As a part of this week's preview for Florida State's NCAA Tournament game, we had the opportunity to run some questions by the guys at 'The Slipper Still Fits,' SBNations Gonzaga blog. They do really great work at their site, so take a few minutes to check out their work. Our answers to their questions will be posted on their site. Gonzaga is a team that most of the country east of the Mississippi River is not very familiar with. This is a great discussion about what Florida State can expect on Friday.
First, thank you to Zach and Max at 'The Slipper Still Fits.' They provided some really insightful answers to our questions. We appreciate them taking the time to share their thoughts with us. Check out their site to see what we had to say about the game. Here is what we learned about Gonzaga.
1. Unfortunately, most ACC fans impression of Gonzaga was their performance against the Blue Devils. That game does not reflect the quality of basketball that was played by Gonzaga this year. What is the 'real' Gonzaga like? How would you describe this team to the casual fan? Should they be an 8 seed, playing across the country?
Your description is spot on. Gonzaga's perception nationally is very unfortunate; probably more unfortunate than I care to admit. As fans of such a irregular program like Gonzaga, you never really know how the world views you. Some think you're a cute mid-major that plays in an awful conference and some think you are a consistently overrated team that the media has fallen in love with. The Zags definitely didn't help themselves this season to sway any naysayers. Their two most "national" games were the Duke game and the WCC Championship against Saint Mary's. Both resulted in laid eggs. For that reason it is really hard to define this team as anything but inconsistent. The good thing, however, is that can make them incredibly dangerous in tournament settings if they get hot. The real Gonzaga is driven around Elias Harris. The Zags are at a whole different level when the offense is working around him because he can score from anywhere on the court and in a variety of ways. If he is active and involved early on, I don't think there is a team in the country Gonzaga can't beat. If he's out of the mix and having to work too much to create on offense, there isn't a team in the country that Gonzaga can't lose to. We've kinda boiled this team down to that fact.
There's not really a doubt in my mind that Gonzaga should be in that seven-eight seed area and away from the West coast. Losing two conference games to teams not even sniffing the tournament really broke this team's back. The nineteen point loss in the tournament championship game was just reassurance that this team was not worthy of being "protected" by the committee.
2. With a 26-6 record, the Bulldogs didn't struggle with many opponents this year. But, against what type of team did Gonzaga have their most success? What kind of teams/style of play caused them to struggle?
Like I said in the previous question, so much of this team's success lies on the shoulders of Elias Harris. At the beginning of the season, Harris was still an unknown German freshman. After the Michigan State game, Maui, and the rest of conference play, the nation woke up and really began gameplanning around him. Since then, Gonzaga has really struggled matching up with physical opposition. What most of the West Coast Conference did against Gonzaga was just hit them. Whenever Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray, or any other guard went to the hoop, they were either fouled or just defended very physically. This tends to throw them, especially Bouldin, off their game. If Matt feels like he's not getting calls early, he really struggles to get himself going. Moving into the post, the same can be said for Gonzaga's center, Robert Sacre. Rob has shown tremendous flashes all season long but he still lacks consistent assertiveness that all great big men have. If he doesn't receive the ball in "scoring position" he will typically turn the ball over because he's still very raw dribbling in the post and controlling his body. The Gonzaga coaching staff has had a hard time knowing how to use Rob throughout the year. Sometime they force feed him early to get him going but, and this is going to sound old, he gets better if Harris is the focal point. Defense is drawn away from Rob and the rest of the team when Elias demands attention and his presence opens up lanes all over the court.
By now, I expect Florida State fans to be salivating because they are exactly the defensive team GU struggles against. Athletic, long, and very physical is what I have gathered regarding the Noles defense. For the Zags to combat this, the game must be played from the inside-out to try and use their size to "out-tough" FSU.
3. Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray and Elias Harris appear to be the three headed monster for the Bulldogs. Out of those three, who do you think will give the Seminoles the most difficulty? Aside from the big three, who should Seminoles' fans be familiar with before this game starts? One shot left, who gets the ball?
With as much as I've talked about Elias Harris, I have to take this opportunity discuss Steven Gray. I think that Gray is the answer to two of your questions (I hope). He should get the ball with the clock winding down and he can present the most issues to Florida State. I say that for one reason and that is because Gonzaga truly needs him to be exceptional. Against a team like FSU where penetration from the outside may be limited, the Zags need Gray to hit shots from the outside and pull their defense out. While Matt Bouldin is sort of the jack-of-all-trades for this team, Steven is the most pure and explosive scorer. If he gets hot from the perimeter, he can put down four before you blink. He's also turned in to the total package and can drive to the rack or pull up for a mid-range jumper. He's also one of the few Zags that has been playing consistently lately and that, hopefully, will carry over to Friday.
In a game where I believe Gonzaga has to hit a certain point total to win, I think instant offense is going to be crucial off the bench. For that reason, the guy you should get to know is Canadian via Sudan transplant Bol Kong. Kong is a redshirt sophomore in his first season since transferring down and getting through his lengthy visa issues. He became the Zags primary bench player early in the season but cooled off during conference play and has since seen a little resurgence. You'll likely see Kong camping out around the three-point line waiting for the kick out pass. If he hits his first shot, watch out. He can bury a couple quick ones and give Gonzaga the lift it needs.
4. Florida State has one of the highest turnover percentages in all of college basketball. Gonzaga doesn't force many turnovers. What impact will turnovers play in this game?
I don't really see turnovers playing a huge role in terms of Gonzaga forcing them. This team really lacks the necessary experience from top to bottom to really take major defensive risks and it is just not really in Mark Few's nature to roll out a team that is going to put serious pressure on a team. The Zags also recently lost key reserve Mangisto Arop to a broken foot. Arop was one of Gonzaga's best situational defenders and was easily their most efficient rebounder. With his loss, the Bulldogs' hope to make a serious defensive impact really goes down. Steven Gray will get a few steals, Matt Bouldin might gather one or two up, and Demetri Goodson will force a few but
5. What does Gonzaga need to do in order to win this game?
I think in games like these, there is never really one blueprint a team has to follow to win. I do think that it is entirely possible for this game to be really decided within the first ten minutes. Tempo and style in this game are going to be so crucial. If it is a knock 'em dead, drag 'em out affair, I have very little hope that the Zags can sustain. If they can get going early and play the inside-out game with Harris and Sacre, I feel like this is a game Gonzaga can dominate. The flip side of the coin is that Gonzaga has been notoriously slow starting this season but it's hard to know whether that is due to lack of motivation or some larger reason. Overall, I can't see them needing any sort of wake-up call for an NCAA Tournament game which makes me very confident.