Gonzaga Basketball: Do the Zags need a closer to make deep NCAA Tournament run?
Gonzaga basketball has excellent balance, but do they need a closer in order to reach their goal of a Final Four?
It may seem like we say this every year, but the 2016-17 Gonzaga Bulldogs are the most balanced team that Mark Few has ever coached since he started roaming the sidelines in Spokane.
The Bulldogs have four players averaging in double figures (Nigel Williams-Goss, Przemek Karnowski, Josh Perkins and Zach Collins) and they have seven players averaging between 8.0 and 14.0 points per game. They have eight players that receive more than 10 minutes per game and capable talents like Bryan Alberts and Rui Hachimura as the ninth and 10th men on their roster.
The Bulldogs are deep in the backcourt and versatile in the front court.
While there was question marks as to if Josh Perkins and Nigel Williams-Goss could play together at the one and two positions, they have formed a picture perfect guard duo. Perkins has developed into a player who is confident shooting the basketball and taking his defender off the bounce. That’s always been the case for the former Washington Huskie, who is capable of taking and making shots from deep, but also has the size and strength to finish around the rim.
The Bulldogs have Jordan Mathews to provide extra spacing from deep and they even have Silas Melson, who has shot the ball better as of late, to take open jumpers off the bench.
Up front, Gonzaga starts Karnowski and Williams, but they also bring two impressive freshman, Collins and Killian Tillie, off the bench. Both Collins and Tillie are potential NBA players, as they can space the floor, rebound the ball and score around the rim.
So yeah, the Bulldogs have three high quality returnees, three transfers from major programs and two freshman that have made an immediate impact at the college level.
That’s depth and balance.
But one issue that Gonzaga could face moving forward: Who will their closer be in late game situations? Who’s going to take the big shot in the Big Dance? When the Bulldogs play teams like Villanova, Kentucky, Duke and Kansas (they’ll have to face some juggernauts if they want to make their first Final Four ever), will they be able to match opposing teams’ star power in the clutch?
Those are all questions that need to be answered moving forward, but to be honest, the Bulldogs might not need a true closer like Josh Hart, Malik Monk, Grayson Allen or Frank Mason III. Instead, the Bulldogs have spacing, shooting, chemistry.
In late game situations, teams won’t know who the Bulldogs are going to go to. Their sets won’t be predictable. They won’t settle for iso looks. And Few is always going to mix it up.
Williams-Goss and Perkins could penetrate and kick to Mathews in the corner. They could opt to run pick-and-rolls with Collins or Williams as the roll man. They could even use Perkins’ newfound confidence and aggressiveness to give him looks off screens.
To me the more concerning aspect of this Gonzaga team is how they will play against a program that likes to score in transition. They rank 119th in pace, but other than Iowa State, who almost came back to beat them in the Advocare Classic, they haven’t faced a team that relies heavily on their fast break attack.
Can Karnowski play his 22 minutes per game against a team like Kentucky? How will Collins and Tillie match-up as freshman in those situations? And if they go smaller, will they still be able to hold up on the glass with less athleticism than the top teams in the nation?
The reason why the measuring stick for Gonzaga is the top six teams in the country (Villanova, UCLA, Kansas, Baylor, Duke and Kentucky) is that their ultimate goal is to make Final Four and win a National Championship. They have that type of talent at 11-0. The Bulldogs are certainly a title contender and are one of the top 10 teams in the nation. However, they are not cleared of any question marks.
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