Zags bring balance in early season tourney
By Dylan Kitzan/For The Independent
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Mark Few may have his most talented Gonzaga basketball team ever. Chances are, you stopped me halfway through that sentence, but it’s a common sentiment being dished around like another no-look beauty from Przemek Karnowski. So, is it?
During ESPN’s coverage of the Zags in the Advocare Invitational, a tournament in which the Bulldogs improved to 9-0 all time, the answer proposed by the announcers was “most balanced and deep, yes, but not most talented.”
Yes, this is their most balanced and deep team. Eight players are averaging at least six points per game, led by University of Washington transfer Nigel Williams-Goss at 12.8 PPG. Of those eight, seven (apologies to Karnowski) can shoot from inside and out. Williams-Goss led the charge in the 73-71 victory over Iowa State with a 6-for-8 performance from the perimeter, but as a team, Gonzaga shot 13-25 from downtown.
That performance was indicative of the Zags’ unselfish approach to offense. Until a second-half lull against the Cyclones, easy shots were the norm for most of the game, with players moving the ball until one of their many sharpshooters had a great look. The biggest playmaker in this regard, both literally and figuratively, was Karnowski, who took advantage of his 1-on-1 mismatches for easy baskets and found the open man when the defense converged around him. With a 7’1” frame and the smarts of a senior who observed the game from the sidelines last season while recovering from back surgery, many teams will have an impossible time trying to stop him with one player while not becoming vulnerable to his above-average passing ability.
The Zags roll deep behind Karnowski too, with 7-foot freshman Zach Collins and 6’10 freshman Killian Tillie coming off the bench. Collins is arguably the top recruit Mark Few has landed during his tenure and has already shown why, averaging 11.3 points through six games, while Tillie has chipped in 6.3 per contest. Oh, and Ryan Edwards, who logged key minutes for a team that narrowly missed last season’s Elite Eight in Karnowski’s absence, is still at Few’s disposal.
Missouri transfer Johnathan Williams, a 6’9 forward, made his presence felt in Gonzaga’s 77-72 come-from-behind win over the Florida Gators, scoring 16 points on a nearly-perfect 8-of-9 shooting performance before adding nine points and seven rebounds against Iowa State. Jordan Mathews, arguably the team’s best shooter, arrived in Spokane after two seasons at Cal, where he shot 44.3 percent from the perimeter as a sophomore and began his Bulldog career by hitting nine of 14 threes in his first two games.
Returning guards Josh Perkins and Silas Melson can be dangerous offensively, whether spotting up or driving into the lane and are terrific on-ball defenders. Gonzaga’s offense runs better with Williams-Goss at the point, but Perkins showed the ability to run the offense last season and has already taken over at times, even with the Husky transfer on the floor.
In short, yes, Gonzaga is deep and balanced. And in years past, perhaps they had individual players such as Adam Morrison, Dan Dickau and Kelly Olynyk whose ability a current Zag doesn’t match at the moment. But collectively, the talent Mark Few has from top to bottom is in unchartered territory.
Monday, the Bulldogs crept up to #8 in the country in ESPN’s Top 25. Saturday, Gonzaga gets perhaps the biggest test they’ll see before March when they take on the 16th-ranked Arizona Wildcats (no disrespect to WCC foe St. Mary’s, who checked in at #12 this week).
I know we are only six games into a very young season, but stop me if you’ve heard this one before: This is the year Gonzaga reaches the Final Four. And chances are, you stopped me halfway through that sentence as well.
ABOUT DYLAN KITZAN: Dylan is an EWU journalism graduate who currently resides in Spokane. He will be updating Chewelah on how the Spokane Chiefs and Gonzaga Bulldogs are doing throughout the season.