Josh Heytvelt Pube Stache - ESPN
The guys who won the game were not the guy who literally won the game at the end
One year ago, Kevin Pangos led the Zags to a win by scoring 33 points against the Washington State Cougars in his second collegiate game. He played 37 minutes and turned in what to that point was the best game of his collegiate career. Everyone pointed out that Pangos trended worldwide on Twitter. Everyone said he would be offered fornication from all available and nearby sources immediately following the game. Most importantly, everyone said Pangos would be the team's star for the foreseeable future. Gonzaga won easily.
On a dank December night in Pullman, Washington, a little more than a year later, the same Pangos led Gonzaga against Washington State, again. He played 38 minutes and scored eight points on 2-for-12 shooting and turned in arguably the most unproductive game of his collegiate career. Everyone pointed out that Pangos sure was lousy. Everyone pointed out that Pangos was still trending on worldwide Twitter. Everyone said there would be no coital ministrations shortly thereafter, but only darkness and self-loathing. There were new stars (Gary Bell Jr. of the 14 points and three triplets), old stars reignited (Elias Harris of the stink eyes and the 23 points), and long lost friends resurfaced (Kelly Olynyk of the 22 points, Grateful Dead coiffe and les aptitudes ridicule). Gonzaga won by two points because Kevin Pangos, on everyone else's night, decided to waltz the length of the court and lean in a window shot as time faded to black.
Then the team got on a bus, wound up a dark, sinuous Highway 195, and studied for finals. As in, we're in the final handful of unbeaten teams in the country, or, cherrypickers will soon start to equivocate on national television broadcasts that we "could have a chance" to make the NCAA finals.
If Stefon from Saturday Night Live was analyzing this game - and one can only hope in a world of Seth Greenbergs that he, instead, will soon be doing so - he would say to us all now, "This game had everything: Shirtless Palouse Douchebags, coaches with seven letters in their entire names, Mike Hart succeeding, and BigsOreo."
And then the commentator would red herring, "Don't you mean a big Oreo?"
And Stefon would say, "No, BigsOreo. It's like that thing where you take a six-foot-six African, a seven-foot-tall Polish man, and a six-foot-nine Minnesotan and you smush them in real tight together on the bench like sardines for 34 straight minutes because you don't want them to play at all," followed by a lurid entendre about wanting to be smushed between the African and Minnesotan any day.
The larger point that Stefon would hypothetically be alluding to here - in a game that really did have everything - is that of the many things in Zaglandia that make no sense, the The Mark Few Drunken Minutes CarouselTM makes the least sense. In past years, the Carousel has spun and spun, with player minute graphs resembling an EGK hooked up to a patient mid-stroke. Frustrating, this is. Confounding.
This season, however, Gonzaga has legitimately enjoyed what Pomeroy refers to as "supreme balance." With six leading scorers in eight games, Gonzaga is used to equal-ish offensive distribution, and generally has more offensive weapons than it knows what to do with. The result is oftentimes eight or nine guys getting a jumble of minutes somewhere between 18 and 30 per game.
On Wednesday, the Zags jolted back into Franken-Few lineup tweaking mode. Everyone either played more than 30 minutes or fewer than 15 - except for Hart, who logged 20, and entertained with whimsy, his 85th career unintentionally-induced-injury, and fouls. Starters Sam Dower and Guy Landry-Edi played nine and eight minutes respectively, which makes one wonder why they started in the first place. Dower is suffering from defensive lapses and somewhat of a scoring setback, but Landry's stock is still a "buy." He can cut and slash. He can jump over Rem Bakamus. He's been labeled with terms like "the solution" and "the difference" and "the go to guy" by people who sit at their computers and opine. For better or for worse, he was not permitted on the floor on Wednesday to be that difference.
The aforementioned Oreo's cream filling, The Przeident, played three minutes for zero points and one board. He's used to pulling in about 17 minutes and 11 points a game, and, when given more than three possessions to do so, demonstrating the ability to be bigger and tougher than anyone else on the floor. For better or for worse, he was not permitted on the floor on Wednesday to demonstrate that physicality.
Kyle Dranginis of the erstwhile 34 minutes and 30 points last week had four minutes and zero points Wednesday. Fans have fingered him as having his "coming out party", being "a pure scorer" and "legitimate threat." For better or for worse, he was...yea, you get the idea.
Assuming that this was a coherent strategy, you can make the argument that Few's plan was advantageous. By settling early on Bell, Olynyk and Harris, Gonzaga turned an eight point mid-first half deficit into an eight-point mid-second half lead. The team went from being rattled by the environment (it really is true that wherever this team goes, they get the other team's fans' best shot) to seizing the environment and telling it to shut up. And hey, GU won the game, right?
You can also make the argument that Few's strategy was batshit nuts. Playing Pangos the entire game when he has hit one shot and missed 10 can't be called "riding the hot hand." Neither can starting Dower only to remove him at the 11 minute mark of the first half and never bring him back. And while Olynyk posted the clutch performance of his career, with Harris not too far behind, you have to consider that having two big men bang people around and run the court for 15-minute straight stretches is going to tire them out. Maybe give them a quick breather?
The whole fandango was like the "playing Mike Hart" illogic projected out over an entire roster. On paper, it is an idiotic move with no justification. In practice, it works - Olynyk and Harris somehow don't get gassed, Landry and Karnowski somehow don't need to lend their immense talents, Pangos on a deplorable night does make the game winning shot - more times than defenders of logic want to admit.
Wednesday night not only reinforces the idea that this team is without a single go-to star. It reinforces the idea that on a night-to-night basis it's impossible to tell which players will even consistently be in the game in the second half in order to possibly be that star.
As Gonzaga continues to author the chapter of its best start in team history, one genuinely wonders if that is a good thing or a bad thing.