Scouting reports are hard enough to compile, but try putting one together for a season opener against a traditional power with several newcomers in its rotation.
That was Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd’s task for Thursday’s season-opening showdown with No. 6 Kansas at the Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers, Florida.
Lloyd obviously doesn’t have current video of the Jayhawks with this being the lid-lifter on No. 1 Gonzaga’s season. The NCAA didn’t allow exhibition games because of COVID-19 concerns.
The longtime Zags assistant studied numerous Kansas games from last season, but those show Marcus Garrett playing primarily on the wing. The 2020 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year is expected to play point guard this year. Lloyd perused year-old video to study five-star recruit Bryce Thompson and athletic J.C. transfer guard Tyon Grant-Foster.
Of course, Kansas is in the same boat without game tape of GU’s four potential impact freshmen, freshly eligible Florida transfer Andrew Nembhard and Southern Illinois grad transfer Aaron Cook operating in the Zags’ system.
“You kind of look at things they’ve done in the past and make your best decisions on what to do,” Lloyd said. “At the end of the day, it comes down way more to doing what you do and trying to do the things you’re going to do well as opposed to trying to run all these counters.”
Both teams would have preferred a few dress rehearsals, as Kansas coach Bill Self put it, but everyone involved in the Thanksgiving Day contest is just thankful to be playing with the pandemic rewriting schedules across the country.
It’s been a long eight months since COVID-19 forced cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga and Kansas were projected as No. 1 seeds and legitimate title contenders.
“It’s our first time competing against somebody else in a long time,” Jayhawks sophomore guard Christian Braun said. “How we ended last year, we had no control over it, so I’m just excited to get back, get back to winning and back to what we were doing last year.”
Ditto for the top-ranked Zags, who return preseason All-America wing Corey Kispert, preseason first-team All-West Coast Conference selections Joel Ayayi and Drew Timme, and sophomore Anton Watson. Jalen Suggs leads a talented freshman class and Nembhard and Cook are experienced, proven guards.
“This is a loaded team. They’re big and strong on the wing, they’ve got length on the perimeter and I think their skill is off the charts,” Self said. “We’re going to have to do something to make them play poorly and it’s awfully early in the season to be able to do that.”
The Jayhawks annually boast one of the nation’s best defenses, which should make for an interesting matchup against the Zags, routinely at or near the top of offensive efficiency rankings.
“Coach (Mark) Few mentioned physicality to us over and over again,” Kispert said. “Those guys pride themselves on being the biggest and baddest dudes out there, so we have to make sure we match their physicality.”
Garrett is an All-America candidate, guard Ochai Agbaji should boost last season’s 10-point scoring average and David McCormack is an experienced post.
“They’re elite defensively, athletic,” Lloyd said. “Their wings are 6-5, 6-8 guys so they cover a lot of ground on the perimeter. Offensively, recently they went to a lot of spread the floor with middle pick-and-rolls out of weave action.”
There might be some rough edges in a season opener after an unusual offseason, but Self is sure of one thing.
“The most competitive games bring out the most competitive men,” he said, “and this should be one of those games.”
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