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The Morning Dish – Saturday, December 2, 2017

December 2, 2017 The Morning Dish No Comments

Gonzaga was not going to go away quietly, no matter who they lost. They might not reach the national championship game again, but Mark Few has built too good a program for them to just drop off the face of the earth.

Friday night was just the latest example of that, as the Zags took care of a Creighton team that has also been a pleasant surprise, 91-74.

As in much of college basketball, you can think of what could have been with Gonzaga. Nigel Williams-Goss, the heart and soul of last season’s team, left for the NBA Draft, as did Zach Collins, who may have had the most upside of anyone on last season’s team. Those are not small hits, and for most programs in the West Coast Conference, that would be a devastating blow.

But the reality is that last season’s team had immense depth, to the point where they didn’t miss a beat with Zach Norvell Jr. and Jacob Larsen having to redshirt. Norvell had 21 points in last night’s win and will play like a ball-handling wing; lots of high-major programs wanted him out of high school. Larsen is an intriguing prospect who has come along slowly this season in terms of minutes, but he gives them over five points and four rebounds in just over 11 minutes of play.

Last season’s team was not top-heavy by any means, but this team has six players who average double digits in scoring. Johnathan Williams and Josh Perkins, both complementary players earlier in their careers, have become go-to guys now, and Silas Melson has also moved into a bigger role. This is the kind of thing that can sink or swim a team in the Bulldogs’ position – the question of whether players can move into new roles seamlessly. Williams and Perkins never lacked the talent for it, but they were never asked to play such big roles until now.

Gonzaga shoots over 51 percent from the field, including nearly 40 percent from deep, but they aren’t just doing it on offense. Opponents are shooting under 40 percent from the field on the season, and the Zags have a rebounding margin of almost nine per game. Rebounding, too, has been balanced, with no player averaging seven per game but seven players who average at least 3.4 per game (and Norvell chips in just under three per game to boot).

As is usually the case, the Zags have a demanding non-conference schedule. The only loss thus far was in a double overtime thriller to Florida in the PK80 Invitational last weekend, but wins over Texas and Creighton will have plenty of shelf life. They have Villanova on Tuesday at the Jimmy V Classic in New York, travel to Washington next Sunday and San Diego State before Christmas in the final non-conference game.

Many picked Saint Mary’s to win the West Coast Conference this season, and that’s not a bad pick. The Gaels just might do that with their veteran cast. Brigham Young was young last season, but handed Gonzaga their lone regular season defeat and has most of that team back. Still, Gonzaga isn’t going away quietly at all, and they’ve made a habit of standing in the winner’s circle either at the end of the regular season or the conference tournament. In the latter case, they have won five in a row and 16 of the last 20 (and were runners up in the other four).


Side Dishes

In the other basketball game of note last night, Davidson gave North Carolina all they could handle, but Luke Maye (24 points, 17 rebounds), Joel Berry II (27 points) and the Tar Heels had a little too much in an 85-75 win in Charlotte. The Wildcats were able to hang in largely from going 14-33 from long range, but the Tar Heels manhandled them on the glass by a 54-23 margin.

Belfast, Northern Ireland played host to the latest iteration of the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic, and two games took place there last night. Manhattan ran out to a 39-23 lead at halftime and made it stand up in a 70-54 win over Holy Cross, then Towson made a late run to knock off La Salle 67-60.

In the first game of Big Ten play, Purdue went to College Park and got 21 points from Isaac Haas and 20 from Dakota Mathias to beat Maryland 80-75. The Big Ten has these early games because they moved their conference tournament up by a week so they could hold it at Madison Square Garden ahead of the Big East with theirs a week later. In an in-state battle, Northwestern held off visiting Illinois 72-68 in overtime.

The great finish of the night came in Eugene, where Boise State and Oregon were tied at 70 after Payton Pritchard hit a driving layup with 3.2 seconds left. Lexus Williams took the inbound pass immediately and dribbled to midcourt, where his heave hit the bottom of the net to give the Broncos a 73-70 win and a 7-1 start. It also ended Oregon’s 46-game home winning streak.

The surprise of the night came in Atlanta, where Grambling edged Georgia Tech 64-63, and the way it happened was a big part of it. Georgia Tech had trailed by as many as 16 points, but rallied to take the lead with just over a minute left. With 6.5 seconds left, Grambling missed a shot, but Yellow Jacket big man Ben Lammers went up for the ball along with teammate Curtis Haywood II. Neither could get a handle on the ball and inadvertently tipped it in, giving Grambling the lead and the eventual victory.

Geno Thorpe has left Syracuse for personal reasons, which is a hit to their depth. The graduate transfer had played in all six games and averaged 14 minutes per game, and was hampered by an ankle injury before the season. Syracuse now has just eight scholarship players.


Tonight’s Menu

A busy slate is on tap, and there are some very good rivalry games that highlight the day’s games. Also, the start of Big Ten play continues as noted earlier.

  • Across the pond, the Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic continues with La Salle taking on Holy Cross (9:30 a.m.) and Manhattan taking on Towson (noon).
  • The great matchups start right away with a big rivalry matchup as Cincinnati goes across town to take on Xavier at the Cintas Center (noon).
  • Virginia puts its 7-0 mark on the line against Patriot League contender Lehigh (noon)
  • Big Ten openers are highlighted by Indiana at Michigan (12:30 p.m.), Ohio State at Wisconsin (5 p.m.) (no, not the football game, which kicks off shortly after this one should end) and Penn State at Iowa (5 p.m.)
  • Another rivalry game on tap is Colorado State hosting undefeated Colorado (1 p.m.)
  • One of the best games of the day is Baylor hosting Wichita State (2 p.m.)
  • Virginia Tech heads to Ole Miss in a good matchup that will be overshadowed by others (2 p.m.), not unlike Georgia traveling to Marquette at the same time.
  • Washington State tries to continue their great start as they host UC Davis (3 p.m.)
  • Two Ivy League contenders go on the road as Harvard visits Kentucky (3:30 p.m.) and TCU hosts Yale (5 p.m.)
  • Another great rivalry game on tap is Providence heading south to take on Rhode Island (5 p.m.)
  • The Hoophall Miami Invitational takes place at American Airlines Arena, with Kansas taking on Syracuse (5:30 p.m.) followed by Princeton playing Miami in what is essentially a road game (8 p.m.)
  • Villanova tries to extend its Big 5 winning streak to 20 as they go across town to take on arch-rival Saint Joseph’s (5:30 p.m.)
  • VCU hosts Old Dominion in another great rivalry game (7 p.m.)
  • A good matchup to keep an eye on is FGCU hosting Middle Tennessee (7:30 p.m.)
  • A nice late game to watch is SMU hosting USC (10 p.m.), while Arizona at UNLV (also at 10 p.m.) is also a good one.

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