Gonzaga is 4-0 this season with wins over Idaho State, Texas Southern, Texas A&M and, most recently, Illinois. The Bulldogs squeaked by the Fighting Illini 84-78 on Monday in Maui.
We caught up with Peter Woodburn of Slipper Still Fits, the Gonzaga SB Nation site, to get some more insight on the Bulldogs.
Here is our Q&A.
How did Gonzaga look in its win vs. Illinois?
Equal parts good and equal parts terrible. It is really hard to judge, however, because that Illinois defense is completely designed to force turnovers, and force turnovers it did. The Gonzaga point guards combined for 12 of them in the game, so that wasn’t exactly too good. Rui Hachimura looked fantastic, as always, and credit to Gonzaga, they took a mad flurry of three point gut punches from Frazier and still stood up to win the game. After rolling in their first three games of the season, it is fair to say that it looked like Gonzaga took a step back last night, however.
There has been a lot of talk that this is Mark Few’s best team at Gonzaga. Why?
It begins and ends with the names of about five different players. He has senior leadership in Geno Crandall and Josh Perkins. Then there is Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie, who both could tinkered with the NBA last season, only to come back. THEN there is Brandon Clarke, a freakishly athletic transfer from San Jose State who looks like he is jumping on a trampoline when he goes to block shots. THEN there is Zach Norvell Jr., the sophomore guard who is probably one of the best scorers on the team. Perkins, Hachimura, Tillie, and Norvell (redshirt year) all played on the 2017 championship appearance team. This group knows what pressure looks like, what winning in March looks like, and is balanced perfectly between the front court and the back court.
Remember, this is almost the exact same team that lost in the Sweet 16 last year to Florida State, a game that might’ve had a different outcome if Tillie wasn’t sidelined with an injury about 20 minutes before tipoff.
What are this team’s strengths and weaknesses so far?
Probably one of the biggest strengths of the Zags is the quality of depth of the bench. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that Killian Tillie is down with an ankle injury for the first two months of this season. Off the bench, you have freshman Filip Petrusev and Crandall, who easily could be starters on many D-I teams around the nation. All of this has also forgotten Corey Kispert, a sort of do it all guard/forward with the bulk to defend down low and the ability to hit long range shots.
Probably the biggest weakness so far is the three point shooting. They just haven’t hit them at a clip they normally do. Crandall usually hits around 40 percent, and he is 1-for-10 on the year. Perkins is at 25 percent. The lack of an outside threat has forced the Zags to get a bit crafty in games, and it has also kept some games closer than they probably should have been.
Rui Hachimura is a guy people see as a National Player of the Year candidate. What makes him so effective and how can he be stopped (or at least slowed down)?
Rui is amazingly athletic and incredibly fluid in his game, and you will see that tonight. He is most effective in transition, and he loves to get the ball in the high post and slowly work his way to the hoop. Over the summer, he showcased a three point shot that is slowly working its way into his arsenal. In short, Rui is hard to stop. He is so creative with the ball, and if given the spacing and freedom to move, he is going to score. To slow down Rui, you need to deny him the ball, or play aggressively on him if he is away from the hoop. He doesn’t have the best passing vision yet, so if you can surprise him on the weakside, you might be able to force the turnover. He also might burn you anyway.
How does Brandon Clarke complement Rui?
Clarke is freakishly athletic well, but more in the high flying dunk/block kind of style. He operates like a traditional post player taking up a lot of space down low, and is incredibly effective at cleaning up the offensive boards. You won’t see him step back for too many jump shots, he is more of the lunch pail guy doing the hard work down low.
How does Killian Tillie’s injury affect this team?
Hachimura gets all the focus, but Tillie is probably the most versatile member on the whole squad. Nobody can lose a player of Tillie’s caliber and recover completely. Without Tillie, it completely changed how the Zags have to operate. Tillie was the most instrumental player in spacing the floor because he is such a legitimate 6’10 three-point threat. That has forced players like Hachimura and Clarke to operate in much tighter spacing, and it doesn’t allow the Zags to truly utilize the brand of “positionless” basketball that a lot of people were expecting and hoping to see.
How would you characterize Gonzaga’s backcourt?
Bi-polar. The Gonzaga back court is fantastic, but they also are going to make everyone pull their hair out over the course of the year. Perkins, who has struggled with turnover issues for much of his career, looked like he has finally completely turned that corner. In the first three games, he had 25 assists and three turnovers. Last night he had seven turnovers. WELP. Zach Norvell also is a lights out shooter, but seemingly only in the second half. Nobody has any idea what is going on there. Geno Crandall just transferred in October due to transfer issues, so he will take some time to get it all together.
Is Josh Perkins going to be on Gonzaga’s roster forever?
Ha. Yeah, considering it was about five years ago when that dude from Georgia jumpkicked him in the face and broke his jaw. I think it also seems like Perkins has been around forever because outside of the spot appearance from Nigel Williams-Goss in 2016-17, they haven’t successfully recruited a single point guard to help him out.
What is the proper way to pronounce Gonzaga? I know Zag fans don’t like it when people butcher the name.
Some people say gone-zag-a, and some people say gun-zag-a, either of those are fine. The error is the people who pronounce Zags as if they are the Zahgs. Say Zag, say it in your head. Now put a gun or a gone in front, and an a at the end. Now we are good.