The Zags have stumbled five consecutive times in trying to push past the round-of-32 and will meet a formidable frontline in Iowa in Sunday’s game at KeyArena.
This is how it is when the round-of-32 in the NCAA tournament has been your Waterloo Weekend for the last five years, and we’re not talking Waterloo, Iowa:
Staff members stay up until 3 a.m. Saturday, trying to muster up more than CliffsNotes on Iowa, breaking down whether the off-guard prefers to go right, whether he can be caught going under screens rather than over, how the 4 man might be affected by contact.
It’s Gonzaga-Iowa late Sunday afternoon, for a trip to the Sweet 16, a juncture that’s been its own breed of albatross for each program. Iowa hasn’t been there since 1999. In fact, its landslide victory Friday night over Davidson was its first in the tournament since 2001, compared to Gonzaga’s 14 wins since ’01.
Sunday’s games at KeyArena in Seattle
South region: Gonzaga vs. Iowa, 4:10 p.m., TBS
East region: Louisville vs. Northern Iowa, 6:40 p.m., TBS
For the Zags, this is about dispelling all sorts of dark allegations: That there’s a diabolical gene that lately keeps it from graduating to the second weekend; that the West Coast Conference doesn’t prepare it for the wars of March in the manner of the power consortiums like the Big Ten; that even against teams whose statistics shout that they don’t shoot it well (Iowa doesn’t), they let them get too comfortable on offense.
NCAA tournament coverageSeattle games:
- Gonzaga routs Iowa, 87-68, reaches Sweet 16 for first time since 2009
- Balanced Gonzaga seems primed for run at history | Jerry Brewer
- Photos: Gonzaga beats Iowa, 87-68
- Gonzaga celebrates pair of Sweet 16's
- Louisville tops surging Northern Iowa, advances to Sweet 16
- Solid turnout for NCAA tournament games at KeyArena
“Obviously, having a full week is easier,” said GU assistant Tommy Lloyd, who had primary responsibility for scouting Iowa. “You can try Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. This time, you’ve got to throw it up on the wall and go with it.
“I’m sure they’re having the same discussions in their locker room.”
The Zags are more practiced at this hoops-on-the-fly thing, but Iowa, even with a stark NCAA history in this century, isn’t necessarily disadvantaged. The coach, Fran McCaffrey, 55, has taken four programs to the tournament, and he had two at Siena (2008-09) that won on opening night.
So a pair of programs that have some striking similarities – big guys inside, yet they like to run – no doubt have the same broad-strokes thinking.
“Hopefully,” Lloyd said, “you create more problems for them than they create for you. A lot of times in these games, it comes down to not doing something different. You don’t have time.”
Wrapped within the urgency to manufacture something worthwhile on short notice is this dilemma for Gonzaga: Who guards 6-9 Aaron White, the Hawkeyes’ All-Big Ten forward?
Prevailing theory is that it will be 6-10 Kyle Wiltjer, but I doubt that’s going to be the consistent tack. Wiltjer is a matchup nightmare, he can post and he’s got a velvet touch from deep, but nobody has yet attached the description of defensive hound to him. Besides, the Zags can’t afford to have him in foul trouble.
“Maybe,” said Lloyd, referring to Wiltjer on White. “Part of the time, for sure. We’ll move the matchups around to get a feel for what’s working.”
That probably means White could see a stretch of smaller defender, like 6-5 Byron Wesley or 6-4 Kyle Dranginis, as well.
Iowa assistant coach Sherman Dillard said White hasn’t seen much undersized guarding this year. He did Friday night, and he abused Davidson’s 6-4 Tyler Kalinoski in going for 26 points.
“If you put a smaller guy on him, sometimes it’s more difficult to get your shot,” Dillard noted, “because they can get into your space, deny the ball, limit your touches. Last night, we were able to run some stuff for him.”
Should the Zags want to get extreme, they can go with Przemek Karnowski, and Lloyd says to count on it.
“ ‘Shem’ will guard him some, too,” Lloyd said. “(White) hasn’t been guarded by many 7-1, 300-pound guys. Shem’s pretty smart. He’s not Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky), but he can be a factor.”
The complication for Gonzaga is Iowa not only has a 7-1 center in Adam Woodbury, but another inside-out 6-9 forward in Jarrod Uthoff. “Bookends,” Dillard called them.
“We like it, though,” Lloyd said. “Our guys like playing against guys their own size.”
Debatable is whether Iowa’s thunderous 83-52 victory over Davidson, largest margin in a 7/10 NCAA game in history, was instructive or illusory.
Said Lloyd, “One thing I noticed going into that game was, they (the Wildcats) were really soft in the middle defensively. I don’t think I’m disrespecting their program when I say that. I think they knew.”
Still, he said, “These guys are hard to guard. They force you to adjust.”
Soon, Gonzaga was off to practice. The Zags would tinker with some defensive options. They would meet Saturday night and bore in on a game plan, watch more video and get the players to bed.
And they would hope it would all put them in a good place. Like Houston, for the Sweet 16.