The folks over at Slipper Still Fits, Gonzaga’s SB Nation site, reached out for a little Q&A. We’re always willing to engage in some fun banter with our brothers and sisters around SB Nation and we jumped all over the offer.
Below are five questions I posed to Peter Woodburn, the managing editor at Slipper Still Fits. You can find his five questions for Tar Heel Blog (and my answers) by heading over there.
1) You're a smaller conference, but your roster is stocked witch Power 5 transfers and talent. How has the staff been able to bring them together in what seems like such a short time?
Gonzaga has been building this program for a long time, and to be honest a lot of people on the east coast haven't been paying attention. That is understandable considering the lack of success in March and the time change (I don't understand why you wouldn't want to stay up for an 11 pm tipoff), but the Zags have effectively worked on the transfer market because they can give the guarantee of a quality program and potential NCAA Tournament run.
That said, the Zags have also had their recruiting success coming from outside of the U.S., for the most part. Zach Collins is the most highly decorated recruit to come to Gonzaga, but Przemek Karnowski most likely would have been a McDonald's All-American if he weren't from Poland. Mark Few and the coaching staff have figured out interesting ways to try and hang with the big boys, and finally, for the first year, it is all working out.
2) You have great guard play, but your perimeter scoring seems to rely on Williams-Goss and not much else on a consistent basis. Is that a fair assessment?
Jordan Mathews came in from Cal to basically hit threes, and he did so against West Virginia (in a very large way). Overall though, this team doesn't have the perimeter threat that previous Gonzaga squads had. That said, Josh Perkins is always capable of knocking down a lot of shots--he shot nearly 50 percent from beyond the arc in conference play last season. Johnathan Williams III can step outside, and even Collins has demonstrated that range. For the most part, however, you are right. Consistency from the outside from everyone, except for Mathews, has been a question mark.
3) Both teams match up really well. UNC hasn't played a front court with as much depth as Gonzaga. Gonzaga hasn't played a front court as talented as UNC’s. What do you expect from this matchup?
I'm honestly truly excited about this game because I think the teams matchup with each other so well. This *should* be a really good game. Gonzaga's frontcourt depth is interesting, because the playing styles of the two main members (Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins) is so different. Karno likes to play the center like its 1994. He has fantastic fundamentals, a soft hook, and is probably one of the best passing big men in the nation. Collins is a lot more like what you would expect tall dudes playing basketball to emulate. He steps outside to hit jump shots a lot more often, and although he has great instincts in the post, his game and Karno's game are night and day. For UNC, as it has been for other opponents, that transition is rough to adjust to.
For Gonzaga, the main thing I am worried about is UNC's offensive rebounding prowess. I wrote about this early today, but Gonzaga is not a good defensive rebounding team. UNC is a very good offensive rebounding team. If you want to pick one clear cut example of what might be problematic for the Zags in this game--that is it. Defensively, Collins is lanky and blocks the hell out of a lot of shots. Karnowski takes up space like a jumbo jet and alters a lot of drives. Both of them will hold their own, but the rebounding is a question mark.
4) If you could have one player from UNC who would it be?
I would say Kennedy Meeks, because he reminds me of the sorts of players Gonzaga has had to help get them to this point over the past 20 years. It isn't necessarily pretty watching him go, but you can't argue with the results and the hustle he puts out on the floor each and every game. Granted, Meeks is much better than most of the Gonzaga players I would compare him to, but he has that edge and that fight that is rather admirable.
5) What is the most underrated ability of the Zags? With a highly efficient offense and defense, what's a little known aspect of their game that has attributed to their success?
Funnily enough, it is honestly the defense. Even though it is ranked No. 1 by Ken Pomeroy, people still still crap all over it and say blah blah blah WCC play blah blah blah never play anyone blah blah blah Gonzaga always ruins my brackets blah blah blah blah blah blah blah so many blahs.
But the fact of the matter is this: Gonzaga has gotten this far because of its defense. Against West Virginia you didn't see a single thing written about the Zags' D, and it won the game. Against South Carolina you didn't see a single thing written about the Zags' D, and it won the game. They don't generate a lot of turnovers or anything, so it isn't flashy, but Gonzaga's team defense makes it a nightmare to get an open look or a high percentage shot.
I think part of that comes from the fact that people refuse to admit that Gonzaga is finally good after all these years, which is a bizarre sentiment to be taking to the grave right now. You don't just trip and fall your way into the NCAA title game, and the Zags' defense is what has led the way.
BUT, to really answer the question now that I got that diatribe out, Gonzaga is just a really well-balanced squad. I feel like the three key points to making it this far in the tournament for any team have always been: 1) depth, 2) athleticism, and 3) balance. The Zags have always had 2 or 2.5 of those, but this is really the first team that can absolutely burn opponents from both inside and out. The Zags haven't spent much time trailing in games this season, and that is one of the reasons why. They can keep up no matter what is being thrown at them.