INDIANAPOLIS — Holed up within the downtown Marriott right here, Mark Few says he’s not sleeping properly in NCAA match lockdown. He doesn’t count on that to vary now.
“There’ll be no extra good night time’s sleep within the bubble,” The Gonzaga coach stated Sunday, after his group dispatched Creighton, 83–65, within the Candy 16. “These will all be actually laborious video games. … Actually the toughest factor we do in our sport is advancing on this match. Simply take a look at this 12 months.”
Take a look at this 12 months and also you do certainly see an onslaught of upsets, ensuing within the highest combination seeding in historical past. However then you definately additionally see Gonzaga, smashing everybody in its path up to now.
Midway to historical past, the undefeated Zags are performing like an all-time nice group. They’ve dispatched their first three opponents by a mixed 77 factors, with the closest victory margin 16. They’re averaging 89.3 factors per sport within the tourney. They haven’t but skilled a flicker of discomfort in an elimination sport, by no means main by fewer than 9 factors at any juncture of three second halves.
Within the final 40 years, the one males’s nationwide champions who gained every of their first three NCAA video games by greater than 15 factors are Villanova 2016, Connecticut ’04, Kentucky 1998 and Kentucky ’96. The highest-scoring nationwide champs of this century via three video games are North Carolina 2009 at 94.3 and Kentucky ’12 at 90. Gonzaga is retaining good firm—however, once more, is simply midway to the end line.
Few liked his group’s protection towards Creighton Sunday, and with good cause. Holding a harmful perimeter capturing group to 5 made three-pointers in 23 makes an attempt was sturdy. However the actually particular a part of this Gonzaga group is what it does on the offensive finish.
No one within the school sport passes the ball extra crisply, creatively and willingly. Participant motion and ball motion have lengthy been the cash of Few’s realm, and that is his finest group but in that space. “It’s most likely our greatest attribute,” Few stated.
Some groups want to maneuver intentionally to execute properly offensively. Not Gonzaga. That is the third-fastest group within the nation on the offensive finish, averaging 14.3 seconds per possession, flowing easily, recognizing benefits instantly and attacking aggressively. They’re a visible feast.
“It is among the finest passing groups I’ve seen … in school basketball in a very long time,” stated Creighton coach Greg McDermott.
What the Zags did to the Bluejays’ finest defensive group in 15 years was a clinic on trendy offense. Gonzaga had 23 assists and made 76% of its two-point pictures, carving Creighton to items. Level guard Andrew Nembhard destroyed the Bluejays one pocket cross at a time, dropping an array of deft dimes to teammates in ball-screen conditions. He completed with 17 factors and eight assists, each his highest single-game totals since January.
“I believe that is been our id all season,” Nembhard stated. “I believe we play finest after we’re simply shifting the ball as a result of we’ve got so many items and a lot versatility. It is identical to taking part in a half with a bunch of men that click on so properly.”
Mentioned Few: “When he’s in that zone, he’s the very best I’ve ever coached at making selections within the ball screens.”
Corey Kispert and Drew Timme are the All-People. Jalen Suggs is the lottery decide. However Nembhard has change into the catalyst of that philharmonic Gonzaga passing sport.
And right here’s the factor in regards to the junior switch from Florida: it wasn’t clear that he would even play for Gonzaga this season. The authentic plan was for five-star freshman Jalen Suggs to run the purpose whereas Nembhard redshirted. However Nembhard slot in instantly, flourishing within the accelerated tempo after two years with the deliberate Gators.
Nembhard was so good within the preseason that Few prompt he attempt to get a waiver for fast eligibility, and he ran the thought of sharing floor-general duties by Suggs.
“He simply acquired the most important grin on his face,” Few stated. “I will keep in mind it the remainder of my life. He was like, ‘Coach, are you kidding me? That will be superior.’
“I’ve discovered over time the true gamers, they do not concern anyone. They welcome all nice gamers round them. And I informed the employees after I met with Jalen, this takes us from prime 15, prime 20 to prime 5 and nationwide championship contender.”
Watching this offensive machine come collectively, Few tinkered together with his follow drills to intensify shifting and reducing. The extra the gamers responded, the extra he added. When Gonzaga mowed down Kansas, West Virginia, Auburn and Iowa to begin the season, Few knew.
“In a short time we came upon … that they not solely preferred to cross—all of them, together with Drew—however they’re actually, actually good at it,” he stated. “That sounds easy and corny or no matter. … All of them have a actually good really feel for the sport.”
Few and his group left Hinkle Fieldhouse Sunday not sure of their subsequent opponent, ready for the late-night sport between USC and Oregon. Few has reveled in constructing an unbelievable energy within the shadow of the Pac-12, turning into this system everybody in that convention needs it might have. Beating a group from that league to achieve the Last 4 would being an added layer of satisfaction to the coach and the Gonzaga followers.
However the Elite Eight sport Tuesday will, virtually actually, be the Zags’ hardest problem so far. Few’s stressed nights might be well-earned now. The stress-free second halves are destined to cease sooner or later … proper?
If not, we’ll begin measuring this Gonzaga group by the requirements of the all-time greats.
SI’s match e-newsletter analyzes all the pieces you’ll want to know in regards to the Large Dance: what simply occurred and what’s taking place subsequent. Sign up for Morning Madness here.