What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Zach from The Slipper Still Fits, SB Nation's fine blog for all things Gonzaga.
1) Gonzaga has an absolutely lethal offense -- 6th in the country in efficiency, per KenPom. What makes it tick? Gonzaga seems to get most of their points from 2-point shots, but they're also a very good 3-point shooting team (40.5% from deep).
ZACH: It is an extremely diverse and talented offensive team but it is at its best when the focus is on the post. Between Przemek Karnowski, Kyle Wiltjer, and Domantas Sabonis, there aren't many more skilled offensive frontlines in the nation this side of Kentucky. Karnowski, in particular, can absolutely take over a game if he is able to get into good position right away and catch the ball right after transition starts to settle. He's really an outstanding big in that flow but tends to struggle a bit more as the shot clock wears on. Wiltjer is really solid in the post but tends to want to float outside a bit more and Sabonis is just an animal and provides the frontcourt with some edge. Gonzaga's low post game tends to really wear opposing teams down and that is when Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, and the rest of the backcourt strike from the perimeter and are able to penetrate.
2) Per KenPom, Gonzaga is 3rd in the country in Effective Height. But Iowa isn't too far behind them, coming in at 7th in Effective Height. Size has been a key factor for both teams all season -- how do you think it will play into Sunday night's game?
ZACH: The NCAA Tournament is truly all about matchups and this is one of the few teams that actually can compare with Gonzaga. Most every Gonzaga fan is extremely on edge in March (present company VERY much included) so this facet of Iowa is pretty terrifying. As I said in the previous answer, Gonzaga's size is crucial but I am very curious to see how Aaron White and Kyle Wiltjer matchup and which supporting cast of bigs can assist those two the most. They are both so, so skilled that it should be an offensive showcase. If Karnowski gets into foul trouble early, however, it could be a long night for Gonzaga as Sabonis is really the only other low post option for this team.
3) The Zags' best player looks like Kyle Wiltjer -- he's leading the team in scoring (16.9 ppg) and rebounding (6.1 rpg) and shooting the ball extremely well (54% FG, 80% FT, 47% 3FG). Does his game have a particular weakness? There's also a good chance that he and Iowa's star player, Aaron White, will be matched up with one another for much of the game -- how key will that match-up be?
ZACH: Hmmm, I appear to keep answering portions of your next question in previous answers! Such an interesting question about the 'best player' because if you asked 'most important player', I likely wouldn't name Wiltjer. It is no knock against KW but getting other guys like Karnowski, Pangos, etc involved early tends to be far more important. Back to Wiltjer: his only major weakness is defensively. I have very similar lateral foot speed to Wiltjer and I can tell you that is a very bad thing. I will be curious to see how Mark Few elects to defend Aaron White. Gonzaga has an athletic big in Angel Nunez that is really lengthy and can matchup against guys like White but he struggles mightily offensively. I'm guessing Wiltjer will defend him at the start and Few will just adjust as it goes on but I would expect to see some Nunez on him.
4) Outside of WIltjer and sharp-shooting guard Kevin Pangos, who are a few other players that Iowa fans should be aware of and who could swing the game?
ZACH: You would probably get 5 different answers from 5 different Gonzaga fans which is a blessing and a curse but, for me, this team hits a completely higher level when Gary Bell Jr. is actively seeking his shot. Bell has made his career at Gonzaga by being a shutdown defender which often leads to people overlooking his offensive game. I still maintain that Gonzaga gets to its first Final 4 two years ago (and not lose to Wichita State) if Bell doesn't break his foot in that game. Bell has struggled with consistency this year but had a nice game against North Dakota State and if he can bury some open 3s and get to the rim here and there, I love this teams chance to go very deep in March.
5) The Zags famously had David Stockton (son of John) on the team for several years and now they have Domantas Sabonis, the son of former Portland Trailblazer (and Euro hoops legend) Arvydas Sabonis. Do they have any more NBA legacy kids in the pipeline? I think I could root for the Zags (although not in this game, obviously) if they were suiting up Detlef Schrempf's son...
ZACH: So, on Twitter this is a real issue because 99% of last year's tweets about Gonzaga were "Yo Gonzaga has John Stockton's kid on it" and I was so excited for that to no longer be an issue this year but now it is the same damn thing about Sabonis. I don't think there are any future Zags that are the kids of former legends but with Gonzaga recruiting so heavily overseas, you just never know who is going to arrive on the radar.
6) Gonzaga has lost five straight years in the Round of 32. Is that a streak that weighs on the players or the fans at all, or is it just one of those "shit happens in the NCAA Tournament" things? Only one of those losses has come when the Zags were a higher seed, so it's not like they've consistently been getting upset in the Round of 32.
ZACH: They showed a little montage of all of Gonzaga's recent tournament losses last night and over the past six years, they have lost to 3 No. 1 seeds, a 2 seed, a 3 seed, and then Wichita State which was a 9 seed. As I said earlier, if Gonzaga's best perimeter defender doesn't break his foot, we are not having this discussion. I tend to take people calling Gonzaga a disappointment in March as a compliment these days because it means they are being judged as a power conference team. They aren't a cute story like George Mason or Davidson where it's cool if they get far - they are held to a higher regard now and I will take that everyday of the week over being a once every couple years cool story.
7) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
ZACH: If you would have asked me last night after Gonzaga's second round game, I would have picked Iowa by 67 points. Sleep helps and relaxing helps and I'm shifting gears back to thinking this is Gonzaga's year to go past the Sweet 16. While Aaron White is a tough defensive matchup for Mark Few, I generally like the fact that you have size and like to slow things down because Gonzaga does that, really, really well. If Gonzaga can win the rebounding battle - especially offensive rebounds - I think they leave Seattle and head to Houston to play in the Sweet 16. I'll go 75-68 Gonzaga.
Thanks for being a good sport, Zach, but I still hope your team gets mollywhopped tonight. You can check out The Slipper Still Fits crew at The Slipper Still Fits. You can also follow SSF on Twitter at @slipperstillfit. The Iowa-Gonzaga game is in Seattle, WA on Sunday, March 22, and is scheduled to start at approximately 6:10 pm CT, with TV coverage from TBS.