We are less than 48 hours into the college basketball season, and the Gonzaga Bulldogs have already put together a contender for the best offensive performance of the season. In beating the Kansas Jayhawks 102-90, Mark Few’s squad just silenced any criticism of their preseason No. 1 ranking. Although it will take a few games to get a real feel for just how good this Gonzaga team can be, its Thanksgiving matchup gave fans a few things to discuss.
So what are the top takeaways from today’s game?
A lot of Zags will score, and the Zags will score a lot
Last season, the Kansas Jayhawks allowed an average of 60.7 points per game, with just three teams scoring more than 70 points against them. The Zags dropped 102 points, and it didn’t even look difficult. Corey Kispert, Drew Timme and Jalen Suggs all scored over 20 points, and four other Zags added buckets. By the end of the game, Gonzaga had made 65 percent of its buckets, despite a mediocre 33 percent from deep.
The only stretch in which the Zags struggled to score came when Suggs and Timme failed to pass the ball against solid interior defense by the Jayhawks. Considering the Bulldogs’ remaining schedule doesn’t include many defensive stalwarts outside of West Virginia and Baylor, we could be looking at a team that pushes scoring in the mid-to-high 90s on a nightly basis.
Timme, Kispert and Suggs will likely lead the team in scoring, but there isn’t a single player on this team that should struggle to find an open look considering the elite ball movement they have displayed in their first two televised appearances. Assuming Mark Few can help the team figure out its perimeter defense, “Zags by 90” might not seem like a joke against their easier opponents.
Jalen Suggs is living up to the hype
As is the case with most college freshmen in their first few games, Jalen Suggs had a few moments that left us scratching our heads. After starting the game with his first collegiate basket on a lob dunk — and a couple of excellent defensive plays — Suggs was put on hold until the second half. An early tech, and later charge, kept Suggs out for most of the first half, yet he still finished with 24 points, eight assists and four rebounds, with two key steals.
Some easy missed layups and ill-advised drives reminded us of Suggs’ youth, but his second half performance was just shy of perfect. Not only did he show an elite ability to finish in the paint, but he also flashed some excellent passes that would rival the best assists ever made by former Zag guard Josh Perkins. It could be reasonably argued that Suggs would have been the game’s top scorer if he was able to stay on the floor for the full first 20 minutes.
This is pretty clearly Corey Kispert’s team, and Drew Timme may be the Zags’ top option, but Suggs’ first showing gave a glimpse into just how elite the team’s top trio could be. Once Suggs works off some of the freshman woes, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see him in the conversation for college basketball’s end-of-season honors.
Three-point defense is still a struggle
If you take a look at nearly every team that has upset Gonzaga over the past decade, it usually comes on the back of an elite shooting performance. Mark Few has always had solid interior defense and great groups of offensive guards, but perimeter defense always seems to be the team’s Achilles’ heel. This game was no different with the Jayhawks shooting 8-18 from deep. This shooting performance allowed Bill Self’s team to keep the game close until the 10-minute mark in the second half.
Sure, some of these shots were defended well, but a vast majority of them came off poor rotations or sagging defenders. Gonzaga can afford to be a bit more liberal with its perimeter defense — given its elite offense and high pace — but I am sure Mark Few will not accept a weak defense. (That would be a Fran McCaffery thing to do.) It will be important to see how the Zags adjust on Friday against the Auburn Tigers, a team that has built its identity around shooting the deep ball.
Full availability from Jalen Suggs — Gonzaga’s best defensive guard — should help alleviate this issue, but communication will also need to improve on the defensive rotations. As a Zag fan, I may be a bit overcritical of this team’s defensive performance, but this is the only hole that needs to be patched, so here we are.
Connor Hope is a college basketball writer for HeatCheckCBB. He is also co-host of Hope & Rauf presented by HeatCheckCBB, a college basketball podcast. His content has been featured by Bleacher Report and FanSided, among other publications. Hope is a current Rockin’ 25 voter.