Gonzaga Links: Karnowski’s Passing, Duke Matchup, 2011 Recruiting Class

Here’s the latest from Know Hitter on the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

For more on Gonzaga, you can click this link. 

March Madness: Key Stats from Gonzaga vs UCLA

18

• 18—the number of points scored by Przemek Karnowski against UCLA. The 7’1” center destroyed the Bruins’ front-line, drawing Shaq comparisons. Karnowski also had nine rebounds and two assists. You can view those assists here, they’re pretty nifty.

3

• 3—the number of made three pointers by the Zags. They took 19. Kyle Wiltjer missed all three of his shots from deep while Kevin Pangos finished 1-for-7.
10

• 10—the number of rebounds by Wiltjer, well above his average of 6.2 per game. The skilled big-man had a rough shooting night after going 18-for-24 over the first two games. Wiltjer shot 33.3% from the field on 4-of-12 shots. He only scored eight points but contributed with the 10 rebounds as well as four assists, a steal and a block.

14

• 14—the number of points scored by senior and former USC Trojan Byron Wesley. Wesley clearly enjoyed playing against his former rivals. In two contests this season, the slasher has averaged 17 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

March Madness: How Gonzaga Matches up with Duke

Gonzaga and Duke will meet in the South Regional final for a chance to go to the Final Four. In some ways, the matchup represents two very different, yet similar teams. Duke is former champion steeped in tradition seeking yet another Final Four berth while Gonzaga searches for an elusive appearance on college basketball’s biggest stage to cement itself among the best.

Both teams like to get up and down and score, so expect an entertaining game. Many will pick Duke thanks to the Blue Devil’s slightly higher seed and the fact that they don’t really respect Gonzaga. Most basketball fans won’t admit to disrespecting the Zags, but there is a level of disbelief that continues to follow Gonzaga.

Even after the program reached the Elite Eight. Yes, that’s right, the Elite Eight, pundits are still doubting the Zags. Sure, GU didn’t exactly knockout #1 seeds in the tournament, but that doesn’t mean they should be knocked for reaching this point for the first time since 1999. It’s almost like taking the easy way out and forming an opinion without watching Gonzaga enough to realize that yes, they are in fact really good and can beat anyone. They even have the size to challenge and compete with Kentucky.

After the Zags’ Przemek Karnowski-led frontline destroyed their UCLA counterparts, the Zags will face Duke in Houston on Sunday. Some will tell you otherwise, but GU actually matches up well with the Blue Devils.

The South’s top-seeded team feature three extremely talented freshman in Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justice Winslow. Outside of the trio and Quinn Cook, Coach K has exactly zero players averaging double-figures. Duke has depth issues, but the team is generally able to overcome them thanks to their stars, especially Okafor. The Blue Devils have Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson, but other than that there is a definite dearth of size. Additionally, neither are even close to being in the same discussion as Okafor offensively. Winslow was slid to the four next to Okafor at center to help combat this. While Winslow will likely be tasked with slowing down Kyle Wiltjer, Okafor will have issues with Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis on both ends of the floor.

The beauty of Gonzaga’s frontline is that they not only features a rotation of bigs, but that those bigs can beat you in different ways. Wiltjer is the stretch four who can score from any spot on the floor while Sabonis is the rare freshman with an extremely polished offensive, low-post game. He also brings energy, size and rebounding to the team when he enters the game. Karnowski is a different matchup entirely. The 7’1” center is the definition of an immovable object in the lane with soft hands and potent array of hook shots.

With all three at his disposal, Mark Few relies on a rotation, which was on full display against UCLA as the Zags’ coach constantly subbed the post players in and out in order to keep them fresh. With Duke expected to heavily rely on Okafor, tiring him out will be key. This won’t be hard with the rotation and number of screens the Zags tend to set.

Gonzaga’s opponents also have a tendency to pile up fouls quickly, often leaving the Zags in the bonus for long stretches of the game. Most of this has to do with post players trying to grapple with the “mountain masquerading as a man” known as Przemek Karnowski. Karnowski’s size also provides him the opportunity to shut down Okafor on the defensive end. Simply put, Karnowski is a big dude and despite his offensive gifts, Okafor will have trouble scoring on him.

Getting Okafor gassed and/or in foul trouble will give the Zags a leg up in the game. It will also expose the Blue Devils lack of depth. In Duke’s last two tournament games they have played one exactly one player more than 10 minutes, and that was Jefferson who averages 6.6 points per game.

Outside of the starting five for GU, Sabonis essentially plays “starter minutes” off the bench while Kyle Dranginis’ minute totals approach “starter” territory. If it turns into a game of depth, the Zags will have the upper hand.

There will be offensive fireworks with both teams likely to have adjusted to the cavernous backdrop of the stadium in Houston. Expect an entertaining match as both the Zags and Blue Devils seek a Final Four berth.

For more Gonzaga coverage, including how the 2011 recruiting class is paying dividends, click here. For more March Madness, including Know Hitter’s bracket and picks, click here. 

Gonzaga Bulldogs: 2011 Recruiting Class Paying Massive Dividends for Mark Few & Zags

The Gonzaga Bulldogs have never quite been able to recruit the same level of talent out of high school as the likes of Kentucky, Duke and Kansas, however GU has firmly cemented its place alongside those three schools in the College Basketball hierarchy by recruiting players who not only fit their system and culture, but players that they can develop.

The Zags also tend to find gems on the international market with future NBA players Ronny Turiaf, Kelly Olynyk and Robert Sacre all coming from outside the states. The Zags have two future NBA players on their roster in European big men Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis.

Despite the lack of McDonalds All-Americans, Mark Few has put together impressive recruiting classes in the past. 2007 brought Sacre and another future NBA player in Austin Daye as well as fellow top-100 recruit Steven Gray who flourished as one of the team’s best players.

While the 2011 class didn’t bring the size that 2007’s brought, the group of players to arrive in Spokane in 2011 has helped propel GU to its first Sweet 16 since 2009. This year’s incarnation of Gonzaga may be Mark Few’s best, and could reach the school’s first Final Four. While a lot of this has to do with the Zags’ daunting frontline, featuring a three-headed monster of Karnowski, Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer, a lot of it has to do with the backcourt.

Starting guards, and products of the 2011 recruiting class, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. have sacrificed a lot in order to make the team better. Both have seen their per-game scoring numbers drop by nearly three points each. Bell Jr. is often tasked with checking the opposition’s best permitted defender while Pangos rarely gets a breather, playing 35 or minutes on 22 occasions this season.

Despite their sacrifices, Pangos and Bell Jr. form one of the best backcourts in the country.

Pangos is an unflappable floor-general who is lethal from three-point land (44.9% this season) and can beat you off the dribble with a potent array of layups and floaters. If Gonzaga weren’t incredibly blessed with a wealth of scoring options, it would surprise no one to see Pangos’ per-game scoring approach 20 points. Oh yeah, he’d probably start on just about every team in the country… including Kentucky.

His backcourt mate Bell Jr. is one of the best defenders in the country. Despite a 6’2” frame that puts him at a height disadvantage, Bell Jr. can lock down almost anyone on the perimeter. Just ask BYU’s Tyler Haws, who despite having a height advantage of three inches and being one of the best scores in the country, struggled mightily against the Zags due to the presence of Bell Jr. Haws’ bread and butter is the contested mid-range jumper, but he managed shooting nights of 6-14, 3-11 and 4-12 against Gonzaga. And oh yeah, Bell Jr. can knock down the three as well. He shot 47.7% as a freshman and still manages a similarly deadly 37.7 clip this season. Similar to Pangos, if GU had fewer weapons or if Bell Jr. were at a bigger school with less firepower, he’d likely be a 15 point-per-game scorer.

In addition to Pangos and Bell Jr., Few also brought in Idaho native Kyle Dranginis as well.  Dranginis operates as the team’s hustle monger off the bench, always challenging for offensive rebounds, loose balls and blocked shots despite being shorter than a good portion of the opposition. He only averages 4.1 points a contest, but if it weren’t for the presence of USC-transfer Byron Wesley, Dranginis would be starting and easily averaging double-figures in points per game. Despite only scoring three points in the team’s round-of-32 win over Iowa, he had a steal, a block, two rebounds and four assists. He fills the stat sheet for the Zags. In win at Sweet Sixteen opponent UCLA in December, Dranginis totaled five points, six rebounds and five assists. He also had a steal and a made three pointer.

Due to freshman Josh Perkins’ broken jaw and Eric McClellan’s acclimation process, Few has largely depended on a backcourt rotation of Pangos, Bell Jr. and Dranginis down the stretch.

In addition to those three, GU’s 2011 recruiting class is also paying dividends elsewhere. Forward Ryan Spangler transferred to Oklahoma to be closer to home and has helped the Sooners to the Sweet Sixteen with 9.9 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per contest. He posted seven double-doubles this season and reached double-figures in rebounding in 12 contests.

The remaining members of the 2011 class have propelled the Zags to a point where they can reach the program’s first final four. They’ve definitely earned it.

Watch: Mark Few Does a Handstand While Celebrating Gonzaga’s Sweet 16 Berth

This from Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer-

Gonzaga Sweet Sixteen: Stats to Know from Zags First Two Wins

  • 20

20, the number of rebounds by freshman Domantas Sabonis over the first two games. The burgeoning star also poured in 27 points over the weekend, including 18 in the round of 32 trashing of Iowa.

  • 34

24, the number of points scored by Kevin Pangos in the opening two games, including a whopping eight three pointers with four coming in teach game. Pangos handed out eight assists and only turned the ball over twice.

  • 23

23, points scored by Kyle Wiltjer in the opening round win over North Dakota State. Wiltjer outdid himself in the next round, posting 24 points in the win over Iowa. The former Kentucky Wildcat dropped 57 points on a mere 24 shots. Overall he’s 18-for-24. Talk about efficiency.

  • 2

2, maybe the most important stat of all, Gonzaga recorded two wins over the first two games of the tournament, advancing to their first Sweet Sixteen since 2009.

  • 62.5

62.5, the percentage GU shot from distance in the 87-68 thumping of Iowa.

For more March Madness coverage from Know Hitter, click here. You can also view my tournament picks (some good some bad) for the West and South Regions here, my picks for the Midwest and East regions can be found here. My largely intact Final Four picks can be found by clicking this wonderful link. For more Gonzaga, click here.

NCAA Tournament and March Madness Coverage and Predictions from Know Hitter

West and South Region predictions.

Midwest and East Region predictions.

Why You Should Trust Gonzaga in Your Bracket.

More March Madness goodness in general.

My Final Four and National Champion picks.

NCAA Tournament Predictions: Final Four and National Champion

Final Four Picks

For more March Madness, click here. To check out Know Hitter’s predictions for the Midwest and the East regions, click here. For the West and the South regions, go here. Should you trust Gonzaga in your bracket? (As I clearly have) Yes you should. Read more here.

NCAA Tournament Predictions: West and South Regions

West and South NCAA Bracket

 

For more March Madness, click here. To check out Know Hitter’s predictions for the Midwest and the East regions, click here. Should you trust Gonzaga in your bracket? Yes you should. Read more here.