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Gonzaga Basketball: 3 keys against McNeese Cowboys in 1st round of NCAA Tournament

Gonzaga found their way into the tournament and was rewarded with a tough matchup against a 30 win mid major from the Southland.

March 12, 2024; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Anton Watson (22) shoots basketball
March 12, 2024; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Anton Watson (22) shoots basketball / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
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Control the Pace

This should go without saying right?  It should be but the two teams play two contrasting styles. McNeese forces teams to play very slow and use the entire shot clock before getting shots. McNeese doesn’t usually give up non-contested shots and they force a ton of turnovers. Gonzaga plays extremely fast, loves to get the easy baskets in transition, shoots at a very high efficiency, and doesn’t turn it over. It is going to be a challenge for the Bulldogs to control the pace in this one because McNeese is so disciplined in what they do but even if Gonzaga is forced to play slower they still need to find a way to move the ball and play faster than McNeese wants them to.

Ryan Nembhard and Nolan Hickman will be huge in this game to bring the ball up and not turn it over. If the Bulldogs move the ball and are able to get it inside to Anton Watson and Graham Ike for easy baskets they should not have much trouble beating McNeese, but that is easier said than done because part of McNeese slowing everyone down is their activity. They will force Gonzaga to take tough jump shots that they will need to make to loosen up the defense. Gonzaga has shot makers especially in Nembhard and Hickman who are going to be the disruptors for the Bulldogs if they get going it will allow Watson and Ike to get clean looks in the paint.

There is some evidence both in the NCAA tournament and in the regular season that shows that Gonzaga will struggle when they can’t get the ball into the post and they can struggle in a big way against teams who play at a slower pace. It sounds weird but teams who are built to play fast are used to playing at that speed and operating at that speed. If you slow them down they start pressing and forcing things. It can make them uncomfortable to play that way. The same thing happens to teams who play slow and are sped up. Gonzaga has to play at the pace they are comfortable and going to have the push the pace whenever possible to get easy looks.