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Basket Cases: Mid-Major Madness talks Gonzaga/Iowa

Let’s get ready for the Hawkeyes game against Gonzaga by talking with our SB Nation brethren

NCAA Basketball: Jimmy V Classic-West Virginia at Gonzaga Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The #3 Iowa Hawkeyes (6-0) close out the non-conference portion of their schedule against the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs (3-0). Though the showdown in Sioux Falls, SD will be the Zags’ first after shutting down their program due to COVID-19 protocols.

Joining us to get the ball rolling on our coverage is Chris Schutte from Mid-Major Madness.

1) Gonzaga seems to have picked up right where they left off last year, looking every bit of the national title contender they were despite losing Filip Petrusev and a strong senior class. What have you seen in their first three games (wins against Kansas, Auburn, & West Virginia) which is encouraging for the rest of this season?

We’ve seen a team that might be as talented as Mark Few has had since he took over in Spokane. He’s never had a roster with this type of versatility that allows him to throw different looks at their opponents.

As far as the biggest takeaway from the first three games goes, it’s been impressive to see just how seamlessly all of the new faces have seemed to fit in. Drew Timme generated a lot of preseason hype as a potential breakout star, and he’s been as good as advertised. Jalen Suggs was electric in their season opener against Kansas and showed why he’s such an exciting NBA prospect. And Florida transfer Andrew Nemhard has been a great compliment to him in the backcourt, especially when he stepped up against West Virginia when Suggs went down with an injury.

2) With just preseason Drew Timme and freshman Oumar Ballo as the only two major rotation pieces at 6’10” or more, how do expect the Zags to try to contain Luka Garza?

A lot of the onus is going to fall on Timme to try to keep him in check, which is obviously one of the tallest tasks in college basketball. Since Ballo is a freshman and not quite as experienced as Timme, he might not see the floor much if Garza is on it. Anton Watson is a little bit more athletic in the frontcourt despite giving up a few inches to him, so Few might give him a look at times, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Corey Kispert get thrown into the fire on a possession or two if the Zags try to go small.

Ultimately it may end up being a situation in which you just let Garza get his so you can focus on the rest and try to make him work as much as possible on defense when you can.

3) Offensively, the Zags are second according to KenPom despite struggling to shoot it from deep. What has made their offense so successful despite the weakness from deep?

The simple answer is that they get a good look almost every trip down the floor. They’re second in the country in 2-point FG% (as of Wednesday), and that’s because all of their players are able to get to the hoop. They use a lot of ball screens, which plays to the strengths of guys like Suggs and Nembhard, and Timme is an extremely skilled passer. As far as the three-point shooting goes, I’m not too concerned. Corey Kispert is as good of a shooter as there is in college basketball, and guys like Joel Ayayi and Aaron Cook have shown that they’re better shooters than their percentages have shown so far this year. They’ve also played two ELITE defenses in Kansas and West Virginia. Ultimately, water will find its level.

Nonetheless, Iowa’s number one priority is going to need to be defending ball screens and keeping the Zags from getting easy drives into the paint from anywhere on the floor. Everyone on the floor is a threat to score at all times.

4) It’s been a couple weeks since Gonzaga last played and they’ll have had just a couple practices since positive COVID-19 tests shut down the team. They’re also dealing with star recruit Jalen Suggs going down with a weird ankle injury in the game against West Virginia. Do you expect any concerns on the conditioning or injury front for this weekend’s game?

I think there’s reason for a little bit of concern, yes. It’s one thing to not see any game action for over two weeks, but shutting down practices and other basketball activities could make it hard for the Zags to get into a rhythm early on. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if they don’t look all that sharp early on and Iowa is able to race out to a quick lead.

As far as the Suggs injury goes, Andy Katz reported earlier this week that he’s completely healthy, so there’s minimal concern on that front.

5) Lastly, who ya got?

I like Gonzaga by four with a LOT of points. Give me the Zags 91-87 in what will be one of the games of the year in college basketball.

Thanks for the deets, Chris! You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisSchutte3 and Mid-Major Madness @mid_madness. Additional coverage can be found at Slipper Still Fits!