Recently, an editor from ESPN.com reached out to The Bilastrator from his ivory tower on ESPN's Bristol campus to ask on bended knee whether The Bilastrator would consider taking time out of his busy schedule to pen yet another Pulitzer Prize-worthy piece on the Final Four. After going through several members of The Bilastrator's staff, the ESPN.com editor was able to gain an audience with The Bilastrator himself.
You have five minutes. Go.
After the editor stammered, sputtered and perhaps soiled himself through a disjointed presentation, the caring thing to do was for The Bilastrator to gently interject and tell the nervous and frightened editor to "slow down, take a deep breath, and don't worry about a thing -- you're doing great."
Instead, The Bilastrator screamed at him to "toughen up, quit sniveling and stammering and spit out what you want! The Bilastrator has a tee time!"
Then, the ESPN.com editor cut to the chase. He wanted The Bilastrator to educate the unwashed masses as to just whom Final Four participants Gonzaga and Oregon really are.
What? Under what rock would one have to dwell to not know exactly who Gonzaga and Oregon are? Both have been to the Elite Eight recently, and both were ranked in the top five during the season.
Before being escorted off the premises of The Bilas Estate, the ESPN.com editor said research indicated that more than a few people weren't completely familiar with the Zags and the Ducks. Moved by the idea of educating America, The Bilastrator accepted this assignment as the editor was being removed from The Bilastrator's property.
Before The Bilastrator begins, should you be among those who are not intimately familiar with Gonzaga and Oregon, The Bilastrator has some suggestions for you:
1. Stay up later: West Coast basketball teams are really good. Stay up later and watch. It is good for the soul and the right thing to do. At least then The Bilastrator can keep ESPN.com editors off his massive, well-landscaped property. Do your part.
2. Follow the Pac-12 and West Coast Conference: There are some great battles in the Pac-12, most notably among Oregon, UCLA, Arizona and USC. The rest of the league is improving and has some really good talent. In the WCC, every game Gonzaga and Saint Mary's plays is a "storm-the-court" game -- and really entertaining. And you will know whom to pick in your bracket come March.
3. Enjoy Bill Walton: In addition to some fabulous basketball, you will hear the dulcet tones and delusional side trips of the great Bill Walton. In addition to wonderful insight into the complex strategy of the beautiful game, Walton will take you on a magic ride through his odd world, which borders on hallucination. You will gain a greater appreciation for all things West Coast, including basketball, and you will begin eating kale and liking it.
The Bilastrator does not wish to be condescending, but wonders whether those unfamiliar with the Oregon basketball team are aware it resides in the Pacific Northwest. The Ducks basketball program has had success before this Final Four, having won the very first NCAA championship in 1939. Later, the Ducks were well represented by the Kamikaze Kids, led by the late Greg Ballard, and some very competitive teams under Ernie Kent, led by Luke Ridnour, Fred Jones and Luke Jackson, who took Oregon to the Elite Eight.
After Kent was fired, Oregon hired Creighton coach Dana Altman and took off again. Altman is a former junior college coach who grew up in Nebraska and later coached at Kansas State, Creighton, Arkansas (for about 48 hours), then Creighton again before coming to Eugene to take over the Ducks.
Altman coached with Lon Kruger at Kansas State and is a masterful teacher. He loves to switch up defenses, and his teams are always well-prepared and well-drilled. Oregon tries hard to turn you over on defense and will give you a lot of different looks. The Ducks are very athletic, look to block shots and use a matchup zone that has unpredictable slides. In man-to-man, Oregon might be vulnerable to ball screens and can allow drives, but its defense is sound and will switch most screens and exchanges 1 through 4. Oregon has a 1-2-2 press that can slow you down and usually results in a matchup zone in the half court. Altman often will go 2-3 zone on baseline out of bounds, and the Ducks can press full court at times and be aggressive for steals.
On offense, Oregon really looks to push the ball up the court and attack with drag screens in transition before the defense gets set. Four players can bring the ball up and initiate offense. Oregon is a good offensive rebounding team, and Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey can often crash the glass from the wing. The Ducks do a great job of putting defenders into positions to pick up fouls, and they run a lot of sets to isolate their best players, Brooks and Dorsey, into one-on-one situations or two-man games.
Oregon was ranked in the preseason top five and was in the top five at the end of the season, before the Pac-12's leading shot-blocker, Chris Boucher, was lost to injury. Boucher's injury caused many to undervalue the Ducks and believe they would fall short of the Final Four. Clearly, that was incorrect.
Brooks, a Canadian product, is Oregon's best player and a guy who can go off on you for 30 points. He is strong, big and an aggressive driver who can get his own shot and hit contested shots off the dribble. You must make Brooks guard on the defensive end as a way to slow him down a bit.
Dorsey is a Los Angeles product who has played for the Greek national team. He is a hungry scorer who must be located in transition. You must make him put the ball on the deck. Dorsey is one of the hottest players in the country and has scored 20 points or more in eight straight games. In addition to his shooting, he also can attack off the bounce and get into the lane.
The wild card is Jordan Bell, Oregon's all-time leading shot-blocker. He is a long-armed, explosive athlete who is relentless on the glass and on defense. Bell had 11 points, 13 rebounds and 8 blocks against Kansas and was the biggest reason Oregon was able to control that game.
The Ducks are for real and have been really good all season long. If not for the injury to Brooks, Oregon would have been ranked in the top 10 all season long. That Oregon was underestimated because of Boucher's absence is understandable. That so many of the unwashed masses don't know Oregon is tragic. All should know Terrell Brandon, Blair Rasmussen and Aaron Brooks. And all should know this team, the first Oregon team to crack the Final Four since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president. You have heard of him, right?!
Gonzaga University is a Jesuit institution located in the lovely city of Spokane, Washington, also known as Spo-Vegas. Residents of Spokane are proud and wonderful people -- and they love Gonzaga. They also hate when Gonzaga is mispronounced by grubby, fossil-fuel-using outsiders. As you will be told, ad nauseam, should you ever venture into the beautiful Davenport Hotel, it is Gon-ZAG-uh, not Gon-ZOG-uh. It is the Zags, not the Zogs.
Gonzaga has a long history of excellence. The great John Stockton played for the Zags in the 1980s, and his father owned a famous Spokane bar called Jack and Dan's, which is a fabulous watering hole. Dan Fitzgerald was the coach when Dan Monson and Mark Few were assistants, and Monson was the head coach who replaced Fitzgerald in 1998.
The 1999 season was a magical one for the Zags. At a time when Gonzaga University was struggling financially and enrollment was waning, Monson, behind the great play of Matt Santangelo, Richie Frahm and Casey Calvary, guided Gonzaga to the 1999 Elite Eight, where the Zags lost to eventual champion UConn. That Elite Eight trip was the catalyst for the explosion that has been Gonzaga basketball, one of the great programs in college basketball history. The success of the basketball program brought money and prestige to Gonzaga, and the university is now one of the best and healthiest in the nation.
After the 1999 season, Monson took a big-money offer from Minnesota, an offer few, if any, would have turned down. He was replaced by his closest friend, a relative unknown named Mark Few. Few is an Oregon grad, the son of a minister, and he built upon what Monson accomplished and took Gonzaga to unimagined heights, making it a powerhouse. Gonzaga has been to 20 consecutive NCAA tournaments and is a fixture in the top 25, Sweet 16 and beyond.
Gonzaga has had too many great players to name, but most college basketball fans are quite familiar with Dan Dickau, Blake Stepp, Cory Violette, Ronny Turiaf, Kevin Pangos, Derek Raivio, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis.
This year's Gonzaga team has been legitimate from the first dribble of the season. Gonzaga does a great job of playing through the post and playing with great spacing and floor balance. Gonzaga is a very good transition team with a very good initial push, drag screens and secondary break options. In its half-court offense, Gonzaga has set playcalls, but the Zags are more dangerous getting into what Few likes to call "multiple actions" and flow. He gives his players freedom to make basketball plays, not just to run his plays. The Zags run middle and side ball screens and dribble handoffs, and they have great cutters and second side action. Gonzaga also has terrific interaction between the post and the perimeter. When it punches it inside, the big guys will pass it out and re-post.
On defense, Gonzaga is primarily a man-to-man team that can switch same-size screens and exchanges. They have several ball-screen coverages, will dig in the post, and occasionally double-team the post, big-to-big. Few has a solid 2-3 zone that is a combination of Syracuse's zone principles and Louisville's zone principles. Few doesn't overcomplicate it, but his zone has worked very well in stretches. Gonzaga will press 2-2-1 from time to time and make the opponent think with a quick trap and some pressure.
Gonzaga has some truly outstanding players. What makes Gonzaga special is the balance of this team. There are four really good guards and four really good big guys. First, the guards: The Zags are led by Nigel Williams-Goss, a McDonald's All American who went to Washington and transferred to Gonzaga. Williams-Goss is big and strong and knows how to play. He has had a Wooden Award-type season and is the undisputed leader of the team. Alongside him is Josh Perkins, a very skilled and talented scoring guard who can play point or off-guard. Perkins has creativity and vision and is very good with the ball. Jordan Mathews is a graduate transfer from Cal and one of the best long-range shooters in the country. Silas Melson comes in off the bench and is a very good and very skilled shot-maker.
Up front, Gonzaga has a player no other team has -- Przemek Karnowski. The 7-foot-1 center from Poland is a gentle giant, but very skilled and an excellent passer. If you double-team the lefty in the post, he will pick you apart with his passing. If you don't, he will back you down and score or get fouled. Karnowski is not a rim protector, but a lane protector. Zach Collins and Killian Tillie are freshman big men who are athletic and can really run, finish, rebound and block shots. Collins went to Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas and was the third big guy on his high school team, behind Steven Zimmerman and Chase Jeter; Collins is better than both. Tillie is from France, and is from a very talented volleyball family. The wild card for Gonzaga is Jonathan Williams, a 6-9 lefty who transferred in from Missouri. Williams is from Memphis and is just a wonderful young man, as nice as you can imagine. On the court, he is a matchup nightmare who can post, rebound and drive the ball and finish. He loves comic books, and he plays like a superhero with his athleticism.
Gonzaga is the real deal, and the Zags can win this thing. The fact that some of you don't know Gonzaga or its history is quite disturbing to The Bilastrator. You should know Jeremy Pargo, Kelly Olynyk, Matt Bouldin and Jeff Brown. OK, it's asking too much that you know Jeff Brown. The Bilastrator knows him, and he's not as great as Jeff Brown says he is.
Remember, it's Gon-ZAG-uh. And stay at the Davenport Hotel. Best beds in the history of beds.