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Gonzaga Basketball

TV Take: ESPN announcers go back and forth on whether Gonzaga should be No. 1

Gonzaga coach Mark Few yells at an official during the second half of the team’s  game against Pepperdine on Saturday in Malibu, California. Gonzaga won 96-49. (Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)
Vince Grippi

The question was just about the first words uttered by the ESPN2 announcing crew Saturday night in Malibu.

And basically the final ones as well.

Should Gonzaga be ranked No. 1 when the polls come out Monday?

“Absolutely,” said color commentator Adrian Branch, the former Maryland and NBA guard.

Of course, that was before the Zags posted one of their most dominating performances of the season, a 96-49 rout of host Pepperdine.


Play-by-play man Eric Rothman came back to the same question with 45 seconds remaining.

“Again, will they be No. 1?” Rothman said.

There was no answer from Branch, maybe because he felt Gonzaga had answered the question for him over the previous 40 minutes of domination.

And he had spent much of that time extolling the Bulldogs’ virtues.

“I’ve been watching Gonzaga a lot this season,” said Branch, who has served as the analyst on previous broadcasts this year. “Against teams when they are expected to do well, they don’t come out and disrespect them by just not being serious. They’re focused.”

But if the Zags are focused enough to be No. 1, No. 2 or whatever Monday, it’s a certainty ESPN’s broadcast Saturday wasn’t in the top 10 – or the top 25.

The network may be the World Wide Leader, as its marketing arm is quick to remind everyone, but this broadcast was filled with mistakes and “say-what” moments.

It began with Branch’s first comment on the Zags and the No. 1 question.

After the “absolutely,” he followed up with “they’ve put themselves in that position because they’ve won basketball games.”

What? Of course they’ve won, 22 consecutive times now, tying a school record. And, yes they do play basketball games.

Branch also had these nuggets:

  • “Nigel Williams-Goss has mastered the game of college basketball at the college level.”
  • “They’ve shown themselves well,” he said of the Zags late, “coming out, dominating the points in the paint, has fatigued the Waves right now in the game.”
  • And, speaking about the Kelly Olynyk-led Zags of a few years ago, he relayed that “they had the mindset of apologizing.” For what?

Meanwhile, the production crew wasn’t scoring a lot of points either.

Late in the game it put up a graphic of Gonzaga’s longest winning streaks. On top was the 2016-17 team – this season – at 22 straight. Underneath it, also at 22, the 2015-16 team was listed.

Uh, no. Last year’s team struggled at times before catching fire late. It was the 2014-15 squad that posted the longest winning streak.

Those turnovers didn’t mask the fact Gonzaga played at a high level, and Rothman and Branch had their moments as well, especially considering the nearly 50-point margin.

  • Rothman did a fun, short interview with Jordan Mathews at Mathews’ alma mater, Santa Monica High, with Mathews recalling a 41-point performance in a state playoff game.
  • Branch was quick to point out Gonzaga’s inside-orientated mindset, praising Przemek Karnowski’s hot start. “If you see a shot chart right now,” Branch said less than 4 minutes in, “everything has been under 15 feet. Pepperdine has to get resilient, get stingy about guarding the paint.” The Waves never did, as Gonzaga scored 62 points inside, led by Karnowski’s 16 and Zach Collins’ 14.
  • And the duo shared a conversation they had pregame with Mark Few, saying the veteran coach told them, according to Branch, Williams-Goss “is the best leader he’s ever had.” “How impressive is that?” asked Rothman. Branch answered “very” and then proceeded to mention most of the great Gonzaga point guards from the Few era.

The list was impressive. Certainly more impressive than the broadcast.