Portland v Gonzaga

Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos ready to embrace a larger role next season

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UNION, N.J. — Gonzaga point guard Kevin Pangos will be returning to school for his junior season in 2013-2014, but that doesn’t change the fact that Thursday’s 2013 NBA Draft will be quite meaningful for native of Ontario.

Teammate and countryman Kelly Olynyk has a chance to be a lottery pick. Fellow Canadian Anthony Bennett could end up being the No. 1 overall pick. Another Gonzaga-product could end up being scooped up in the second round.

“It’s very special. We’re a tight-knit group,” Pangos told NBCSports.com at the Nike Skills Academy at Kean University this week. “Everyone knows everyone. If you don’t know them, you’re rooting for them because they’re Canadian. “We’re a whole little family, so seeing guys get drafted and seeing guys that I’ve grown up with go to big schools, it’s really exciting that we’re not just going to be known for hockey.”

As exciting as it is for Pangos to see his friends have a chance to live out their childhood dreams of making the NBA, the bigger issue here is that two of those players — two guys that helped make up one of the best front lines in the country in Olynyk and Harris — and now former teammates.

And without those two in the fold, the way that the ‘Zags play next season is going to be quite different. You see, despite having one of the best young back courts in the country in Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. last season, the bulk of Gonzaga’s offense was run through their front court, which is why they’re combined scoring average dipped from 24.0 points as freshmen to 20.9 points as sophomores.

“I don’t know if we can replace what they bring,” Pangos said of his former front court. “We kind of have to change the style that we play, because everything was through them. They were so dominant.”

What that means is more responsibility for Pangos, who was one of the best freshmen in the country in 2011-2012. He’s always been a terrific jump shooter, and that didn’t change last season. Where Pangos is looking to improve is in his ability off the bounce. He doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a possession point guard that can’t do much more than knock down open threes.

“Creating my own shot. Being able to get into the paint. I’m not the quickest, most athletic guy, but I’m trying to use my skills and change-of-speed to get into the paint, to create for myself and others,” Pangos said. The Point Guard Skills Academy lasted for three days, but the media was only allowed to watch the final session on Wednesday, which was mostly just scrimmaging. But the previous two-and-a-half days featured primarily skill work and pointed coaching from coaches like John Lucas and workout specialists like Kevin Eastman.

That’s where Pangos truly benefitted, not only learning from the best but working out with — and against — some of the best college point guards in the country.

“I’ve never been invited to a camp like this before, so I’m just trying to take it all in,” Pangos said. “Coaches really push you to go full speed. I’ve learned that there’s a lot of great players. I’ve watched their game, seen what I can add to my game. Overall, just the speed of everything. It kind of just made me realize that there’s always something to improve on.”

One of the biggest knocks that Pangos has faced throughout his career is his work on the defensive end of the floor, but it’s worth noting that during the scrimmage portion, Pangos had a chance to go up against Kyrie Irving for a couple of minutes. In one stretch, he got three straight stops, twice turning Irving over and once forcing him to take a tough, left-handed floater. To be frank, Irving was playing at about 75% and wearing cargo short sweat pants, but that doesn’t change the fact that Pangos more than held his own against an NBA all-star.

At the very least, that’s a confidence-booster.

‘I was hacking him a little bit here and there, but I was just trying to play as tough as I could,” Pangos said. “He’s an NBA all-star! I was trying to do the best I could. At first it was a little nerve-wracking, like I can’t get beat, but it was fun.”

If it all goes to plan, Pangos will follow the likes of Olynyk and Harris and Bennett to the NBA Draft, which is part of the reason he didn’t spend an extra day in the tri-State area to attend Thursday’s draft.

“Hopefully next year or the year after I’ll be there for my own,” he said.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.