If you believe college basketball, circa 2020, is basically an emotion-filled TV show, top-ranked Gonzaga’s 87-82 win over West Virginia should help cement that conviction.
Played Wednesday night in the world’s largest studio, Indianapolis’ echo-chamber-like Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the contest also included a painful plot twist that looked at first as if it might change the course of the Zags’ season.
The hosts for this version of basketball “Survivor” were ESPN’s Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas – in Charlotte, North Carolina – and Holly Rowe in Indiana.
What they saw …
• When Jaylen Suggs drove with a bit more than 7 minutes left in the first half, the Zags (3-0) had finally seemed to have figured out how to deal with 11th-ranked West Virginia’s physical play. They had just finished a 9-0 run to take a lead. But when Suggs tried to stop, his left foot slipped on the floor, causing the freshman point guard to collapse on the court in pain.
He stayed down long enough for social media to explode and Gonzaga’s future – in this game and beyond – to turn from bright to cloudy. It was also long enough for viewers to see the play at least three more times.
Suggs finally was helped off the court, sat on the sidelines with a trainer, slowly walked down the tunnel and seemed to be walking a bit better in the hall under the stands. How did we know? ESPN showed all of it to us.
In the early second half, the network’s cameras caught Suggs doing some light jogging, hopping and seemingly trying to prove he could play. He returned to the bench area with about 16 minutes left. As the cameras focused on him, Shulman said, “Still limping, but walking a whole late better than he was a half-hour ago.”
“That’s really encouraging,” Bilas understated, unaware of what was about to happen.
After a media timeout, Suggs, Willis Reed-like, pulled himself back on the court with West Virginia (3-1) leading 45-42. It ignited a 7-0 Gonzaga run.
“I didn’t expect to see this,” Shulman said of Suggs’ return.
“He still has a pretty pronounced limp,” Bilas noticed, accurately, a few seconds later, adding, “nobody looks convinced this is the right thing. Hopefully, it is.”
“If you’re a Gonzaga fan right now, I’m sure you’re watching with a little bit of trepidation,” Shulman added as play continued.
Suggs wasn’t his usual self, but he did rise up above the rim with about 10 seconds left to block a shot, something that looked impossible when he was lying on the floor a couple of hours before.
• No one was in the stands of the 20,000-seat arena. And neither was the announcing duo. The remote nature of the broadcast – a staple in these COVID-19 times – came back to bite ESPN right after Suggs’ injury.
The connection between Charlotte and Indiana dropped like a bad cellphone signal as Suggs left the court.
Not only was Rowe trying to report on Suggs’ injury, she also had to fill in as the play-by-play voice for a couple of minutes. Not a great position for a sideline reporter to be in.
She handled it well, but was obviously relieved when the connection was restored.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had such heart-stopping terror,” Rowe said as Shulman took over.
What we saw …
• The opening for a Jimmy V Classic game – named after the former NCAA championship-winning coach who lost his publicized fight against cancer 27 years ago – always pulls at your heartstrings. This year’s opening, narrated by Andy Grammer who also supplied the music, was typical in that regard.
Throughout the game, ESPN promoted the V Foundation and solicited donations for the charity.
• For some reason, Bilas seems to have a hair fixation. Or at least on this night he did.
Right at the top of the game, he focused not on Corey Kispert’s shooting ability or his improvement around the rim. He talked about his hair.
OK, he mentioned the offensive stuff, too. But the hair.
“Another thing that Gonzaga does really well is their development of players’ hair,” Bilas said. “When Kispert came in, he didn’t have that kind of hair. Now he has that Dan Dickau hair, you know, the stuff that flies all over the place.”
Bilas came back to it as the game was being decided in the second half.
“The development of that hair,” he said, once again lauding the GU program, before qualifying it. “Except for Raivio, Derek Raivio.”
If you know, you know.
Rowe also joined the fray, peripherally. She mentioned Kispert’s headband, but it was in the context of Timme playing his first game this season without it.
“I just want Drew to wear one next game,” she said.
After a season-worst 7-for-17 shooting performance, maybe he will.
• If you like to watch players foul out, this game was for you.
It took almost 2½ hours to complete as the trio of Kipp Kissinger, Patrick Adams and Ron Groover called 47 fouls, leading to 52 free throws and four player disqualifications, two for each team.
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