The Gonzaga blog The Slipper Still Fits contacted me for a Q&A on the upcoming Sweet Sixteen matchup. Here are my answers to their questions. Their responses to mine are below the jump.
THF: Gonzaga is one of the few teams to maintain success at the Top 25 level after being a mid-major NCAA Tournament spoiler from a fan perspective what has that journey been like?
TSSF: To be completely honest, both myself and the other author of the blog are relatively new to the Gonzaga fanbase. We are both seniors at GU, and our first year was the season that Adam Morrison led the country in scoring. The most interesting aspect of the journey is having the older Gonzaga fans who believe that every appearance in the NCAA Tournament is a blessing vs. the younger fans who have been somewhat disgusted by the underachieving that took place the past two seasons. However, as you see other one year wonders like George Mason and Vermont struggle to ever get back to relevance, it makes you truly appreciate the program that Mark Few has been able to build.
THF: Where would you rank this team among Gonzaga teams of the past 10 seasons?
TSSF: This is without a doubt the most talented team of the past 10 seasons. Besides North Carolina, I believe that Gonzaga has the most NBA prospects of any team remaining in the tournament. It can legitimately be argued that Jeremy Pargo, Micah Downs, Austin Daye, Josh Heytvelt, and Matt Bouldin will all be on an NBA roster in the next couple of years. With that said, there have been some points in this season where this team has failed to live up to the expectations that were placed on it. For example, losses to Portland St. and Utah are the reason that the Zags were a 4 seed this year, and not a 1 or 2 seed out West.
THF: Which player or combination of players hold the key to Gonzaga's success this season?
TSSF: The two guys who dictate how far this team will go are Jeremy Pargo and Josh Heytvelt. At the beginning of the season, Pargo was playing as good as any PG in the country. In fact, after winning the MVP of the Old Spice Classic, I went on the local radio show we appear on and said that I would take him over any PG in the country. However, Jeremy went through a terrible mental collapse after his poor performance at the end of the UConn game, and has only begun to play at his highest level these past two weeks.
I'm sure many UNC fans are familiar with Josh Heytvelt because of the meeting two seasons ago. However, Heytvelt is a much different player than he was back then, mostly due to injury and the needs of the team. Heytvelt is the closest thing that the Zags have to a true "5", and he openly admits that he doesn't love the banging and playing the post. However, when Josh is focused and motivated, he is still one of the top "bigs" in the country, and when he plays well, Gonzaga is nearly unbeatable.
THF: What is the best way to describe Gonzaga's offense?
TSSF: Gonzaga always looks to run and score quickly. After nearly every rebound or basket, you will see Pargo or Meech Goodson pushing the ball up the court looking for a quick basket. In the half court, Gonzaga runs a typical flex offense, with up to 4 guys on the perimeter. Much to my chagrin, this team can be highly reliant on the 3 point shot, and obviously, when that isnt falling, this team struggles. The team doesn't place much emphasis on getting the ball to Daye or Heytvelt in the post, but both are strong scorers in the post.
THF: Who is Gonzaga's best defender and who do you think he will guard?
TSSF: The two best defenders on this team are Micah Downs and Meech Goodson. While I expect the Zags to employ lots of zone defense on Friday, I would expect to see Micah on either Wayne Ellington or Danny Green. Micah has the length (6'8) and athleticism (competed in the dunk contest at the McDonald's All-American game) to guard both Ellington and Green. I actually think that Micah would be a perfect person to try and handle Ty Lawson, but I dont think Coach Few will try that match up out. On the other hand, you can bet Goodson will be all over Ty Lawson when he is in the game. Meech is simulating Lawson in practice this week, and this is a kid who was offered football scholarships to play cornerback, and his brother was a running back at Texas A&M. Meech has the toughness and quickness to truly match up with Lawson, which I don't think many guards in the country do.
THF: UNC loves to run and play at a fast pace, would Gonzaga look to run with the Heels or make it more of a halfcourt game?
TSSF: From everything that Coach Few has been saying over the past two days, I would expect Gonzaga to try and run with the Heels. This is a team that is competent in the half court, but certainly excels when the game is at a high pace. I don't think Gonzaga can beat North Carolina if they try and switch up how they play and slow the game down. I do believe that UNC will be seeing the first team this season that can match up with them 1-7 in terms of athletes and talent, which should provide for a truly incredible game.
THF: What is your prediction for the game?
TSSF: I have gone back and forth on this for the past couple of days, and I'm still not sure how this game will end up. I believe that if UNC is playing at its highest level for 40 minutes, they can't be beat. However, I still don't think Ty Lawson is 100%, and I think that the Zags actually match up great with the Tar Heels. This is the most athletic and talented team Gonzaga has ever had, and I really think that this team has the confidence that it can compete against and beat UNC. I expect to be a back and forth affair, but I really do think that Gonzaga will squeak this out by 6-8 points.