The NCAA Tournament is, in essence, a new season. With new goals, new opponents and new voices.
TruTV’s voices on Gonzaga’s 87-49 blowout of 16th-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson included a former coach (Steve Lappas, most notably at Villanova), a veteran (Andrew Catalon) on play-by-play and a former college player (Lisa Byington) as the sideline reporter.
Veterans all. Which made their performance all that more upsetting, even if the game wasn’t an upset in any regard.
What they saw …
• Sure, Fairleigh Dickinson made so many mistakes – on both ends – the game wasn’t in doubt even before the fourth-ranked Bulldogs (31-3) went on a 19-0 run just before halftime.
The Knights’ mistakes were matched early by Lappas’ blunders, a couple of which set the tone for the rest of the rout.
“A lot will depend on Zach Perkins,” he said less than 2 minutes in, when explaining how far Gonzaga can go in the tournament. And, yes, Lappas said, “Zach Perkins.”
Less than a minute later, he spoke about one of GU’s 15 offensive rebounds by describing the action during the replay: “(Rui) Hachimura is able to penetrate, nobody’s there to block out Brandon Clarke.”
Made sense – except it was Clarke driving to the rim and Hachimura getting fouled on the follow attempt.
• One thing the guys in the truck got right was pointing out Lappas’ son Pete is an assistant for Fairleigh Dickinson (21-14). And they did it in a fun way, as they caught the elder Lappas miming pregame instructions across the court to his son on how to fix his tie.
That was the most exciting moment, maybe, of the first half for Fairleigh Dickinson.
• When Lappas shed his first-round butterflies, his commentary was spot on, especially for an analyst who hasn’t broadcast a GU game this season.
Then again, the differences between the teams were so stark as to be obvious. As was the key to the Zags’ dominance.
“I think the defense,” was Mark Few’s answer to Byington’s halftime interview question about what he was happiest about.
And why not? The Bulldogs held FDU to 19 percent shooting before intermission, had a nine-rebound edge, forced 10 turnovers and built a 53-17 lead.
“That’s what you’re not used to when you’re FDU,” Lappas said after one of the Zags’ five first-half steals. “When you try to feed the post in the Northeast Conference, it’s a little different than trying to feed the post with these guys guarding you.”
What we saw …
• The defensive dominance was obvious, sure, but the core of it wasn’t. And no one really talked about it.
Zach Norvell Jr. was once Gonzaga’s weakest defender. In fact, early last season some teams would isolate him as often as possible and then attack.
In Thursday’s game, Few assigned the 6-foot-5 sophomore the Knights’ leading scorer, Darnell Edge. It was a great choice.
Edge, a 6-2 guard who scored a career-high 33 points in FDU’s First Four win Tuesday night, not only didn’t score his average (16.9 points per game), he rarely got shots when the game was within shouting distance. Norvell was that tough.
Edge missed his first six shots and didn’t get his seventh until 5 minutes remained before intermission. He hit it. It was a 25-footer. That’s the only spot he could get a look. He finished with seven points.
Norvell was the primary reason.
• If you listen to much in the way of a national conversation coming into the tournament, much of the Gonzaga conversation revolves around how the Zags haven’t played anyone the past three months.
With the dominance in this one, the critique may still be in vogue. But Fairleigh Dickinson had won nine consecutive games coming in and won the Northeast Conference’s automatic berth.
• Killian Tillie finished with 17 points (on 7-of-8 shooting), playing 18 minutes. In an injury-marred season, it was a large step. But not as large a step as he took with about 12 minutes left.
Tillie took a pass from Norvell in transition and flew to the rim. His dunk rattled the rim and excited the heck out of Catalon, who refrained from saying Tillie’s name twice.
“I think his foot’s all right,” Lappas said as the dunk was shown a couple of times.
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