Editor’s Note: This morning in the Nation blog, Myron Medcalf is examining the worst-case scenarios for each of the four 1-seeds. Keep in mind: This is not necessarily his prediction -- simply the most likely cause of a loss before the Final Four for these particular teams.
We all know this guy.
The movie critic who never sees the movies he criticizes, yet he’s so confident that’s they’re “the worst” films simply because he’s read a few reviews.
That’s the predicament Gonzaga is in as it prepares for the NCAA tournament. The Zags were the victims of TV airtimes that commenced after half the nation had gone to bed.
So they’re judged, by many, according to their West Coast Conference affiliation, instead of their nonconference victories over Oklahoma State and Kansas State. They haven’t played a high-profile matchup (unless you consider their three wins over Saint Mary’s to be high-profile encounters) in months. Their rise to No. 1 in America is viewed by some as ascension by default, mostly because those people really haven’t watched Gonzaga play lately.
But the Zags are legit. They just don’t have many weaknesses. They’re deep (10 players average at least 10 minutes per game). They’re efficient on both ends of the floor (third in adjusted offensive efficiency, 14th in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy). And they boast an All-American named Kelly Olynyk (17.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.2 blocks per game, 34.6 percent from the 3-point line), who can score inside and outside.
And they’re much tougher than they look (24th in offensive rebounding rate, per Pomeroy).
On one of Gonzaga’s first possessions against Illinois in December, Elias Harris drove to the rim and Olynyk pushed two Illini players to clear space simply because he felt like it. Don’t let the long hair fool you. Harris and Olynyk are enforcers when they want to be.
But Gonzaga will fall against an opponent that possesses the athletic, lengthy big men (think Syracuse) who can force tough shots and rebound. You have to put bodies on Olynyk, Harris and Sam Dower for 40 minutes.
But those opponents will also need the length, strength and agility necessary to stick with Olynyk as he roams the floor.
Olynyk is so important to coach Mark Few’s offense. He really hasn’t faced many players who’ve had the tools to limit his production. The West Region, however, is filled with long, athletic types that could be a problem for him and, therefore, a problem for the Zags.
Perimeter pressure will be necessary to beat Gonzaga, too. The 3-ball is a significant component in their offensive production (38 percent from beyond the arc in WCC play).
In the Zags’ losses to Illinois and Butler -- their only two defeats of the season -- Kevin Pangos went 5-for-16 (4-for-11 from beyond the arc). Any team that’s going to upset Gonzaga must pressure Pangos. When Illinois stormed back in the second half of its 85-74 win at Gonzaga, the Illini harassed Pangos. And his struggles disrupted Gonzaga’s offense.
They also tried to keep Harris and Olynyk off the rim. Sometimes, the duo gets lost as the offense flows and they decide to float. A successful opponent will create scenarios that force Harris (1.8 turnovers per game) and Olynyk (2.3 TPG) to put the ball on the floor.
Gonzaga might encounter challenges against a team that’s quick and efficient on the perimeter, too. The Zags had the best 3-point defense in the WCC but were fooled by the Illini’s quick and athletic wings (Illinois shot 60 percent overall in the second half of that game).
They had problems rotating. At one point during that loss (and I’m only citing this defeat because I think it tells a better story about Gonzaga’s weaknesses than the fluky L the Zags incurred at Butler in January), Olynyk was guarding Illinois guard Tracy Abrams. Stretching the floor and luring Olynyk/Harris outside the paint will open up multiple possibilities for any offense. If an opponent also attacks inside and makes Gonzaga’s post players work, too, it could have a shot at the upset.
It’s far more difficult than it sounds to decipher Gonzaga. The Zags don’t commit many turnovers. They’re versatile. They shoot the lights out most nights. And they’re just good.
But they’re certainly not invincible.