With Florida State set to face Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, we swapped some questions with Peter Woodburn of the Gonazga blog, The Slipper Still Fits. For our answers to their questions, make sure you check out their site. Thanks to Peter for his time.
TN: How good is this team? From a seeding perspective, it’s a big step down from last year’s team, and the resume isn’t loaded with a ton of impressive wins, but the computer numbers suggest that Gonzaga would likely have been favored over every team in the West Region. Is this one of the elite teams in the nation, or is a 4-seed about right?
TSSF: I’d peg a four seed to be the right mark for the Zags, considering the mentioned lack of really big wins. But they are a squad the analytics love, so that is why any mention of the Zags being underseeded comes from that. That said, before Selection Sunday, I said the Zags were one of the more dangerous teams anyone would run into, solely based off that seeding. The Zags lost a healthy amount from last year’s national runner-up team, but people for the most part this year overlooked what they retained. Four-fifths of the starting lineup either started (Josh Perkins, Johnathan Williams), played meaningful backup rotation minutes (Killian Tillie, Silas Melson), or redshirted/was on the squad (Zach Norvell, Rui Hachimura).
These Zags may not be as good as last year’s squad, but they are still pretty dang good. That is why they are in their fourth straight Sweet 16.
TN: My assumption is that everyone in Spokane names their children and pets after Mark Few, and perhaps there are a few holidays in his honor. Is this accurate? What happens if he retires? Is Gonzaga committed to the resources necessary to maintain this standard that Few has created?
Ha. First off, Mark Few is such a humble, down to Earth dude, that he isn’t really deified as much in Spokane as other coaches maybe are. The players on the other hand....
I’m not sure there is a contingency plan in place, but I would imagine that it involves longtime Gonzaga assistant coach and European recruiting guru Tommy Lloyd taking over the reins. Coach Lloyd has been with Mark Few for almost the entirety of his head coaching career, so the transition should be in safe hands, and you can avoid a situation like the Arizona Wildcats had when Lute Olsen retired.
As far as the university goes, they are building a brand new strength and conditioning center and learning center for the student-athletes. The basketball program has poured quite a bit of money into the coffers of the school, and there is no sign the school isn’t interested in making sure that chartered flights continue once Few retires (if he ever does).
TN: Gonzaga hasn’t exactly blitzed the competition in their first two games of this tourney. How would you rate their performance through two games?
I subscribe to the age old philosophy that a “win is a win,” and I particularly like to spout that after some really ugly wins that shaved a few years off of my life. That said, there is something in the ability of grinding out whatever it takes to win, especially in the NCAA Tournament format where one real off night sends you home. The Zags got in a couple of rock fights for sure, but in a weird way, the game against Ohio State has me a lot more optimistic for their fortunes going forward.
UNC-Greensboro has a legitimate NCAA-Tournament-team-caliber defense, and the Zags three-point shooting/free throw shooting did not do them any favors. Against Ohio State, everyone will talk about how the Zags were up 15-0 to open the game, but what that leaves out is the number of point-blank lay-ups that rolled off the rim for OSU early on. The rest of the game was more indicative of the energy in that game.
Sure, Gonzaga coughed up an 11-point lead at half, but the important thing was the Zags answered back authoritatively with big time shots worthy of the NCAA Tournament. Those plays have come from a variety of players. So despite the ugliness of the two wins, most everyone in Spokane isn’t too down on the chances of advancing. But I think a lot of people are also keeping this year’s run as almost an asterisk mark— it has been so wild across the bracket that really anything seems possible.
TN: If you’ve had a chance to watch FSU play, what player on their roster scares you? If you haven’t seen them play, what is the style of player who can give Gonzaga fits?
I think what scares me most is the depth and pace that FSU plays. The Zags have a short bench, and although not exactly the slowest team, like to play that half-court offense. From the limited amount of times I’ve seen FSU this year, that isn’t exactly the case. The Zags have some players that will get spot minutes (Jacob Larsen and Jeremy Jones), and Corey Kispert might make more of an appearance, but the reality of Gonzaga’s tournament rotation is six players. If FSU dictates the pace of the game, I wonder if Gonzaga will be able to keep up. Luckily, for the Zags, they have rested since Saturday. If this were a second-round/Elite-8 game with that quick turnaround, that might be rather problematic for Gonzaga.
TN: Gonzaga is 9th nationally in defensive 2-pt%. For FSU, 43% of their shots come at the rim. How do the Zags shut down the interior so well?
The Zags defense is a team effort, with players knowing when to switch and when to man up hard. Occasionally, the Zags will throw a bit of zone in there to try and mix it up, but for the most part, this is a man-to-man offense that relies on the help being in the right space at the right time. The Gonzaga bigs are athletic and quick; the latter is what probably helps the most. Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie aren’t going to swat too many shots during the game, but they are good with positioning and making sure that opponents aren’t taking too many high percentage shots.
The Gonzaga guards, led by Silas Melson’s defense, are quick and pretty good at collapsing, while keeping an eye on any open three-point shooters at the same time. It is a team effort though, and the overall goal is to make sure there is a hand in the face on every shot. The Zags aren’t really aggressive. They won’t force a lot of turnovers. If you see a press at all, it will just be one man for show, but no real pressure. Otherwise, the Zags pull up their shorts at half court and try and make it as hard as possible to get a good look.
TN: We thought for a bit that Zach Norvell was going to end up at Florida State, but it didn’t happen. What does he bring to the table, and how did he end up having a career game in the round-of-32 win over Ohio State?
Zach “Snacks” Norvell is the reason the Zags are even in the Sweet 16. He is a big time scorer who never saw a shot he didn’t like. That was perfectly on display against UNC-Greensboro, against whom he had an absolutely atrocious shooting morning, shooting 3-of-11 (and 1-of-7 from long range) until this huge shot:
Onions!— CollegeBB News (@CollegeBBNCAA) March 15, 2018
Zach Norvell Jr's clutch 3-pointer with 20 seconds remaining puts 4 seed Gonzaga past 13 seed UNCG 68-64.
Johnathan Williams: 19 PTS, 13 REB, 1 ASTpic.twitter.com/YQVRC7pVqw
He is a high volume shooter who will go through his streaks. But if he is on, he is downright impossible to stop from long range, which Ohio State unfortunately witnessed, as Norvell hit 6-of-11 from long range. He’ll take a shot four seconds into the shot clock on a non-fast break as if that is what the coach wanted, no question.
He is also a fearless driver to the hoop— almost to a fault. He draws contact that has my non-basketball playing body wince. He is probably the most pure scorer on the squad in terms of doing whatever it will take to score buckets, and he is having himself a grand old time this NCAA Tournament. Norvell will do whatever he can to get points. If he opens the game missing shots, as an FSU fan, you should only take a little bit of solace in that fact, because eventually Norvell starts to hit them.
You can find TN’s answers to their questions here.