No. 1 seed Gonzaga dodged a bullet.
With four minutes left in their opening round game against No. 16 Southern, the Zags were tied at 54 with the Jaguars of the SWAC. For those that don’t know, a No. 1 seed has never, ever lost to a No. 16 seed. Ever. This was the brink of something historic.
And then Kevin Pangos hit a jumper. And Gary Bell hit a three that was set up by Pangos. And then Pangos his a three from deep in the corner, giving Gonzaga a 62-58 lead with just over a minute left.
That was enough, as Gonzaga held on to beat Southern 64-58.
But it certainly wasn’t a statement win by any stretch of the imagination.
So here’s the question you need to ask: Was this a sign of things to come, or was this simply a case of Gonzaga strugglingly under the pressure of being a No. 1 seed out of the WCC? Because I’ll be honest, with the exception of Kelly Olynyk — who scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half — and Pangos, the Zags looked terrified and hesitant on Thursday.
They didn’t look like the team that I watched this season, the one that I thought had as good of a chance to win the national title as anyone and that I picked to make it all the way to the title game. And the most important thing for the Zags to do is to get this game out of their mind as quickly as possible.
Everyone is entitled to one rough night in this tournament. There’s a reason it’s called “survive and advance”.
And luckily, Gonzaga survived.
Because a loss would have set mid-major basketball back a decade.
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You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.