Bud Withers’ breakdown of Sunday’s game
Gonzaga again comes to the juncture that has tripped it up the past five years, as it faces No. 7 South seed Iowa for a trip to the Sweet 16. The game matches two of the biggest teams in the country.
A lot of similarities bind the teams, including having size and forwards who can step away from the basket and shoot. Like Gonzaga, Iowa is deep and defensively plays mostly man-to-man with some changeups like three-quarter-court presses and traps in the halfcourt. The Hawkeyes are 23rd nationally in field-goal percentage defense (. 390), the Zags 19th at .389.
Each team is led by a pass-first point guard, Iowa featuring Mike Gesell and Gonzaga Kevin Pangos. The difference in the off-guards is mostly size; Iowa’s Peter Jok goes 6-6 and GU’s Gary Bell Jr. 6-2, which could cause the Zags a length problem. Both Hawkeyes are modest scorers (Gesell 7.4 ppg, Jok 7.1), with Jok the backcourt shooting threat at 35.3 percent on threes. GU’s Kevin Pangos is a 44.4 trey shooter with a monster 3.8-1 assist-turnover ratio. Edge: Gonzaga.
The big men
No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 7 Iowa
4:10 p.m. at KeyArena
Records: Gonzaga (33-2), Iowa (22-11)
|G||Gary Bell Jr.||6-2||8.2|
Iowa is one of the few teams in the nation that can match the Zags’ size, with 7-1 Adam Woodbury, 6-9 Aaron White and 6-9 Jarrod Uthoff. Woodbury is 245, and Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski closer to 300, so the Zags will no doubt try to keep Woodbury from setting up down low. White is an All-Big Ten player who can shoot from outside (.339 on threes) but also goes low and leads the Hawkeyes in rebounds with 7.5 ppg. The Zags will bring 6-10 Domas Sabonis off the bench, and their leading scorer is 6-10 Kyle Wiltjer. But the third Hawkeye “big” likely will require a smaller Zag player, Byron Wesley or Kyle Dranginis, to guard him. Edge: Even.
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The Hawkeyes’ Fran McCaffrey has a wide range of coaching experience, having taken UNC-Greensboro, Siena and Iowa to the NCAA tournament. Gonzaga’s Mark Few is 17-15 in NCAA-tournament games. Edge: Even.
When they’re struggling
Hawkeyes are not a great shooting team – 200th in NCAA FG percentage at .430. That feeds into one of Gonzaga’s occasional Achilles, which is letting offenses get too comfortable.
The way Iowa throttled Davidson, 83-52, Friday night has to give the Zags pause, as the Hawkeyes pretty much did what they pleased against an undersized opponent. But if Gonzaga doesn’t suffer badly matching up at that one forward spot, it can move on. Gonzaga, 75-68.