things against mostly inferior competition. The trick will be for Gonzaga to curb carelessness while preserving the creativity.

Few is pretty good at that.

The persistent question is whether Ravet has enough quickness, especially to guard on the perimeter. On this day, against a 9-9 Kentlake team that doesn’t have great size, he spent most of the time defending the post.

Ravet says the GU coaches would like him to work on quickness and develop a floater. He says he’ll be doing frequent Vertimax cable-resistance work at Kittitas to improve quickness. As with most high school players, he can add strength, but you wouldn’t consider him slender right now, either.

Can he play up? Can he make the move from dominating the game in a town of 1,500 that he’s led to two state titles to a program whose caliber is now national-championship contender? The Zags recently missed on a player of Ravet’s exact size, Jesse Wade, although that might have had something to do with Wade’s two-year interruption on a church mission.

“That’s up to him and Few and the coaching staff there,” Tim Ravet said, referring to the jump in competition. “He’s got to continue to build skill and get stronger, to work and improve. At least the opportunity is there.

“Seeing the floor and being a willing passer, I think that’s what they like about him. And that’s not going to change at the next level. He’s going to be able to do more of that. The harder shots he takes sometimes (now), he’s going to be able to take the right shots, and see the right (open) players. So I think he’s got a chance.”

On a languid Monday afternoon in January enlivened by his son, there was nothing to suggest otherwise.
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On a clear day, Zags can even see Nevada

You might have missed this angle Tuesday night, but an old friend of Gonzaga came oh-so-close to doing the Zags a solid.

Leon Rice, the 12-year GU assistant, coaches Boise State, which fell victim to No. 10 Nevada, 72-71, on a three-point shot by Cody Martin with 4.5 seconds left – Martin’s first made trey in exactly a month.

Why, you ask, would Zag followers care especially about Nevada’s fortunes?

The answer lies several weeks down the road – possibly – when the NCAA basketball committee convenes to deal out seeds and sites on Selection Sunday.

Today, by consensus, the Zags (16-2) project to be a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Obviously, that’s subject to change. I feel safe in saying that were Gonzaga to run the table and win the WCC tournament, it would find itself in a spirited discussion for a No. 1 seed – dependent partly on future losses by projected No. 1s.

Nevada, 17-1 after the Boise State victory, is generally seen as a No. 3 seed today. That, too, could change, and it would get interesting if Gonzaga stays at No. 2 and Nevada bobs up one line to a No. 2. Or if both become No. 3 seeds.

Thanks to the Pac-12 and its de-emphasis on basketball – we kid – Gonzaga and Nevada are the sole contenders for the honor of best-seeded team in the West in 2019. As such, if they happen to be on the same seed line in March, the one the committee judges superior will get to stay in the West, while the other goes elsewhere. Anaheim is hosting the West regional, and Kansas City, Louisville and Washington, D.C., the others.

My belief is, this is a bigger deal for fans than it is teams. Regionals are in large, professional-style arenas in which partisanship is divided. Sure, some teams will be more popular than others, but the backing is nothing like a college venue. Still, for most Gonzaga fans, Anaheim (March 28 and 30) would be a preference, in terms of proximity, access and weather, if their team gets to the Sweet 16.

(The western sub-regional sites, by the way, are Salt Lake City and San Jose.)

How do the two teams stack up against each other today? I was a little surprised to see the Zags with a fairly decisive edge in the NCAA’s new NET metric – No. 6 at mid-week, as opposed to Nevada’s No. 23. The Wolfpack can boast that it has a better road record (5-1 to GU’s 2-1) as well as neutral (4-0, to GU’s 3-1).

But the reason becomes more apparent in their records in the NCAA’s Quadrant 1 reckoning – or combined record against the top 30 at home; top 50 on neutral sites; and top 75 on the road. There’s a lot more meat on the bones of Gonzaga’s schedule, as the Zags are 4-2 in that combination, while Nevada is just 1-0.

In a close head-to-head comparison, the Zags would be able to argue that they operated through most of their non-league schedule without Killian Tillie and Geno Crandall, and if they were to piece together a dominating run through the WCC, that contrast would only become more pronounced.

And regardless of what happens, they’ll hold the big hammer of a victory over a healthy Duke team. Meanwhile, the New Mexico squad that throttled Nevada recently has a NET ranking of only 188.

It’s worth wondering just how much weight the NET will be given by the selection committee, which, no matter its composition, was famous through the decades for saying that the late, unlamented RPI was merely one tool in the process. But given that the NET is more sophisticated – for instance, taking into account things like offensive and defensive efficiency – it makes sense that if anything, it will be relied on more than the RPI.

Lotta dribbles to take place before any of this matters, and even if it does, teams have to survive two games to get to the regional. But for Zag fans, it’s worth a glance now and then at Nevada.
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