Sports Illustrated polled assistant coaches who scouted the Final Four teams and allowed them to trade anonymity for honesty. Here are their scouting reports.
X-factor: Their age is their X-Factor. Most teams we face, the eighth or ninth guy is an 18 or 19-year-old freshman. Not with Gonzaga. There’s no drop-off when they go to the bench, as their 6th, 7th and 8th guy are just as good as the starters.
Weakness: They’ve struggled with teams that are quicker and can really get after the rebounds on the glass. They are big and strong, but they really have only one guy who is athletic enough to rebound outside of his area—7-foot freshman Zach Collins. If you are quick and aggressive to the ball, you can exploit them on the glass.
Player to attack: The one player we really tried to attack was Przemek Karnowski, their 7’ 1” 300-pound center. You have to be careful, though. If you double-team him early, he’ll slice you up. You need to come late, after he puts the ball on the floor, and try and confuse him. He’s so good with their system, he sees what’s coming before he dribbles. But once that ball is on the floor, you need to swarm him. That’s when he has trouble.
X-factor: Oregon’s X-factor is Dana Altman. I joke with other coaches in the league that he could take me, you and three other guys and figure out a way to reach the NCAA tournament. He knows his system so well and puts the parts in the machine to make it work. Every year.
Weakness: With starting center Chris Boucher out, their weakness is clearly going to be rebounding on the frontline. They’re not deep there, and if Jordan Bell gets in foul trouble they’ll be in big trouble in the paint.
Player to attack: Dillon Brooks is such an emotional player and competitor that you can mess with him. If you’re physical with him off of the ball, he’ll get frustrated and do something like fake a flop. You can definitely get into his head.
X-factor: Duane Notice needs to score for them, because they need scoring. If he can hit 3-pointers, it really changes their team. They can convert so fast on fastbreaks, even after makes. But if that’s not working, they’re going to need Notice in the halfcourt.
Weakness: They get scoring from so few places that you really need to be careful how you guard Sindarius Thornwell. If you can prevent him from easy transition buckets and don’t foul him, that can mess him up big-time.
Player to attack: If you can get Chris Silva in foul trouble, that will really hurt them. Essentially, to beat South Carolina you have to beat them at their own game somewhat and show some toughness. You can’t walk the ball up and just pass into your offense, which means you have to start your offense with a middle pick-and-roll. If Mark Few is smart, he’ll attack Silva and Maik Kostar and get them in foul trouble.
X-factor: The one thing that we really noticed in playing them is that they struggled with zones. The whole thing with North Carolina is that you can’t get the game going at their pace, so you have to do whatever you can to slow them down. They’re going to rebound 40-percent of their own misses, which is an obscene number. So you need to slow them down, limit the possessions and the amount of their own misses they can grab. And if you turn them into a jump shooting team you have a chance.
Weakness: Right now, the big question I have with them is how healthy is Joel Berry’s ankle. It’s one thing to be healthy enough to play, but it’s another to be at 100-percent. He and Theo Pinson can create so much havoc on the perimeter. But there’s a big difference if Berry is walking around with a bum ankle. When they’re at they’re best, those guys are so active defensively that you can’t even get into the pick-and-roll.
Player to attack: I’d say Kennedy Meeks is probably the player we went after the most. As good as he is, he’s a little slow and at 6’10” and 260 pounds he’s a little heavy. You have to try and get him away from the basket and then back to it. He’s susceptible in the pick-and-roll if you can get into it.