As the weeks go on and I find that I've written about almost all of the major teams (with the obvious exception of Florida), I have to dig a bit deeper to find good match ups to write about. Saturday's key game was Virginia beating Syracuse, which wasn't a big surprise. I watched the game and what surprised me a bit was the looseness of the Orange zone, but that tends to happen on the road. I had not watched Gonzaga this season for a full game, so I expected to be entertained by their usual crazy hairdos and possibly an entertaining game in Moraga, California against their old nemesis, St. Mary's. I got neither.
And yet I was entertained. It appears that all of the strange-haired players for the Zags have moved on or been trimmed (I am thinking of Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk among others). Maybe coach Mark Few has a new policy that resembles the New York Yankees, but I doubt it. Without the hair to stare at, I had to concentrate on basketball. While this game was one-sided early on and not very compelling, I did find Gonzaga's passing to be excellent. Basketball at the highest level is a fairly simple game. Teams need to share the ball on offense and give full effort on defense. Gonzaga clearly did both. One stat that I like to look at is the ratio of assists to made baskets. In this game, I don't think that stat was very telling as the Bulldogs only had 17 assists on 32 field goals, while SMC's percentage was 83.3 (10-of-12). As befits his lineage, David Stockton is a nifty passer and he led Gonzaga with five assists. He is no threat to follow his uncle into the NBA, but the senior appears to have lifted his game to starting material in his final year with the team.
It was a rough game throughout for St. Mary's. Their leading scorer Brad Waldow, a 6-9, 260 lb junior, was limited to nine points. The game was just the fourth time this season he had been limited to single digits. He has a wide body and looked like he could take advantage of smaller opponents, but his hands were just mediocre for a big man. Gonzaga had Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski to push him around. Stephen Holt did not make a field goal, but scored 10 points from the free throw stripe to lead the team in the blowout loss. St. Mary's looks like a decent NIT team, but they will likely miss the NCAA tournament for the second time in the last five years.
Last year's Gonzaga was similar to Wichita State this year. They only lost two games to Illinois and Butler, and earned their first one-seed in the Big Dance. This year, the team will fly more under the radar and if the bracket breaks right maybe exceed last year's Sweet 16 appearance (where they were beaten by those Shockers). In Dower and Karnowski, the Zags have twin towers that will be hard to handle. Dower shares the team lead with 14.6 points (with Kevin Pangos) and has three double-doubles in his last five games. Karnowski looks slightly slimmer and more spry than he did as a freshman last year, and looked like he can pass out of the double-team effectively. Stockton and Pangos provide a steady backcourt with Gary Bell Jr. supplying to flash. It's hard to put too much stock into any one game, particularly a blowout of any kind, but Gonzaga looks like it is heading in the right direction at the beginning of March.