ESPN hosts the Jimmy V Classic, a two-game basketball tournament in New York City, for a good cause.
The contests at Madison Square Garden are used to raise money for the charitable foundation bearing the name of former North Carolina State coach Jimmy Valvano, who died after a battle with cancer.
Every pitch, including the one featuring Mark Few that showed twice during the broadcast, is intended to invoke giving.
That’s positive. However, the giving Gonzaga featured in its 88-72 loss to Villanova wasn’t.
The Zags, ranked 12th this week, turned it over 12 times in the first half and 19 times overall. And it isn’t as if Villanova, which won the national title two seasons ago and ranked fourth in this one, needed any help.
Neither did ESPN’s all-star crew on the game, Dan Shulman doing the play-by-play, Jay Bilas with the analysis and Holly Rowe filling in the blanks on the sidelines.
What they saw …
Simply put, a clinic at times. The Wildcats (9-0) carved up a Gonzaga defense missing one starter because of injury and a couple early on more because of foul trouble.
Halfway through the first half, Bilas mentioned the Wildcats “are really physical without fouling.” The unspoken part of that, with GU’s bigs, Killian Tillie and Johnathan Williams on the bench with two fouls apiece, is that the Zags aren’t.
But as the game wore on and the fouls mounted for Villanova as well, Bilas also noted that and gave as succinct an explanation for Gonzaga’s problems as possible.
“Gonzaga has never been able to get into a rhythm,” he said, mainly because, “Villanova has disrupted that rhythm.”
And no one more so than Josh Perkins, the redshirt junior point guard who was lights-out beyond the arc in the recent high-profile PK80 Tournament in Portland.
This may not have been Perkins’ worst game in Madison Square Garden – that will always be, for obvious reasons, the one against Georgia his freshman year in which his jaw was broken – but it was close.
He scored 16 points, but it was on 4-of-12 shooting, including 1 for 6 beyond the arc. He had four of GU’s turnovers – it seemed like more – but did have five assists.
Part of Perkins’ woes could be attributed to the Villanova defense, mainly Mikal Bridges, the 6-foot-7 junior who did his time guarding him, especially after the Wildcats’ do-everything guard Jalen Brunson also got into foul trouble.
It was Bridges who was Villanova’s Swiss Army knife in this one, while also leading Villanova with 28 points.
“Mikal Bridges is making a case for first-team All-American in this game,” Bilas said after one second-half exchange which featured his dunk between Tillie and Jacob Larsen on one end and a block of Perkins’ drive on the other.
What we saw …
Bridges was special, as was the insight Rowe brought from her spot near the benches.
The veteran reporter, who is battling cancer, followed up Bilas’ comments on Bridges by relaying an exchange between the wing and Villanova coach Jay Wright as they left the court for halftime.
It is the type of sideline reporting that is always asked for, but rarely received.
It isn’t as if the ESPN crew were perfect – there was no mention of one element that greatly favored Villanova in the first half, as the Wildcats did a number on the taller Zags (7-2) on the boards early – but in a game in which Gonzaga’s youth and lack of depth made it a struggle from the opening tip, it was about as good as could be expected.
The trio covered everything going on with the Zags, from starter Corey Kispert sideline with a sprained ankle to Rui Hachimura’s struggles with consistency, from Zach Norvell’s ability to score in bunches (he led GU with 22 points) to his occasional penchant to shoot too early in the shot clock.
They mentioned when Gonzaga was struggling in a key aspect, they explained how the Zags were able to be successful in others.
“How much did Mark Few and his staff (talk about) staying down on shot fakes?” Bilas asked rhetorically midway through the first half after another Bulldog picked up a foul. “How many big guys can, at 6-10, make that type of play (on the defensive end) and then lead the break?” Bilas asked rhetorically midway through the second half when Tillie contested a shot at the rim, rebounded it and then had one of his five assists in transition.
In a game the Zags were going to lose by 16 points, maybe the crew was just in a giving mood. It seemed to be the theme of the night.